Ritchie Velthuis

Ritchie Velthuis
SCTV Monument: Journey of an Artist
The Art Incubator Gallery, January 8 – February 20, 2021
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton

Ritchie Velthuis is one of the most prolific contemporary sculptors in Alberta and a well-known cultural activist. The exhibition project oscillates around the history, conceptual development, production, and the presentation of “SCTV Monument”, Velthuis’s most recent public art project, which was installed in late March 2020 at the intersection of 103rd Street and 103rd Avenue in Edmonton’s Ice District.

Curated by Darren Kooyman, the exhibition “Ritchie Velthuis: SCTV Monument – Journey of an Artist” traces and explains – with the support of a rich photo-documentation, conceptual sketches, project maquettes, official correspondence, and other documentation – the artistic journey ‘behind the scenes’ of this project through seven segments: The Genesis, Creating the Original, At the Foundry, The Patina, Revisions, Installation, and Public Reactions.

The bronze sculpture project showcases the iconic Bob and Doug McKenzie, two key characters from Second City Television (SCTV), a Canadian sketch comedy show that ran from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. The characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie were played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. In fact, those characters were developed in Edmonton when the show was filmed here at ITV Studios that was owned by Dr. Charles Allard, a well-known local philanthropist. Dr. Allard agreed to fund the series as long as it was filmed in Edmonton. Subsequently, with the critical assistance of the SCTV Monument Committee, the Allard family, both actors: Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, and community support, the SCTV Monument project was launched in 2012. Ritchie Velthuis was successful in his bid for the SCTV Monument project. The characters created by SCTV in Edmonton were a bit of Canadiana that was shared with the world and they resonated with people. As Ritchie Velthuis says, “these brilliant comedic actors (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) were part of this ensemble making TV in Edmonton, playing stereotypical Canadians with the beers and toques, and funny talk …”. And adds, “I am just super honoured to represent the Canadian icons that they truly are. Bob and Doug spoke to Canadian culture so profoundly, so eloquently in such a relatable way. And there’s folklore about them working here, stories that probably aren’t even half true. But they left a mark …”.

Edmonton sculptor Ritchie Velthuis knows that part of his legacy will be related to his community-driven, interactive art projects. SCTV’s iconic characters Bob and Doug are a highlight in Velthuis’s impressive artistic career.

 

Artist’s Biography

Ritchie Velthuis is one of the most prolific contemporary sculptors in Alberta and a well-known cultural activist. After attending the Design Arts Program at Grant MacEwan College (currently MacEwan University), Velthuis worked as a graphic designer for several years but was always drawn back to a fine art sensibility.

He has devoted the last 25 years to the exploration of sculpture in various mediums, including clay, resin, stone, cement, ice, and snow. This commitment was rewarded with the distinct honour of designing a Homeless Memorial for Edmonton in 2011, which was collaboratively created with Keith Turnbull, Mike Turnbull, and several community artists. Velthuis received numerous prestigious awards for his ice and snow sculptures, which include People’s Choice, Artist Choice, and 1st place in the national category of the International Snow Sculpture Event at Carnival in Québec City. Ritchie Velthuis is a focused and considerate artist. He has developed strong community-based works in the past and gone on to successfully exhibit them in the professional gallery environment and in the realm of public space.  His impressive body of work was enthusiastically received among his peers and mentors and can be found in several private and public collections throughout the province.

 


Image: SCTV Monument (detail), bronze, 2020
Courtesy of Paul Swanson
paulswanson.ca

SCTV Monument: Journey of an Artist

 

Introduction

It is the dream of nearly every sculptor I know to create a bronze public sculpture: an artwork immortalized for generations.

A fiercely competitive process, a life size bronze sculpture is a bucket list item few of us achieve. No amount of talent, perseverance or hard work can guarantee the privilege of such an opportunity.

