“L’Artiste”, Alex Kovalev may be gone from the Bell Centre, but the work of the true artist of the Canadiens, Marc-André J Fortier will stand proudly outside in the Canadiens Centennial Plaza for all-time.
Mr. Fortier, a world renowned Quebec painter and sculptor, was commissioned by the Canadiens to create the larger than life bronze renditions of Guy Lafleur, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau that currently stand amongst the Plaza.
I had the chance to speak to Mr. Fortier this week on his work, focusing on how he was approached to do this cumbersome project, the process involved to create these masterpieces and the end response.
The Canadiens V.P. of Marketing, Ray Lalonde, took on the Centennial Plaza project and after a foundry was determined to cast the statues (L’Atélier de Bronze), they provided Lalonde with six local area artists.
An artist for 23 years, 15 as a sculptor, the self-taught Fortier was interviewed by the Canadiens and then chosen to take on the task in February 2008 with a completion date of December 4 of that year.
Mr. Fortier told me that when the Mr. Lalonde and Canadiens took on the Centennial Plaza project, they travelled to other sporting arenas to study their teams bronze statues.
“They wanted something better,” Lalonde told Fortier.
“You gotta catch all the details.”
The Canadiens like to have the best to exemplify their greatest stars and told Fortier that they wanted something better than what other teams had produced for theirs.
Fortier would have an eight month window to complete the forms, and get them to the foundry in time to have them ready for the opening.
Four sculptures in eight months.
Lalonde gave Fortier Carte Blanche, providing him with any requirements, photographs, etc. needed to complete the project and also allowing him to make his own creative decisions.
The relationship between Fortier and Lalonde was a perfect business combination.
“He took everything on his shoulders, he trusted me,” Fortier said.
Lalonde also had he task to keep the curious eyes of the team’s management, such as owner George Gillette and club president Pierre Boivin, out of sight of the project to allow Fortier to focus and take the project in his own creative way.
He did receive one Canadiens’ visitor to his studio, as he worked through the summer, in the form of Hall of Fame defenceman Guy Lapointe.
Lapointe happened to be in the shop next store and the shop owner told him there was something in Fortier’s studio that he might like.
“When he saw Guy Lafleur, he said ‘When I played on the ice with him, I’d see exactly like that.’,” Fortier said, surprised to hear the voice of the Hall of Famer from behind him in the studio.
Fortier spent the first three weeks researching the project and had to rely primarily on photos of the four players provided to him by the Canadiens.
With many of the photos rather dated, most notably those of Morenz, he decided he needed to make the trip to Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. There he was able to access the Hall and it’s archives.
He focused for hours at the Hall on the equipment, jerseys and most notably the sticks (the only Morenz stick known is in the HHOF), taking measurements to assure every thing was to scale and accounted for.
From the number of lace holes in a skate to the stitching on the jerseys, no detail would be missed.
His passion for his work and detail would parallel that of the subjects he was studying when they skated on the ice.
With the researching under his belt, the work could begin.
Fortier’s friend and neighbor Richard May, documented the artist’s work in photographs from the studio to the foundry.
To let the Canadiens know he envisioned the project, Fortier sent two-foot models, called maquettes, of each the works to Lalonde to give the Canadiens an idea of his direction on the project.
He told me that a very small edition of the two feet original four maquettes of the Centennial Plaza will be made in bronze, and will be sold to just a few lucky ones.
Fortier did acknowledge that he made some creative. enhancements to the players appearances to bring them more mainstream.
Making the clothing on Morenz look “more cool” as Fortier termed it, the sculptor figures the “Stratford Streak’s” uniform is about 85% to what it originally was.
With Lafleur, he made the shoulders slightly wider and the heads on all all the players were made a touch bigger to show the detail of the emotion of the subject.
“I wanted to have intensity in the eyes and in the thoughts and the concentration,” he said.
Because the statues were on five-foot pedestals, it was important for Fortier to get the players’ emotional passion across for visitors looking at them from the ground up.
Lalonde would check in periodically to review the work and discuss any minor details that were of any concern. There were very few of those.
Working solo from 5:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night six days a week, even some 24 hour days, the then 47-year old had a month and a half to work on each project before he would dismantle the completed clay/styrofoam formations and take them on a 2 1/2 hour trek to the L’Atélier de Bronze foundry in Inverness, QC.