This story appears courtesy of The Township Outlet and was written by Terry Scott with the photo provided by Marc-André Fortier
It’s the next best thing to being called up to play for the indomitable Montreal Canadiens. Knowlton sculptor Marc André J Fortier was chosen to sculpt four bronze statues of Canadiens as part of the team’s 100th anniversary celebrations. Now millions of hockey fans will admire the incredible work of Knowlton sculptor Marc André J Fortier!
One day last spring Marc André J Fortier received a message on his answering machine to call the Montreal Canadiens’ organization. It wasn’t an invitation to suit up and help the Habs in their playoff run, but for Fortier, it was the equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup.
The most fabled organization in hockey history had selected the Knowlton artist to sculpt four bronze statues of Canadiens’ immortals Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau and Guy Lafleur. The statues, commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the hockey club, were to be put on permanent display on Centennial Plaza, a concourse adjacent to the team’s Bell Centre home indow ntown Montreal.
Fortier was one of several sculptors whose name had been submitted to the Canadiens after marketing executives of the hockey club asked L’Atélier de Bronze, the prominent foundry and casting company in Inverness, Quebec, to recommend six top artists for the work.
Over the years, the 47-year-old Fortier, a Town of Mount Royal native who moved to and set up his studio in Knowlton five years ago, has established some impressive credentials. He won the distinguished Bronze Palm Medal in Paris, earned top honours in Toronto for his “The Art of the Automobile” sculpture, and his works have graced exhibitions, homes and other places, nationally and worldwide.
But now, Fortier, who played five years of minor hockey as a youth and avidly followed the Canadiens’ dynasty in the mid-to-late 1970s, was being asked to sculpt four legendary figures of an organization that is more of a sacred trust than a mere hockey team.
“Basically, it was hard work, but it was such a fantastic contract,” Fortier said last week from the Knowlton studio – a high-ceilinged space that was previously a car-and-van wash – he moved into last year. “It was 1,750 hours in a five and a half-month span. Some days, I would do it for 24 hours straight. Sometimes I would be in the studio at 4 o’clock in the morning wondering how I was going to do certain things on the maquettes. I lost several pounds in the process, because you’re constantly moving about as you make tweaks and changes to your work.”
Fortier was in his early 20s and living in Vancouver when his grandfather handed him $1,000 to encourage him to become an artist. The painting career evolved into bronze sculpturing, a craft that Fortier plies with the determination of Morenz, the passion of the Rocket, the élan of Beliveau and the flair of Lafleur.
Ever the perfectionist, he is meticulous in carrying out his work. While doing the four sculptures, Fortier took a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, conducting hours of research on the equipment worn in the different eras of the Canadiens’ legends and looking at archival photos and other material.
He studied the players’ styles, their features – small nostrils on Richard and Beliveau, for instance, led to sculpting them with open mouths. He even measured the size of the stick each player used, and this information enabled Fortier to accurately depict the action pose on the sculpture. The Rocket has his elbows up in a “get out of the way, I’m coming through,” pose, while Morenz bears an intense demeanor, Béliveau is stately and Lafleur has his trademark flowing mane. Each of the players has a puck on the end of the stick, which, Fortier says, “is to show they are in control.”
Fortier completed his ambitious project in mid-October,and after the sculptures were cast at L’Atélier de Bronze,the finished products, weighing between 1,600 and 1,800 pounds, were unveiled on Centennial Plaza on Dec. 4. Throughout the sculpting process, Fortier said the Canadiens’organization afforded him full professional freedom. One day last summer, he received some favorable feedback from a surprise visitor – former Habs’ defensive standout Guy Lapointe, who stopped in at the studio as he was passing through Knowlton.
“When I was at the unveiling ceremony, Marlene Geoffrion, who is the daughter of Howie Morenz, told me I had captured her father just the way she remembered him,” remarks Fortier. After taking a look at the sculpture of his illustrious father, Maurice Richard Jr. told reporters he loved the work, especially because it showed another side of The Rocket’s game. Beliveau and Lafleur were effusive in their
praise, as were Canadiens’ owner George Gillett and president Pierre Boivin, who has a home in the Townships and wants to drop by Fortier’s studio.
“I’m so lucky,” Fortier humbly declares. “Some artists will put so much time into a solo exhibition, and even though it could be magnificent work, people might not come to the exhibition. In this case, it’s four sculptures and at least a million people a year are going to see it.” Marc André J Fortier may never have donned the bleublanc-rouge but in at least one respect he can lay claim to being part of the legacy of the Club de Hockey Canadien.