"Spirit of Navarre"

"Spirit of Navarre"

An Giang Impression, Nui Sam, Viet Nam

In 2008 I participated in my first overseas event, An Giang Impressions, at Nui Sam (Sam Mountain) in the Mekong area of Viet Nam. I was very excited and anxious as I would be representing Canada and it was the largest symposium ever held in the world, 62 artists in total.  


It was very cool when our bus arrived in Nui Sam and there were posters on the power poles coming into town with the names and nationalities of the participants. Being the first international event for me I thought this was just over the top. Back home artists aren’t recognized like this. 

I’ve come to realize that in older cultures art is recognized as an important element, they may have had 1000, 2000 or 5000 years to develop it and it’s everywhere by then. My country is only 150 years old and we have been busy building roads and hospitals, we haven’t had time to get public art going strong and therefore it just doesn’t seem as important…….yet.   

After 36 hours on the plane and another 12 to Nui Sam I slept for 24 hours. It was my first time out of North America so I didn’t sleep a wink during my travel and likely not for 12 hours before leaving. Our hotel, Ben Da Nui Sam, was beautiful; restaurant inside and out, tennis courts, beautiful rooms with fresh fruit everyday left in your room, incredible grounds and more. Kind of like “pinch me, this must be a dream”. The staff would bend over backward to help us out in any way they could and the food was out of this world.  

We had a day or two to climatize and take in some of the sights etc, get a feel for where we were before we started our work. Several groups of sculptors hired cyclos, bikes pulling carts behind that carry two people, to go into the nearby town to shop and see sights etc. I couldn’t wait to go to the sculpture site and see my stone. It seemed like there were hundreds there and although I had provided dimensions for my project they hadn’t been designated, it was take your pick. It worked out that there was one that was perfect for my project, larger than I had requested but that’s a good thing. I painted my name on it and wandered in the sculpture park beside the site where the works from An Giang Impressions 2002 had been placed.  

The opening ceremony was incredible. Introductions, speeches and performances for about 2 hours, I’d have been glad if it went on all night.

There were at least 80 stones on the site before work started, many artists had requested a separate stone for their base.  White marble, yellow marble and grey granite.  

Our little corner of the event, with 62 sculptures being created at the same time it was a very busy place. My worksite has the Canadian flag on the tarp.  

Two assistants were assigned to me, Thanh and Luc, they were awesome stone technicians.

Luc, he was 28 years old. Many Vietnamese people appear much younger than they are. Something in the water I guess.    


First thing was to prepare the base, and cut the belly out. Luckily the stone was on it’s side so we could do that first and then stand it up to complete all of the other work. 

 We set up a tarp like some of the other sculptors had done. It gave us all protection and we didn’t have to waste time moving the grass shade around.  

While Luc and Thanh worked on truing the bottom of the stone I went to the artist’s lounge and made a model from clay. Neither of them had seen a North American buffalo before and I thought it would help, they didn’t speak English so a visual would help a lot. I made a working model rather than a maquette.  you make a scale model of your stone and make your first few cuts on it. If it looks good you make the same cuts on your stone, then repeat, repeat, repeat. When the sculpture is finished the model is finished too. If you don’t like a cut on the clay you can put the material back and try again.   

The feet were cut so that they would both be on the same plain. I had to measure carefully to be sure that I was marking the top of the stone properly so that it would be at the correct angle.    

When the stone was stood upright we started to true up the sides, make them exactly vertical and then work from there.  

After the sides were done I got Thanh working on narrowing the head and Luc started cutting the back down.  

About half way through the event I received the sad news that one of my great friends, Navarre (Buck) Massey had passed away. Buck raised buffalo near Ft. McLeod and had asked me to do one for his ranch, Buffalo Junction, when I got back. I would never get the chance to do his buffalo so this one had to be it and the name came naturally, “Spirit of Navarre”.  



Sculpture is a step by step process. After roughing out the form I marked more exact lines, after cutting to them the process gets repeated and repeated, first on the clay model and then on the stone.  




It’s important to look very carefully before deciding what to cut, once you take it off you can’t put it back.

My assistants were awesome and it looked like we would finish on time with no problem. When I was walking the site I saw a large, thin, cut off that would work great for a pair of eagle wings and I arranged for the crane to move it to my siteI’m not sure if Thanh and Luc thought it was a good idea but when you see such a nice stone that won’t be used it’s hard to just leave it laying around. I guess it was kind of like I doubled up our work and the symposium was already half over. In retrospect, maybe they thought I was crazy, it does look like a pretty big stone.  

good sized group of us got together to celebrate the first sculpture to be completedWon Lee of Korea did this female torso in a style called minimalism. The natural shape and surface lent itself to this sculpture, he didn’t have to remove a lot of stone to turn it into a very interesting/beautiful sculpture, brilliant! 

