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Sculptors discuss progress on iconic Wait For Me, Daddy piece

Veronica de Nogales Leprevost at work on the Wait for Me, Daddy sculpture in her Barcelona, Spain studio. - Contributed photo
Veronica de Nogales Leprevost at work on the Wait for Me, Daddy sculpture in her Barcelona, Spain studio.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Sculptors Edwin Dam and Veronica de Nogales Leprevost are hard at work in their Barcelona, Spain studio translating the famous "Wait for Me, Daddy" photo into three dimensions. The married couple were commissioned by the City of New Westminster to create the sculpture for installation in Hyack Square this fall. The 1940 photo by Province photographer Claude P. Dettloff captured a unique moment. It shows soldiers marching in a line down Eighth Street and captured a young boy—Warren "Whitey" Bernard—breaking free of his mother's grip and reaching for his father, and his father stretching out his hand.

The NewsLeader caught up with the sculptors Edwin and Veronica last month for a few questions.

Q: Can you explain a little about the preparation process before beginning the hands-on work?

Edwin: I'll try. Breaking down the work into workable units is perhaps key. Schedules of the bronze foundry, metal fabricators, suppliers, engineers and expectations of the City have to be considered in the plan. The more important a work is, the more the involvement of others, the more questions that need to be answered at an early stage. Like a puzzle, one must work backwards at first to develop the schedule and then meet the deadlines.

Perhaps to imagine it on a simple level, one can imagine that prior to sculpting a figure in clay, one must create an infrastructure in steel to support the weight of the clay.

But this somewhat immoveable infrastructure in a way determines the entire outcome of the sculpture. This infrastructure must be measured well. It must take into consideration partitions of the eventual mold to make the wax copy. It must consider future shrinkage of the bronze when it is cast. It must be easily adaptable, to account for aesthetic modifications desired in the clay sculpting process. If it isn't all these things, the sculptor will never obtain the exact form he or she seeks, always impeded by immovable steel.

The resulting sculpture may appear too small, or awkward in pose. If you were to look carefully at sculptures in the streets, you can easily tell which ones seem rigid or awkward, and which seem natural in motion and expression. Often this is due to the sculpting ability of the sculptor. But just as often this is due to poor planning in the first stages.

Q: What does the process for creating bronze figures involve?

Edwin: First we create an infrasture to support the clay form. Then we sculpt clay over it, molding the clay form in flexible silicone, and surrounding that with a rigid mother mold using burlap and plaster. Then we remove these negative molds, pouring in hot wax into the silicone mold to create a hollow figure, retouching up that wax then bringing that to the foundry where they create another silica sand-based ceramic mold inside and out of the hollow wax, heat out the wax and pour in the bronze, which then is welded back together, desprued, chased, given a patina and waxed.

LEFT: The 1940 photo by Claude P. Dettloff of The Province newspaper was taken at the foot of Eighth Street in New Westminster, and appeared in newspapers and magazines internatlonally.

Q: Does this piece pose any interesting, or specific challenges different from previous works?

Edwin: Yes, but perhaps elaborating on those challenges, would perhaps give too much away at this stage. We have a good team behind us, that has managed to tackle each challenge. What seems complex to one person seems easy to another. This is the sign of good team. So far, there has not been anything worrisome.

Q: What are your thoughts about the original Wait For Me, Daddy photo?

Edwin: Powerful. It's easy to understand why it was so well-received, why it echoed across the nations. Emotionally, it is moving. Everytime you look at it, you discover something new.

Our hope is that new generations, generations which have not had to experience the wrenching emotions that "going to war" entailed can still identify with the photo, and do so through the sculpture we are creating.

And perhaps this better answers the last question about a specific challenges. To create a work that allows the people of today to identify with the time-not-yet-forgotten is the greatest challenge in all stages of the work.

Q: This artwork has significant cultural/historical significance to Canada. Does that add any pressure?

Veronica: Yes. It certainly does.

Q: You have an extensive resume. Have you done any similar works? How so?

Veronica: We have done other historic monuments, and designed other war memorials, but all were very different in concept, size and approach.

This is probably the one with the most complexities.

Historic monuments have all had portrait work as a prominent part of it.

And after many years of taking on the challenge of portraiture work, I am convinced that we all see people differently, that each and every work is always in a sense an interpretation of the artist.

Even Edwin and I, despite sharing an aesthetic vision, see people differently. The only real way to be "objective" is by taking a photo; the photographer takes this picture through a lens. In Spanish, the lens is called "el objetivo" because it gives you an objective representation of the reality. Ironically, often individuals do not recognize themselves in their own photos. Our challenge here is to to find that middle ground between the objectiveness of the camera lens and the inevitable subjectiveness of the artist, and to do so in a manner that pays due homage to the power of the original photo taken in Hyack Square.

Q: Will you be here for the unveiling?

Edwin: Undoubtedly.

Q: Previous stories refer to it as "three, bronze life-sized sculptures." Is that still the case?

LEFT: Edwin Dam and Veronica de Nogales Leprevost at work in their Barcelona studio on 'Wait for Me, Daddy.'

Edwin: In the competition stage, the call for artists asked for three bronze life-sized sculptures. Early on, we were convinced that this alone could not sufficiently represent the photo, nor the event, nor relate the resonating receptiveness that the photo had generated. Our concept went further and deeper in its understanding of the events that were being repeated nationwide, and then tried to bridge the temporal gap between the then and the now. The goal was to do this while still understanding architecturally how Hyack Square has one foot in the historic district and another in the contemporary world of architecture with the Anvil Centre across the street. Our concepts were well-received.

Q: You work as a team. Can you explain a little of how your collaboration works?What roles do you each play?

Edwin: Many of our works include a unification of abstract and figurative forms. At the design stage, there is no division, other than perhaps that I prefer to either design digitally or go directly three dimensionally. For Veronica, who is powerful with the pencil, drawing and sketching and carbon and paper are integrally connected to her sculpting, study, and design process.

When it comes to creating the work, Veronica is world class when it comes to sculpting the figurative, and while at beginning stages there may be four hands working a piece, at a certain point I step away and let her do her magic which brings the work alive. This repeats itself in the wax stage of the work as well. Meantime, I perhaps control a lot of the architectural processes and command the heavier hands-on metal creation.

Q: Have their been any surprises during this project?

Veronica: Pleasantly, no.

Q: What stage are you currently in production of the work?

Edwin: After the initial concept was developed, our allocated time for creation was approximately a year and five months. This was tight, but doable. We are on schedule. We have never missed a deadline.

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