The Death of Wolfe

September 13th, 1759 (The Death of Wolfe)


The Death of Wolfe was based on the historic painting of General James Wolfe dying on the battlefield of the Plains of Abraham. Liberties were taken with figures and arrangements, but the details of costuming and riflements received special attention.

The Death of Wolfe was an ambitious subject in many different senses. It was a large scale sculpture in a small scale lot. It was a political topic in a political time. We doubtlessly benefited from the change in venues however, away from the traditional Dow's Lake location. Our new site gave us the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop and the National Gallery of Canada (where the original 'Wolfe' hangs) as a neighbour.

The actual title of the sculpture is 'September 13, 1759', an attempt to capture the immediacy of the subject, the moment, and the reactions. Each figure in the group was created to lend a different aspect to the emotions and feelings which would have been present in the men on the battlefield.

'Wolfe' was perhaps our most challenging sculpture, based on weather and number of hours required to finish the nine figures. The temperature reached a low of minus 54 degrees Celsius with wind-chill on at least one occasion. It was also the most work we ever did for a sculpture. Nine figures, full costume, lots of detail, little time. It's hard to see from the pictures just how much planning and designing into this sculpture, but rest assured, it was plenty. For this outing, we had to decide how we could mass produce people to give us time to do the finer detailing which we were really after (I've always found subtlety to be the biggest challenge with this type of medium). Anyway, we succeeded by mass-freezing ice rods as we had done for the horse on the year before. This time, however, we also sculpted a plasticine head which we coated with fiberglass. It was successful enough to find it's way into each of our subsequent sculptures.

Close-up of some of the figures

The number of figures to be created required new techniques and molds including countless metres of sheet metal tubes to be used for arms and legs, and a fiberglass mold of a head which had been previously sculpted for the occasion. Many of the techniques developed for 'Wolfe' continue to be used in subsequent sculptures. We received some criticism for overuse of molds, but we felt the results far outweighed any concerns about technique.

September 13, 1759 (The Death of Wolfe) was created in January/February, 1995 at Major's Hill Park, Ottawa. The sculpture won first place in the General Public Category.



Costume sketches based on the illustrations by R.J. Marrion in the book "Military Uniforms in Canada 1665-1970"

Costume 1 Costume 2Costume 3Costume 4


Click to view the "September 13th, 1759 (The Death of Wolfe)" photo gallery

Daily Updates

Note: These daily records were not taken at the time the sculpture was being created. Notes from calendars, receipts and record books have been examined to re-create the events leading up to and involving the creation of this sculpture.

95/01/13 - Took ice sculpture ideas to Merivale High School to get my former art teacher and friend Mr. Currie's opinions.

95/01/14 - Dave and I went to the Carleton University Library and the National War Museum to do research on the subject of Wolfe. Asked Rustin to be responsible for doing the map that would be incorporated into the poster we'll have explaining our topic.

95/01/19 - Snow sculptures moved back a week due to inclement weather (too warm).

95/01/24 - Took the team out for dinner to go over plans and ideas about the sculpture. This year's will be so involved, we need lots of buy in and enthusiasm.

95/01/29 - Worked all day on the Bristol board display for the sculpture. Nothing like this has been tried before, to my knowledge, at least not to this degree. What was intended to be in depth essays has been replaced by the visual because of trepidation by Dave and inability by me. It is a political topic but that's not what the sculpture's supposed to be about. Ineffective writing, too. Too much information to synthesize into soundbites. Dave reports that all tests are going well with the pre-frozen ice tubes, which is encouraging. Next step: some short articles and editing ones I have, printing out, laminating and buying warmer clothes.

95/01/31 - Very frustrated these days as snow sculpture has been moved back again because the canal will just not freeze. Also, the location has been changed. We were extremely close to pulling the plug on the whole thing tonight.

95/02/03 - Tomorrow we start sculpture. Plans have to be scaled down because of a move to Major's Hill park which affords us less space. The team's spirits are high but mine are not. I'd just as soon not do it at this point.

95/02/05 - I was terribly impressed today because of the number of people who showed up despite minus 24 degree temperatures with a minus 45 degree wind-chill. Not too productive because of the temperature but it wasn't bad. The figures look great. I don't know how much detail on the costume we'll accomplish, but the figural groupings and motion are good. Sylvia adds tremendous subtleties to the figures. Andrew's sense of motion is also really good. In a minimalist way, it is terribly beautiful already. I had a bath today after the day was done after having been out on the site for 7 hours. I couldn't stay in because the cold of my body quickly chilled the water. That's the beauty of sculpture.

95/02/06 - The thing I never remember about snow sculpture is the pulling of the muscles I only use once a year... We worked in minus 54 Celsius (wind-chill included). A record. We only lasted two hours but that was more dependent on the problem of water freezing before our eyes (and our eyelashes freezing shut for that matter as well). Wind chill was also a concern. We were recognized and complimented on last year's efforts. We are behind schedule because of the weather but I'm confident of everyone's commitment. Four days to go.

Talking with some of the Winterlude volunteers

95/02/07 - Okay day sculpting. Arguments with Dave; A nice gentleman thanked us for the sculpture.

95/02/09 - Another nice man came up to us today and wanted to shake our hands and thank us for the sculpture, insisting that it was too beautiful to let die. We began discussing the inherent destruction and temporary aspect of the sculptures but only briefly. Moments like this make it seem worth the effort...

95/02/10 - Well, we're done, and not a moment too soon. Despite our best efforts, I'm quite sure we'll be overlooked again. I did get a good feeling from a group from the National Gallery of Canada who stopped and chatted with us about the original painting (and it's inaccuracies) and we told them about all the research we'd done. I think we said something like "we knew all the historical details and knew where we denied them" or something like that. They laughed and said that's more than could be said for West. They said that they'd told the Curator of European Art that he had to come down and see it. Critical acclaim, no doubt, but the masses tend to want whimsy... and bears.

Talked to a nice man (eager novice) who told us the word around the site was that we were the defending champions, and I corrected him. We showed him all the trade secrets we knew, and took him around back to show him the details up close. I think we had an affect on one at least.

95/02/11 - Waiting on judging. A Citizen reporter called and asked a lot of questions though.

95/02/22 - Awards assembly night - glad it's over. It was good to get together as a group again and reminisce. Talked with Deborah and Aldo. It was a good time.