Stanley Sklar dressed people all of his professional career as one of Montreal’s major fashion designers.
Now he is dressing the exterior of miniature Montreal buildings in the form of maquettes, most of them known more for their fame as cultural landmarks than for their distinguished architecture.
The sites of Wilensky’s, Schwartz’s, and the Bagg Street shul have all worked their way into public affection and created a need for visual reminders of the memories they have engendered.
Sklar is filling that need with scale-model versions not only of longstanding institutions but private homes that he chooses to portray, either from personal attraction to their distinctive style or from commissions issued by admirers of his artistry.
Since the beginning of January, almost a dozen of his maquettes have graced the Eleanor London Côte St. Luc Public Library. That they are exhibited on the shelf-tops of the fiction section speaks for their ability to inspire stories of the city and its inhabitants.
Reaction to the scale-model buildings has been a mixture of amazement and delight.
“People say ‘You must be insane! Where do you get the patience to do these balconies?’ Yes, they’re very detailed, but that’s what I really love,” says Sklar who thinks nothing of spending hours stripping wire bread ties and twisting them into wrought iron patterns.
Bricks are often photos of the original facades reduced to match the scale of the sculpture and glued to the foam core armature.
But fish-scale shingles are individually handmade. Sklar cuts the ends from Popsicle sticks with a miniature saw that he turned to when the blisters on his fingers from pressing on an X-acto knife became unbearable.
The buildings, most of which have been mounted in Lucite cases that may be wall-hung, are a mixture of startling realism and impulse.
Wilensky’s is realistic down to the salt stains on the stones at the building’s base and the graffiti on the side wall. Yet a cartoon cat smiles down from its window perch, a touch of whimsy. Colours are researched and real, like the distinctive Montreal green on many of the old commercial corner stores.
“I try to get the feeling of the neighbourhood and the people living in it, such as this elderly lady in Blue House. It is a home on Villeneuve East that I love because of the stairs, which are so typically Montreal,” he says.
He has found further inspiration in Hampstead, Mile End, Montreal West and St. Sauveur.
Sklar enhances the buildings with textured paint and creates the sky backdrops. “I was always painting and I did go to École des Beaux-Arts,” says the artist.
His draping studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology honed his eye for colour, form and composition that have carried over into this second career. His first career was designing for Missy House, Le Château and Lawrence Dress.
“When I retired, I decided I was not ready for a rocking chair,” he says. “Since I felt a passion for many of the old structures, three years ago I began making these iconic buildings, plus taking commissions to recreate people’s homes, usually their country house or the family home they are leaving when they downsize. They want the memory for themselves and their children.”
The maquettes that he calls “three-dimensional hand-crafted artistry” have been exhibited at Galerie d’art Loft, Shayne Gallery and Galerie Klimantiris and are online for viewing at www.stanleysklar.net .
“The Stanley Sklar exhibit is ongoing. There is currently no end date and we are hoping to keep the pieces on permanent display,” says Justin Burnham, the library’s community outreach co-ordinator.
Sklar teaches his technique at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. The next class is set to begin in May.