Midway through my visual art career, the sobering realization this might not happen settled within my psyche. I continued to develop my skills as a sculptor, teacher, arts administrator, and community art activist. As I navigated through life as an artist in community, with each new experience I began to realize there are many ways to leave your mark in life that are equally as worthy, satisfying, and deserving of recognition, but I continuously kept my eye on this dream.

 

SCTV Monument: The Genesis

In 2012, Avenue Edmonton magazine ran a cover story on SCTV’s Edmonton history. The seminal years of this influential comedy show were shot at the south-side ITV studios, which now houses Global
Edmonton. Then they thought why not do more than a story. Edmonton had the Wayne Gretzky statue and a statue of a guy taking lunch break in Churchill Square. Why not have a statue celebrating some of SCTV’s most famous characters. Orville Chubb, Avenue Edmonton’s late publisher, championed the idea. A petition was launched at a Metro Cinema screening of some of the show’s most famous skits. With the support received through the event and an online petition, it was clear that our city was rallying behind the idea of a sculpture.

Portion of the cover of SCTV DVD set Volume 2

SCTV’s first season was filmed in Toronto, but the show was at risk of being cancelled before it could gain any sort of momentum. It was Dr. Charles Allard that laid the groundwork for the show to move to Edmonton and to blossom as a staple on both CBC and NBC. It was from Edmonton that characters such as the McKenzie Brothers, Johnny LaRue, Guy Caballero, and Edith Prickly would emerge as pop-culture staples.

It was fitting that the Allard family shared the vision for a sculpture and the SCTV Monumet Committee was formed. No public announcements were made. They worked behind the scenes rallying support, filling
out paperwork, and taking the necessary steps to achieve their goal.

In the spring of 2013, I presented an exhibit in the Discovery Gallery at the Alberta Craft Council entitled Neighbourhood Icons. The exhibit featured brightly coloured ceramic sculptures of ordinary individuals whose contributions and aesthetic told stories of their community. This exhibit coincided with a very select and quiet Request for Proposal (RFP) for the SCTV Monument. Barbara Paterson, a renowned, Edmonton-based sculptress, friend, and the creator of the Famous Five Monument on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and on the Olympic Plaza in Calgary, was asked to submit a proposal for this project. I served as a technician for Barbara during the making of the Famous Five Monument and my small part during that process exposed me to the ins and outs of creating a bronze sculpture. Though she declined the invitation, she recommended me to the SCTV Monument Committee. I was and remain eternally grateful for her belief in my talent and for her glowing endorsement.

The RFP required an artist’s biography, a written description of my proposed project, examples of my work, and a preliminary budget. Shortly after submitting my proposal, I received news that I was one of the artists selected to create a maquette, a small version of the proposed bronze sculpture. I spent the summer and fall researching each of the original seven characters created by Rick Moranis, David Thomas, John Candy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty, and creating a more comprehensive budget. I got lost in the process of creation and spent a blissful few months creating the seven iconic characters from SCTV in clay. Having never produced a bronze sculpture, I thought my chances were slim, but I was honoured to be selected to develop my ideas.

On February 12, 2014, I presented my maquette to the SCTV Monument Committee. Created in clay and painted in acrylic, these gestural and animated sculptures represented the main characters of the fictitious SCTV station. The creation of all seven characters in life size bronze would be cost prohibitive and my choice for the monument would be Bob and Doug McKenzie. The comic genius of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas instantly catapulted the character of Bob and Doug McKenzie to the status of Canadian Icon, and their subsequent cult classic movie “The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew” made them cross generational stars. The Committee agreed and in a surreal moment I felt confident that I would be creating my first bronze sculpture.

Time passed and my main contact, Paul Allard, would periodically check in to assure me that the project was moving forward, but there were still many details to work out. As time passed, I became less and less confident that the sculpture would happen. More time passed and nearly two years after my presentation I surrendered to the possibility that this project may not happen. In January of 2016 I told Bronzart Casting Ltd., a Calgary-based bronze foundry I was to work with at the time, that the project seemed dead in the water and likely would not happen. It was a dark time: something so close to actualization was seemingly snatched from my hands.

