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Archival slide showing the original Don Wallace Expo '67 sculpture.

Archival slide showing the original Don Wallace Expo '67 sculpture.

A gin company, a snowplow and a librarian: the brief tale of a sculpture’s resurrection

April 8, 2016 — 

When U of M Art Librarian Liv Valmestad opened an email from a fellow art restoration enthusiast in 2010 she was dumbfounded by what she saw.

Don Wallace's Expo '67 sculpture prior to restoration

Don Wallace’s Expo ’67 sculpture prior to restoration

The archival slide she peered at showed her that for over 22 years, a well-known sculpture on campus was broken—half of it was missing—and apparently, no one knew. The slide showed what Don Wallace’s Expo ‘67 sculpture was supposed to look like.

“I was completely stunned,” Valmestad says. “Here I have been looking documenting and photographing what I thought was a complete sculpture. And then to also learn that the original sculpture was super bright orange and black was another eye-opener! I wish I knew where the missing piece was.”

The House of Seagram, a distiller, commissioned Wallace to create a few sculptures for Expo. When the fair ended, Charles Bronfman, former co-chairman of Seagram, donated the sculptures to Canadian universities and ours arrived to campus in 1968.

For decades it stood, full and complete, in front of the Fletcher Argue Building. But in 1988 a snowplow accidentally sheared half of it off. Time passed and people just forgot about it; we grew used to its severed look.

Expo '67 restored and awaiting a home

Expo ’67 restored and awaiting placement

Thanks to a Manitoba Heritage Grant in 2014, for a year Valmestad has collaborated with technicians from the School of Art and staff from Physical Plant to restore and refurbish the sculpture. They completed it in July 2015.

The sculpture is now sitting outside the sculpture studio, close to Art Barn, awaiting the Art Collections Committee to determine where it will go. Valmestad is proposing it either goes back to its original location in front of Fletcher Argue, as long as it won’t interfere with snowplows, or that it moves a short walk away to live where an old Eli Bornstein sculpture once stood between the Architecture Buildings.

This locale would be fitting, Valmestad says, because Wallace was known for working alongside architects, and the firm Smith Carter, whom Wallace worked with on a few projects, designed our two Architecture Buildings in the 60s. Expo ‘67 fits the chronology of this campus spot.

“This grassy crossroads—between the J.A. Russell and Architecture 2 buildings—is an ideal location for a sculptural intervention. Students and faculty should welcome a close encounter with this evocative abstract work, which has such important ties to Canada’s architectural heritage,” says Lisa Landrum, an associate professor in the Faculty of Architecture.

A decision on where Expo ‘67 will reside is expected some time this year. If you have any suggestions, though, post a comment or let us know on social media using #UManitoba.

image of Don Wallace's sculpture by Architecture building

A new home?

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