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Contentious Winston Churchill statue is completed at Central Alberta foundry

Stephen Harman is working to hone the details and patina of sculpture by Danek Mozdzenski
Stephen Harman, who runs a foundry just west of Red Deer, helps complete finishing work on a larger-than life statue of Winston Churchill, by sculptor Danek Mozdzenski. It will be installed in downtown Calgary. (Contributed photo).

Winston Churchill was a charismatic — if now controversial — larger-than-life character, so it seems entirely appropriate his central Alberta appearance comes as a bronze statue that’s one-and-a-half times lifesize.

Red Deer-area foundry operator Stephen Harman is putting the finishing touches on a nine-foot statue of Churchill that was meticulously sculpted by Edmonton-born sculptor Danek Mozdzenski.

Commissioned by the Winston Churchill Society of Calgary, the artwork has been in the Red Deer region for the past month. Harman is doing some last-minute grinding, welding and chemical colouring to bring out a bronze patina on the monument that’s destined for downtown Calgary.

Harmon gives full credit to Mozdzenski — who also modelled the Parliament Hill sculpture of former Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson, as well as images of Joseph Burr Tyrell and the late Alberta lieutenant-governor Lois Hole — for creating a striking and instantly recognizable image of the late British statesman.

“I’m just bringing out the details,” said Harman, who previously helped finish statues of Terry Fox and other figures installed in destinations across the country.

Raising a monument to any historic figure is risky business these days, when long-dead people are being re-assessed according to present-day values and perspectives.

In 2021, protesters threw red paint at an Edmonton statue of Churchill, decrying his white-supremacist views and colonial stances. In light of this, several Alberta publications have rhetorically asked if this is the moment to erect a new monument to the late British prime minister, when even protesters in London have added “was a racist” to Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square.

For Mozdzenski, born less than a decade after the end of the Second World War, Churchill has definitively earned his place in history.

At a time when many British politicians were in favour of appeasing Germany to avoid becoming embroiled in another world war, Churchill took a principled and brave stand, said the sculptor. “He was a very resolute person. His stance decided the outcome of the Second World War — and no matter what sector of society you come from, the world would have been extraordinarily different if the war was lost to the Nazis.”

Although Churchill endorsed white privilege in India, Africa and Australia, he also structured forward-thinking policies that benefitted the poor and working classes. Among the outcomes are protections for the trade labour movement and housing for working people, said Mozdzenski.

“He had a social conscience and felt someone like himself had an important role to play.”

Creating a three-dimensional image of the late politician took months of research, including reading about the injuries that caused his head-forward stance. Mozdzenski said he studied dozens of photographs from all angles, including news reel footage that showed him in action and recorded his voice.

Even so, he needed to take some creative guesses, since people are generally not photographed from the top or back, and rarely in profile.

His sculpture shows Churchill stepping forward decisively, into the future. “I wanted to show him taking the right steps and moving in a direction that he thought was necessary,” said Mozdzenski.

The sculptor had a long relationship with Harman’s father the late B.C. sculptor Jack Harman. For years Stephen and his dad — who designed and cast bronze sculptures across Canada, including one of Queen Elizabeth on horseback in Ottawa — ran a bronze foundry in Vancouver, and later the Sunshine Coast.

Stephen and his Red Deer-raised wife moved the operation to central Alberta in 2009, favouring the educational and recreational opportunities this area afforded their three children.

Mozdzenski praised Stephen’s meticulousness throughout the finishing process: “He’s very good. Every day I’m surprised by how thoughtful and consequential he is in how he makes things happen.”