Then while on the way to Jasper in March of 2016, I received a call from Paul Allard with news that the SCTV Committee was ready to move forward. I was on the upward swing of the public art rollercoaster.

Original Bob and Doug maquette, photo courtesy of Darren Kooyman

 

Creating the Original

Creating the original began in July of 2016. My career to this point had given me the skill set to confidently move forward on the project and I began to prepare for the hard work ahead of me. My job was to complete the original of the life size sculptures of Bob and Doug McKenzie and oversee the bronze process to its completion. Paul Allard was my contact for the SCTV Monument Committee throughout the process and Carole Henson was the liaison between me, Rick Moranis, and Dave Thomas. One of the main stipulations for the project was that the actors wanted input and final approval of the sculpture. Paul Allard simply instructed me to take my time and make the best sculpture possible.

Armatures for original sculpture. Styrofoam, metal and plywood.

Armatures were welded together with detachable body parts that included their heads, hands, and legs to ensure ease in the sculpting and moulding process. Two wooden plinths on heavy-duty casters were constructed to house each individual figure and to ensure they could be easily moved to be worked on individually or together. Most originals used for bronze sculpture are constructed from a core of Styrofoam and plywood or metal which are then covered in foundry clay. Many artists use a computer program to scan and point up their maquettes, but as the model increases in scale so do the imperfections or mistakes in the anatomy. A contour line that worked in a 10-inch model may not work when you blow it up to 6 feet. Rather than correcting anatomy on a computer-generated plywood/Styrofoam base, which can prove difficult, I decided to start from scratch. I cut and glued Styrofoam around the welded armature to create a mass to be carved.

Using the maquette as a reference, I began to rough out the figures using a series of Japanese handsaws, utility knives, and an oscillating saw. I decided to carve the Styrofoam in a realistic manner and the SCTV characters quickly began to emerge. At this stage, my motivation was to ensure the individual elements (figures) worked together and were relatable. The lines, anatomy, and gesture of the figures needed to tell the story of the lovable comedic disdain between these SCTV brothers before getting lost in the portraiture so important to the project. After two months of carving, two pink Styrofoam figures stood before me in my basement studio of Harcourt House Artist Run Centre. Happy with the results, I was ready for the next step: applying the foundry clay.

Carving of Styrofoam on original sculpture.

The foundry clay was comprised of paraffin wax, powdered clay, and petroleum jelly. Heat sensitive, the clay turned liquid when exposed to high temperatures and hardened when cooled down. The first step was to paint the Styrofoam figures with the liquid clay thus enabling more clay to easily be applied to the sculpture. The next few weeks were spent scouring over pictures and videos of Bob and Doug to adjust the lines and forms of the sculpture, and to begin to work on the likenesses.

Although the sculpture was nowhere near complete, it was beginning to tell the story. The first photographs documenting the progress of the project were sent to the SCTV actors and to the Committee at the end of October 2016.

Feedback from the Committee was quick and positive. A few days later, I received an email from Paul saying the actors’ input had been received. He seemed concerned that I would be offended by their direct and pointed observations. While reading their comments I recognized that their focus was primarily the likeness, while my focus was the entire sculpture. They made some excellent observations that gave me tools to tackle the portraiture. Rick Moranis’ concerns focused on the slope of his nose, width of his face, and shape of the mouth. Dave Thomas complimented me nailing his signature sneer but was concerned with the width of his face. He also pointed out that the earmuffs – the Doug McKenzie character’s trademark – were worn above the earlobe, and I had covered the ears. All of these observations were extremely helpful in creating a believable sculpture, but one of Rick Moranis’ statements really resonated with me. He said, “I hope that either through colour or the sculpture you capture the youthful exuberance of the characters, Bob and Doug McKenzie, created during our time in Edmonton”. Challenge accepted; I went to work.

