Before Harry Rosen became one of Montreal’s top dentists, he was a dance instructor. He knows the importance of partnership, as each dancer relies on the other. So it is with life in general, Rosen has concluded at age 89.
After he retired from a successful career as a restorative prosthodontist, Rosen devoted himself to art, creating stone sculptures by applying his skill in shaping hard surfaces on a much larger scale. His human figures are colossal and weigh a couple of tonnes.
Reliance, which was unveiled at the Eleanor London Côte-St-Luc Public Library on Aug. 13, is the 18th sculpture Rosen has made for, and donated to, a public institution in Montreal and Toronto over the past 10 years.
The sculpture depicts two people holding hands, as they lean backward, seemingly in the midst of spinning on an axis. Each trusts that the other will not let go.
Its in his characteristic style of layers of flat stone, a technique he started decades ago when building walls and terraces around his country home in the Laurentians. He quarried the local sedimentary rock himself and learned to sledgehammer it into workable plates.
The sculpture has been permanently installed in Ashkelon Gardens, a landscaped green space behind the library.
A plaque bears the inscription, “When communities build libraries, libraries build communities,” which reflects the lifelong faith that Rosen and his wife, Delores, have placed in the impact of public libraries. A belief in the power of public art has motivated Rosen to bring his works – and their inspiring messages – to as many people as possible.
Rosen was a McGill University professor and teaching is in his nature.
“Public art should beautify, it should not offend and it should provide an uplifting message. I think I’ve achieved that,” said Rosen. However, he says that the final verdict on its merit rests with everyone who passes by. “With public art, everyone is a critic, which is quite acceptable. It means I have a tremendous responsibility,” he said.
He added that the setting was already “a gem,” so he felt even greater pressure to make sure that this work lived up to that standard, and gave credit to the people who cast it at the foundry, engineered its foundation and landscaped around it.
Since Little Hercules, a figure hoisting a dumbbell over its head, was installed at the Montreal Children’s Hospital in 2008, Rosen has gone on to give his sculptures to a variety of health, educational and cultural institutions.
Côte-St-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein said that the sculpture is a perfect fit for the city, as it enhances the city’s mission of promoting culture and the arts, and reflecting the community spirit that it fosters.
Public art should beautify, it should not offend and it should provide an uplifting message.
– Harry Rosen
Library director Janine West said she was immediately struck by the sculpture, because it speaks to the library’s mission of being a “platform for community building.… It’s less about collections and more about connections.”
Joy Rosen, a Gemini Award-winning television producer, eloquently described the unusual trajectory of her father’s life, as the youngest son of immigrants growing up in the St-Urbain Street neighbourhood. “His parents encouraged him to work hard with his head, not with his hands,” she said.
He did heed that advice, but her father still yearned to get physical: using his extraordinary strength and toughing it out under all kinds of conditions.
“When our dad started hauling huge boulders out of the lake with a system of winches and pulleys, it was clear he was never going to join a golf club,” she said.
His works’ themes of self-reliance and perseverance propelled Rosen to the professional success he enjoyed. But that individualism has been tempered over time with the realization that no one stands alone.
“Humans are social animals,” he said. “We need to reach out to each other, we all need each other.”
For him, that begins with Delores, his partner and first critic, whose wide knowledge and sage advice have gone into every piece he makes.