The indomitable spirit of well-known dental specialist Harry Rosen, who devoted the last decade of his life to inspiring people through his sculptures, will live on in his final public work.
Self-Portrait captures Rosen in his prime, doing what he loved best (after fixing teeth): wrestling a boulder from the earth using a system of winches and pulleys that he devised.
The life-size bronze has been installed in Ellerdale Park in Hampstead, Que., to which Rosen donated it before his death last November at age 89.
This is Rosen’s 18th public sculpture, and like the others, it depicts a human figure striving for a goal using his trademark layered stone effect. Rosen was a McGill University professor and his public art was an expression of his impulse to encourage achievement.
At the Aug. 15 unveiling, Doris Steinberg, the wife of Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg who was tasked with selecting the town’s first piece of public art, said she did not hesitate.
“As we say in Yiddish, it was bashert. I bumped into Dr. Rosen at an event with hundreds of people, where he invited me to see his sculpture. He showed me many wonderful works, but my eye and heart went directly to this one,” she said.
She added that it is fitting that this is his 18th public sculpture, a number signifying life in the Jewish religion. “The spirit of Harry Rosen will live on in this beautiful park,” she said.
Self-Portrait bears the inscription, “My work is my play,” in English and, “Je crée donc je vis” (I create so I live), in French.
As Mayor Steinberg observed, Rosen was a larger-than-life man whose enthusiasm for his art never waned, even in his final days.
“When he was already in palliative care, he asked to be brought here to approve the location. A week before he passed, when he had been mostly sleeping, when Doris, Delores (Rosen’s wife) and Sherry (Goldstein, his longtime ‘right hand’) came to discuss the final details, he suddenly perked up and became animated,” he said.
Delores Rosen, who, through a decade of other unveiling ceremonies let her exuberant husband of 62 years take the stage, this time had her say. She was witty and gracious.
“I am allegedly the great woman behind the great man – are you listening, Harry?” she asked, to laughter from those assembled.
“There are no words, which is rare for me, to describe how grateful I am to the town of Hampstead for accepting this donation.… Folks seeing this sculptural self-portrait will remember my husband, and that pleases me and mine. And Hampstead has one more attraction to make this an even more appealing place to live.”
Self-Portrait started to take shape in Rosen’s imagination when a photo of him hauling rocks out of a lake 40 or 50 years ago was found at his country home in the Laurentians, said Goldstein. Before his late-blooming artistic career, Rosen was making terraces and walls from the Precambrian remnants scattered over the landscape.
A muscular, faceless figure strains backward, legs firmly planted and both hands on a cable that is tied to the stubborn boulder (which is real) at one end and wound around a tree stump at the other, with his home-made mechanism in the middle easing the load.
That tire-fort, as it’s sometimes called, is the genuine article.
Longtime friend Irwin Browns, an art patron, said Rosen often talked with him about how to convey his message.
“Humanity was the common theme,” Browns said. “He was sensitive to the emotions that make people strive and succeed.”
Rosen’s earlier works were made entirely of stone that he chiseled into plates and heaved into position. When that became too arduous, Browns helped him connect with a foundry, where his designs were cast into bronze.
Rosen considered the foundry’s Pierre-André Gagnon and sculptor Jules Lasalle, in whose atelier he spent many an hour, his creative partners and always gave them credit, as Delores Rosen did.
Delores Rosen summed up the emotions that were stirred within her when she recalled her husband’s words at the inauguration of another sculpture, We Need Each Other, in Côte-St-Luc exactly one year earlier.
Already ill at the time but concealing it, Rosen nevertheless brought a hopeful message: “We each have been granted with a gift of life. We each have a responsibility to do some good by way of thanks.… We have each been granted some talents and some strengths, some more than others. We should be forever grateful.
“Whatever they are, we should seek them out and build on them. That becomes a lifelong challenge.”
And to those no who are no longer young, he said: “Seeking challenge and applying creativity are a symbiotic duo that grows as we grow older, for those that happen to enjoy good luck. A predictable adage is, ‘chance favours those who are prepared.’ ”