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A lovely legacy

Creating a larger than life bronze sculpture is no easy feat at the best of times. When your subject is St. Albert's most beloved and recognizable citizen, Lois Hole, well, talk about pressure.

Creating a larger than life bronze sculpture is no easy feat at the best of times. When your subject is St. Albert's most beloved and recognizable citizen, Lois Hole, well, talk about pressure.

That was the heady task artist Barbara Paterson gladly embraced four years ago. The experience proved rewarding from concept to creation — right up until it came time to unveil.

"I hope they like it, I hope they do," an anxious Paterson said just days before her sculpture, Lois Hole: A Legacy of Love and Learning, was unveiled to a throng of family, friends and supporters of the late lieutenant governor.

Paterson's eyes closely monitored the freshly minted sculpture as the installation crew hoisted it onto the plaza in front of St. Albert Place. The "Queen of Hugs" was home.

"I knew Lois and loved Lois and wanted to do a good job," Paterson said.

Love and Lois

Paterson is no stranger to high-profile public sculptures. Her most recognized work, Women are Persons, immortalized the Famous Five — a group of Alberta women who fought for female representation in the Senate. That bronze sculpture has two homes — one on Parliament Hill, and the other in Calgary. It's also on the $50 bill.

When the opportunity arose to create a public sculpture of another famous Alberta woman, Paterson leapt at the chance, particularly since she and Lois had been friends for 15 years.

Paterson submitted her idea of a seated Lois smiling at a child hugging a book. The concept won over the city-led committee tasked with overseeing the tribute to the Hole's Greenhouses co-founder.

"I think we made the right decision," tribute committee co-chair Mary O'Neill said Thursday, after the public unveiling. At one-and-one-quarter life sized, O'Neill said the 300-kilogram sculpture captures the spirit and warmth of a community icon.

"It's very much Lois. It's her love of books. It's her love of children. It's her legacy."

Legacy in the making

The tribute committee was born in 2005, shortly after Lois lost her battle with cancer. Former mayor Paul Chalifoux and O'Neill solicited input from the community and the Hole family as the 20-person committee worked on a plan to recognize not only Lois, but her husband Ted as well.

St. Albert artist Gerry Nason was commissioned to create the tribute to Ted. Three bronze plowshares, representing various stages in Ted's life, were unveiled in Ted Hole Park in 2007.

Paterson's only mandate for the Lois tribute was to create a sculpture that recognized her love of children and learning.

"What I tried to create was hopefully a likeness of Lois, more of a feeling," Paterson said. "I wanted to show the caring, sharing way she had with children and adults. It's the feeling I'm trying to create."

While Lois was famous for her hugs, Paterson resisted sculpting an actual embrace to ensure the piece remains inclusive for the viewer. "A hug is a little tight and doesn't really allow the public in," she explained.

Paterson instead opted to show the child hugging a book, also a nod toward Lois' years as a St. Albert school trustee and University of Alberta chancellor.

"Lois was so into literature," Paterson said. "The educational side of her was so important that I thought of this gift of reading."

The exchange between Lois and the child carries extra meaning for Paterson since the model was her granddaughter Mackenzie, then six. "In the sculpture, Mackenzie represents the many, many children that were influenced by Lois."

Capturing Lois' spirit started with hundreds of photographs, nearly all of her smiling. Translating that recognizable presence into a 3D replica required attention to detail. The Hole family provided insight throughout, including tips from Lois' granddaughter Kate, who helped with facial mannerisms.

Attention to detail carried through to the clothing on Lois' back and the shoes on her feet. Those "character shoes" were modelled on a pair Lois actually wore that was donated to the University of Alberta.

"Barb put an inordinate amount of time into making it right," said Lois' son Jim. "In doing so she created a sculpture that truly commemorates Mom's life."

Members of the Hole family and tribute committee viewed the sculpture at various stages of completion. The actual 3D work started with a one-quarter life-sized version called a maquette. It acted as a road map for the final product. Once the maquette was approved by the committee, a Styrofoam enlargement was created.

"That foam is then cut back and wax is put on it. Then I start re-sculpting it to get the details," explained Paterson, who spent eight months in her studio working out the details.

O'Neill said watching the tribute take shape was "almost like giving birth."

"It evolved. That really is the brilliance of Barbara. She listened to what we remembered of Lois. She listened to what the community wanted and the family too."

From the confines of her studio, the larger than life sculpture often seemed imposing to visitors. Paterson says it's important to give female figures a larger scale so they have presence. The experience is much different in the open air, she added.

Once the sculpting was complete, it was transported to Calgary foundry Bronzart Casting Ltd. where artisans used wax models to create several two-foot by two-foot rubber moulds. Molten bronze, heated to about 2,000 C, was poured into each.

"It's hollow, like a chocolate Easter bunny," Paterson said of the sculpture. "Bronze is quite thin, with structure inside to hold it."

Each bronze panel was then welded together like a jigsaw puzzle. Once assembled, the foundry artisans ground away unsightly weld joints and ensured all the artist's marks were again visible.

"It's heavy-duty foundry work," said Paterson, who at that point was more than willing to take a backseat. "They're artisans that are just absolutely top-notch. If you see a good piece of bronze and you don't see the welds, it's a very good foundry … They have yet to let me down."

Moment of truth

With months of labour behind her, Paterson was walking on eggshells right up until the unveiling amid a snowy backdrop at St. Albert Place. The spring chill did not dampen the warm reception.

"It just shows how much people in this community care for Mom," said Jim, who was immensely pleased with the likeness.

"I love the tones in it. I just love everything about it," he said. "The fact that Barbara's granddaughter is there represents Mom so well because she was always so interested in children.

"It's a very, very fitting tribute, no question."

O'Neill said Lois is home where she belongs — in the heart of the community.

"She was very much in the centre — an enabler of so many things, encouraging reading, encouraging people."

For Paterson, all those anxious moments quickly faded. Now the public is left with a lasting tribute they can admire for years to come. "Everybody finds a little something they can pick out, something that appeals to them."

It's that lasting legacy that made every effort worthwhile.

"I think Lois would be pleased," Paterson said. "I have great joy in thinking that this is where she is."

View more photos of Lois Hole: A Legacy of Love and Learning at

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