I had the Canadian flag on our tarp and hung up an Okotoks banner. I got a big boost ahead in art when I lived in Okotoks so when Sundre was unable to send a flag with me I asked Okotoks for one, they couriered this banner to me to be sure I got it before I left

A couple from Sundre came by the site one morning before we started work and walked around. They saw the Okotoks banner and the husband said to his wife, “Hey, that town is near where we live!”  I met them after I returned, They had seen news about my trip in the Sundre paper. They said they’d have stayed to have a coffee or lunch with me if they’d have known I actually lived in Sundre. 

My good friend and professional photographer, Brad Callihoo, came with me to document this project. He was nearly always busy shooting, so much going on, more photo ops than he could keep up to but when he was able to he helped out too. I had a great team.  

Brad takes great pictures, I’m a point and shoot kind of guy. One of his specialties is portraits, about ¾ of the photos in the official book of the symposium are his.

Little by little we are refining the form, at this point the shoulders have some definition. With material cut out from behind the head the neck and hump will be defined.  

Another couple of good shots by Brad. When you get into your work you’re often “In the zone”.  Despite the other things going on around youyou are totally focused on your work. Visitors are usually kept out of the site so as not to disturb the artist’s focus.  

I thought it was important to keep up with the Joneses so I kept improving our sunshade a little every once in a while. It was very identifiable. The eagle wings were stood up and ready to get some work done on them and even from the front he was starting to look like a buffalo.  

A crew of workers kept our work sites cleaned up and hauled the rubble to, what became, a huge pile  off to the side of the site. I suppose there were 20 or 30 guys doing this work. Larger stones were wrestled into wheel barrows, only the really big ones were moved by machine.  At our site we helped them to rake up the rubble and load it in their baskets which was met with protests every time but many hands make light work…….not in this case.  

Best laid plans,  Vietnamese winds come up very quickly.  

I was worried I might have killed Luc but when he come out unscathed we laughed and laughed.  

Last night I worked late and joined the after dinner get together without changing my work clothes. Someone got the idea to sign my overalls with a felt pen, I thought it was pretty cool idea so I handed the pen around and everyone signed me. I  regret wearing them back at home now, all of the signatures have worn off now.


This guy came around 4 or five times a day with Café sua da, coffee with sweetened milk and ice.  I encouraged him to give old Navarre a whack, he got a kick out of it. We rounded up some scaffolding to reinforce our complex and I got the flag of Viet Nam up too.  


The buffalo continues to develop. He has eyes, a tail and is getting streamlined to the back along with some rounding on the hump.  We got the Alberta Flag hung up, our MLA provided it, Home Décor magazine might want to interview me.  

We got started on the eagle’s head 

Sculpture Park 2_0000s_0004_41 Cubic to organic Nov 29

The underside of the wings got cut down a little, he is starting to look like a bird.  

Putting a little curve in the wings gave the eagle some movement.



There were no base stones left by the time I was ready for one so I improvised. I took two smaller stones and stood him on thosethen filled in all around them with rubble to stabilize them, it made it appear that he was standing on a mountain.  

When he was completely finished I put my Viet Nam flag on a bamboo pole, climbed on his back and sang the Vietnamese national anthem. Once everybody caught on to what I was doing a good sized crowd gathered around and joined in.

These things aren’t all 


“Eagle” worked out well too, you can clearly see what it is.  

Closing ceremony

The closing ceremony was incredible. I’d say there were several thousand people there, television networks and the whole sheee bang.  Fantastic music and performances, speeches and presentations, these events are hugely celebrated everywhere I’ve visited in Europe and Asia.  

On the morning of the closing ceremony Yuri Techenko snuck up behind me at breakfast and signed my bald spot so I tore off my shirt and had everyone sign my body. I went to town on a cyclo with a friend that day and at every stop light I handed my felt pen to whoever was beside us and got them to sign too. At the closing, after I received my award, I pulled my shirt off as I left the stage…..dead silence. The M.C. recognized what I had done and said “Mr. Morton loves Viet Nam so much he painted our flag on his belly”. The crowd went wild, whew, I thought maybe I had made a mistake.  



Six weeks of work and many fond memories. Big thanks to my team, an experience that will stay with me for a lifetime, the resulting artworks will remain for centuries.  

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