Cutting back through foundry clay.

The next few months were spent pouring over countless photographs and videos of the SCTV episodes filmed in Edmonton. I would freeze frame different angles of each actor’s face and translate what I saw. Nearly two decades of participating in the life drawing and sculpture classes at Harcourt House served me well as I was remarkably familiar with capturing the subtle nuances of the human anatomy in clay. With each passing week, Bob and Doug began to come alive.

In April of 2017, I sent another set of progress pictures to the Committee and actors for revue. The Committee was satisfied but weeks past without hearing from the actors, and I was expecting a list of changes to deal with. I reached out to SCTV Monument Committee member Carole Henson to see if there was any word and, in May of 2017, I received the news from her that the actors had approved the sculpture. I spent another few month refining small details in the sculpture and building crates for transporting the sculpture to the foundry. In August 2017, the Bob and Doug McKenzie sculpture left Edmonton and was delivered to the Bronzart foundry in Calgary for the next stage of the project.

 

 

 

 

Completed original ready for the foundry.

 

At the Foundry

When faced with the decision of choosing a foundry, my pragmatic nature told me to research my options, but my heart and instincts told me Bronzart Casting Ltd. of Calgary would be my choice. Having seen their work on numerous bronze projects by such artists as Barbara Paterson, Al Henderson, Edmund Haakonson, and Richard Tozak, they are arguably the best foundry in Western Canada with an international reputation. They are one of a few foundries who not only allowed the artist’s presence throughout the process but encouraged it. After my intensive research, my instincts were confirmed. The secret of success is teamwork, and Vaughn Stewart and Mel Parsons of Bronzart were my valued team members.

Rubber molds of separated sections.

Bronze sculpture is an incredibly involved and complex process. There are many steps to create the final sculpture. It usually takes anywhere from 12 to 14 months to complete a large bronze project and, I would visit Bronzart frequently to assist with or review various steps in the process.

The first step was to create a rubber mould of the original clay sculpture by gridding it into sections. Keyed shims separate each section and layer upon layer of liquid rubber mould material was applied to the sculpture to ensure each layer was completely dry before applying another. A plaster mother mould was then applied over top of the rubber mould to prevent distortion.

In the next step wax was poured into the mould to create a 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick wax shell of the original. Then the mother mould and the rubber mould were removed. Seam lines in the wax were removed, the wax pieces were fitted for alignment, and I would carefully inspect the sculpture to make any final changes to the wax. Bronze is a lost wax process, so the wax shell was representative of the final bronze. Wax rods called spurs or gates were then attached to the sculpture. A large wax cup was attached to one end which received the molten bronze when poured. The placement of the gate system allowed molten bronze to flow through these areas allowing gas to escape through smaller bars called vents.

Wax mold with gates.

Once the wax was complete, another mould was made by dipping the wax in a liquid binder called slurry and a fine silica sand was applied. Each coating was completely dried prior to the next and the number of coats was determined by the size and weight of the piece. The heavier and larger the piece, the thicker the ceramic shell needed to be to support the molten metal. The slurry coats the inside and outside of the wax and, when the ceramic shell was thoroughly dried and hardened, we were ready for the next step.

The ceramic shell was then placed in an autoclave or burn out oven to de-wax the shell. Once the wax was burned away, the shells were cooled and inspected for cracks. Then they were heated up to 1400 degrees, placed in a pouring pit and molten bronze was poured into the hollow shells and allowed to cool and solidify. The shell material was removed inside and out and then sandblasted to remove any shell material from the intricate details of the casting. The multiple pieces of the original were then fitted together and welded with great care and attention to alignment. Then the sculpture was chased to remove any sign of welding seams and several different polishing and detail tools were used to match the original texture of the sculpture. The bench was fabricated using sheet bronze and Bob and Doug were placed onto the bench to ensure a proper fit. After 13 months in the bronze process, the sculpture was ready to patina.

 

Pouring of molten bronze into ceramic shell.

