Thierry's Spirit

Thierry's Spirit

How the project came to be

The Town of Olds, only 45km from my home, expressed an interest in creating an exhibit right from the first edition of Bergen Rocks Symposium in 2008. In about 2017 they got very serious about it and by the next year we had an agreement to go ahead. Three potential sites were proposed for a temporary (3 year) exhibit of 10 of the sculptures that had been realized in my symposia. One of them was along the main road through town on a wide boulevard. Before going to look I felt this was not a good venue, one of the parks that had been selected would be better. Upon seeing the highway location, it was a no brainer. The boulevard was nicely landscaped with flower beds, shrub plantings and excellent visibility from the road. More than 1650 vehicles would be passing the exhibit every day, over 600,000 annually (according to traffic counts by Alberta Transportation) and there was already a meandering, paved path along this section. The town poured bases for the sculptures and installed a solar light system, the sculptures would be nicely lit and highlighted at night.

As it worked out the bases were only large enough for 9 of the sculptures at the park. So, I suggested I would create a sculpture for the 10th base. The coordinators of the project thought that was a great idea, to have a piece sculpted by a local artist, so I started to design.

In order for a sculpture to be successful it must be embraced by the community it will be placed in. Since the other sculptures that would go to Olds were stylized pieces, some people might consider out of the ordinary I thought it would be good to do something locally and historically relevant.

My grandfather hunted a buffalo the year I was born, 1960 and had the head taxidermied. The mount had been loaned to Olds College in 1967. It hung in the main entrance vestibule for about 20 years and then was returned to our family, I inherited it. Of course, before this area was settled it was habitat for wild buffalo. All of these factors made me think a buffalo would be a good subject for this sculpture; my grandfather had hunted the model that I would use, the mount had found it’s home in Olds for a period of time, and our area had been home to buffalo in historic times. The project coordinators agreed so I set to work.

The creation process

Luckily I had stone on hand that was perfect for the sculpture, a type of stone called Crystal White Marble, it has very large crystals, some ¼ inch across that catch and reflect the light like a million diamonds. I didn’t take photos of the stone, just got it to my worksite and started making chips. I always say I should do a better job of documenting these projects and then I get all excited and start knocking pieces off when the stone is in front of me.

So, after some roughing out, this is what it looked like. In the first photo the forehead is blocked out and in the second I’ve rounded it off and taken some material out between the head and the hump.

Sadly, 3 days after I began working a good friend and prolific sculptor from Belgium passed away. Thierry Lauwers had created public art around the globe, I was fortunate to have worked with him in the past and had gained great respect for him as a person and as an artist. His passing cemented the title for this piece barely any sooner than I had made any chips or dust, “Thierry’s Spirit”. I contacted his family, they told me they would be pleased if I would dedicate this work to his memory. I was determined that this piece must reflect my best work, no mistakes!

I worked carefully toward the final form, once stone is removed it cannot be replaced. At best you can make the sculpture smaller if you make a mistake which is against a rule of sculpture that has been defined for centuries, preservation of material. Cut off what needs to be removed but don’t waste the good stuff.

After the basic form is defined you move on to finer and finer details. More experienced sculptors can envision exactly where every element goes, where to leave material and where to take it away. I have a tendency to be over cautious, I’m told. I draw and redraw locations of important features so I will always be aware of where not to cut. Better safe than sorry. Even though the eyes are recessed on a buffalo I left big blocks where they would be for reference and often measured and drew out where features would be to be sure it was going to look right. Some times I even got confused with all of the lines I was drawing.

About this time I realized that it would be tight to finish the big guy in time to install it that summer/fall and at one point I thought I had made an error. So I called my sister to come out and have a look with me, mull it over. She assured me all was good and I convinced her to stay awhile and give me a hand, she pulled on some coveralls and left 2 months later!!

She takes safety very seriously and is always ready for anything, she even wears two pairs of safety glasses just in case.

A head mount typically hangs on a wall but this one would be in the middle of a park so the back of the hump was a dilemna, I didn’t like the idea of a big flat surface on the back. When a piece is carved all the way around it is referred to as “sculpture in the round”, that’s what I wanted.

The basic shape was very much like an arrowhead so that was one idea but I really didn’t like the symmetry it would create so I decided on a feather. I could put a bend in it to give it an organic feel, after I sketched it on there I knew that’s what this sculpture wanted.






Again, small steps. removing stone around the feather helped to make the feather stand out from the big flat plain, while maintaining the organic feel that I was going for.  


This shot jumps ahead to where the back is almost finished. The feather was polished to 10,000 grit, most car paint is around 5,000. The area surrounding the feather was “bushed” struck randomly with a single point chisel a million times, that created good contrast to make the feather stand out even more. You could actually see your reflection in the feather, it shone like fire in the setting sun. All that was left to do was cut the outside edge on a 45 degree angle to take away that sharp edge and protect it from chipping.



At this point I decided to get the horns done so that I could decide on other details, like the hair line around the face. Both horns were made from the same piece of black granite, I left them joined together for as long as possible to make them easier to work on, stop them from rolling around. The stone looks grey until it is polished, then, with each grit # of polishing pad it gets a little darker until it’s shiny black. I think I went up to about 5000 grit. The two horns took a week to make.

Before the hair was cut in I thought it looked kind of eerie, like some kind of alien buffalo with smooth skin all over him. Even little things like the hole for the horns need to be thought through carefully. In order to keep the horns from spinning in the holes, in case someone decided to hang from them, indexing slots were cut in and a slice was taken off of the stump on the horn that would prevent rotation. The portion of the horn that would be set into the head was made on an angle so that it could not pull out, as the horn came out it would be getting larger and therefore have to break the epoxy it is set in. To stop the epoxy from pulling out the hole is tapered out toward the inside. The horn is locked into the epoxy and the epoxy is locked into the head.


With the horns in place I could work on details like the eyes, hairline, nostrils etc. You’d think that the nostril is just a hole but there is actually a bulbous form inside, it just doesn’t look right without it and it’s kind of tricky to make……little by little.

Hair was another challenging detail. First of all choosing the techique, make it curly or straight, which hair to make long, how to blend the transitions, blah blah and blah. There was a lot of it to do and you can’t just throw it on there. Each line had to be drawn, and sometimes redrawn as it ruined the whole random look that hair needs if two cuts were on the same angle too close together.

Hair seems to grow, basically, all over buffalos so some of it had to be done from awkward angles, even having to lift the stone up and do it while it was hanging.



When we were happy with every little detail, we mounted him on his Mable Lake Marble base at home and took him to Olds for the installation, driving really slow all the way.

The installation went really well and just in the nick of time. The next day it turned cold so the grout would not have set and we’d have had to wait until spring to have another chance. Maybe the Sculpture Gods were with us that day?

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