by Paul Yanko
Joe Fafard is sitting on a stool in front of a double stainless-steel
sink in his studio. He's washing one of his horses under a stream
of lukewarm water - scrubbing it, actually, with a green scouring
pad. Things are not going well today.
The horse, a bronze sculpture about 15 centimetres (six inches)
high, was recently poured in his Pense, Saskatchewan foundry and
studio. The patina, a green finish applied to the bronze to give
it an aged appearance, just doesn't look right. And for Fafard, one of Canada's most recognized artists, that's
cause for concern.
"I worry two to three hours every miserable night," Fafard says
with a laugh. "You have to worry, otherwise, you can't motivate
Born Sept. 2, 1942 to a french-speaking farming family at Ste. Marthe, in southeastern Saskatchewan, Fafard learned early in life that nothing is accomplished
without hard work. Parents and children alike worked hard in order
that the family could earn a living from the farm. In his spare
time, Fafard liked to draw horses. He admired their spirit and their
partnership with people.
She Shifted': Fafard is best known for his amusing and ubiquitous
"Great animals," he says, nodding his head in agreement with his
own statement. "Great animals."
While he was very young, adults began to take notice of his
horse drawings. Some told him he was going to be an "artist" when
he grew up.
He recalls replying to one of those prophets: "That sounds like
a good thing - what is it?"
After graduating from art school in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Fafard
taught university art classes in Regina for five years before a
growing public interest in his work spurred thoughts of a full-time
career as an artist.
'The Pasture', Fafard's cows luxuriate in the heart of hectic
"It was a very exciting feeling," he says. "It got me thinking
that maybe I had something here, if I just put all my energy into
"So I did."
On this day, "being an artist" involves worrying, trouble-shooting
the patina problem and checking in at the foundry to make sure everything
else is running smoothly.
As we approach the foundry building we're greeted by the muffled
jet-like sound of what Fafard says are the foundry's twin, forced-air
furnaces. Inside, I'm introduced to an assistant who is working
with an exacto-knife on a small, cow figurine made of wax. We chat
briefly before moving into the primary workspace, where we're buffeted
by a blast of hot air.
different take on a favorite subject. The piece is called 'Chicoute'.
"They burn at about 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit," Fafard shouts above
Two more assistants, looking like aliens clad in silver jackets
and gloves, and peering through Plexiglas visors, prepare to pour
molten bronze into a mold. They work quickly but carefully, pouring
the flaming orange liquid into a form that will produce a bull about
half a metre high. Fafard's bronzed bovines, especially his cows,
are his most well-known works.
"We derive much of our economy from cattle," he muses. "When an
animal plays that important a role in both our livelihood and our
nutrition, they surely deserve some kind of recognition."
Fafard's herd has rambled far afield. Miniature cows graze the
homes of regular folks around the world, as well as the homes of
stars like comedian Bill Cosby. Seven life-sized cows luxuriate
in the grass in front of the downtown Toronto headquarters of the
Toronto Dominion Bank.
"I don't put any humor into my work," Fafard says, "I just don't
bother taking it out."
Fafard has sculpted a wide range of subjects, including a series
on famous artists he came to respect as he learned his craft. But
the vast majority of his creations are rooted in his prairie home.
"This is the place I know and this is where I feel I can work from,"
he explains. "It's difficult to work from a place you're not familiar
1997 found Fafard returning to his horse drawings in a big way.
Using as his canvas a 50-acre field near Barrie, Ontario, he sculpted
winter wheat, corn, alfalfa and soybeans to "paint" a huge draft
horse as part of a promotion for an international plowing match
and a local arts centre. "The Fafard Field Project" grew into a
2,700-hand horse (about 300 metres) visible only from the air.
"It was a very satisfying project," says Fafard, flipping through
a booklet of time-lapse aerial photos produced to commemorate the
"The whole community got behind the project. All the crops grown
were donated to charity and it gave publicity to a small arts centre."
Inventor and his Invention'
Fafard's success has spawned a cottage industry that employs seven
people full-time and one part-time. He considers his people a team,
with members working together toward mutually-beneficial goals.
"This is a business and we have to be business-like," he says.
"We've got to meet the payroll and that's a big responsibility.
But it's no worse than being a small business or a farmer."
Fafard's works are priced from $90 (Cdn) and up. He was
named an Officer of The Order of Canada in 1981.
But in spite of his success and recognition, he still worries.
"It's a little like making a living from gambling," he says. "So
far, my luck's still holding."
Check out Joe's virtual gallery.
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