Video: The Dominion Sculptor

Watch this video to learn about Phil White and his role as Canada’s Dominion Sculptor. The Dominion Sculptor is responsible for carving and conserving statues, portraits and decorative pieces in Parliament Hill’s Centre Block and other government buildings.

Transcript of The Dominion Sculptor

(Text on screen: The Dominion Sculptor is a government official responsible for creating works of art to commemorate the country's heritage. The position is unique to Canada.)

(Phil White, the Dominion Sculptor, talks while sitting.)

Sculpture is one of those arts that's very often anonymous. Particularly architectural sculpture. They go up on the side of buildings and no one really knows who did it. And that's ok.

(The camera shows the sculptor's house and him working in his shop while he continues to talk, panning between the workshop and him sitting and talking.)

I really took to the idea of taking sharp tools and passing them through wood. There's something about the combination of the sound, the senses and the smell of the material. You get the same thing with all materials; it's just a different experience with each one.

I never studied sculpture formally. I went to ... I studied art all through school and when I was a kid I took private art lessons for 4 or 5 years from the time I was about 8 to 12 and that really helped me out a lot. I think that I was strongly influenced by a woman who was a friend of my mother who was an artist. She was a sculptor and worked in a lot of really different materials, combinations of materials. And she was very influential in my early years.

I also studied drawing, drafting that is. Architectural drafting and mechanical drafting. My dad wanted me to be a draftsman. I had other ideas.

(The sculptor continues talking while the camera shows him sitting in the woods, looking at a maple leaf and then looking over a rural landscape.)

The inspiration can come from a walk you know, looking down, looking around, seeing animals or birds or just something as simple as a flower. Think looking at the flower and wondering how that could be transformed into a block of stone or a piece of wood.

(The camera shows the sculptor working on a draft board in his office.)

I never really thought about what it would be like to be the Dominion Sculptor until I saw the competition. It was asking for someone who had background in conservation, art conservation and experience sculpting all these different materials, wood, stone, bronze. And the whole thing just looked like it was written specifically for me. And that's when I start to think "Oh! Maybe this can actually happen." I've known about the position for years and years but I remember thinking to myself "Oh! Who would take over that job?!"

(The camera shows the sculptor walking up to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill and then inside the building, working on a sculpture.)

Because I've known about it for so long, it really is literally the job of my dreams. Something I thought about for so long and it's finally come true, you know. It's something I feel like I've been building up to all my life.

(The camera shows the sculptor walking into the Memorial Chamber and admiring the chamber.)

The project that I did in the Memorial Chamber to replace the temporary altars with new permanent altars, that is the altars for the books of remembrance, is probably the most ... to date the most important to me because ... my family background. My parents were veterans. I have relatives who are listed in the books of remembrance as casualties in the First World War. So ... to me ... it was a very, very important project from the point of view of remembering Canada's war dead. Remembering the sacrifices these people have made. In my mind if I had done nothing else with my career and just that, I would be perfectly happy.

(The sculptor is sitting in a dark room on a leather couch in the Parliament Buildings, writing in a draft book.)

It's a bit hard to comprehend sometimes. Leaving this legacy for the Canadian people in such a fantastic building. It's a lot of pressure to make sure that everything is done right. I think I managed to do it so far. I hope ...

(Text on screen: Phil White has been the Dominion Sculptor of Canada since 2006.)

(Text on screen: Produced and created by Francis René, Ryan Jeddore, Faye Ouellette, Scott Butcher)

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