Removal of ceramic shell.

Bronze sections of sculpture (un-sandblasted).

 

The Patina and Revisions

Throughout the journey of working on the final sculpture, the patina was in the forefront of my mind. As the bronze of Bob and Doug McKenzie came to life, I pondered whether colour was needed. There was a camp of peers that said leave them bronze, while others agreed with my full colour choice. Maybe the sculptures themselves had enough presence in natural bronze to tell the story. Several conversations I had with Paul Allard, a member of the SCTV Monument Committee, indicated his preference for colour. In fact, the sculpture concept was presented in colour to the stakeholders after all, and I agreed. The colour gave an allegorical context to these colourful characters and should be represented as such.

Competed sculpture with original bronze faces and hands.

With Vaughn’s decades of experience with traditional chemical processes to create a bronze finish and my extensive experience with colour, we began work on the patina. We started by using traditional chemical methods to create a bronze base and used colour washes over top, and randomly allowed the bronze to come through. As this was an outdoor and very interactive piece with thousands of hands potentially touching it, we felt the piece would age more gracefully if some of the bronze was intentionally exposed. When it came to doing the faces and hands, Vaughn was concerned that creating a flesh tone would be difficult and susceptible to noticeable wear. Taking that into consideration and trusting his years of experience, we decided to leave the faces in a natural light bronze which illuminated to a near natural flesh tone in bright sunlight. After a long week of work the sculpture was complete. I was incredibly happy with the result but, in the back of my mind, I wondered whether leaving the faces in bronze was the right decision. The sculpture was lacquered and waxed in October 2018 and put into storage to await news of its final home.

Nearly a year later my nagging doubt about the faces was confirmed. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reached out to express concerns with the bronze faces. With the Prime Minister’s “black face” controversy in the news they were most concerned that the bronze faces would be misinterpreted negatively, and their solution was for the entire sculpture to be re-finished in a bronze patina. Earlier in the foundry process we had done a series of bronze details of the sculpture for patina tests and these details included the fragments of the Bob McKenzie’s and Rick Moranis’ faces. My counter suggestion was for me to paint that sample for their approval. In January 2020, I painted the face fragment and sent pictures of the sample in different light as requested by Mr. Moranis. The response from the actors was nearly immediate. They were on board and excited to see the finished sculpture. The foundry stripped the faces and the hands, and I travelled to Calgary to redo the patina of the faces. Upon completion of the flesh tones all conceded that it was the right decision.

Progress of patina on face and hands.

Progress of patina on face of Doug McKenzie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installation and Public Reaction

Perhaps the hardest part of the SCTV Monument project was to keep it secret for so long. Filled with many challenges, stops and starts, the project seemed to never end, and at times, I wondered whether it would ever be unveiled. A dreaded question often asked by the small circle of peers that knew about the project was “When is your sculpture going to be unveiled?” But perhaps the most frequent question was “Do you know where it will be located?” My stock answer was “My job was to create the best sculpture possible and the rest is up to the Committee.”

The location of the Bob and Doug McKenzie sculpture was finally confirmed in February 2020: it was to be installed on the corner of 103rd Avenue and 103rd Street. It had been the top choice as far as location from the beginning. What would be more fitting than for these iconic figures to be placed in the walkway entering the Winter Garden of the Ice District, in the centre of Edmonton. Bob and Doug McKenzie were synonymous with winter. I was filled with gratitude for the SCTV Monument Committee’s hard work to secure the ideal location.

The installation was slated for March and an unveiling celebration was planned on the afternoon of March 27, 2020 with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas in attendance. I was over the moon with excitement. Then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. The unveiling was cancelled but we decided to install the sculpture anyway.

On the afternoon of March 24, 2020 we began the installation. With no fuss or fanfare, a large picker truck lowered the sculpture to its final resting place. The afternoon was spent drilling holes in the cement in preparation for the anchor pins to be securely epoxied to the ground. As I unwrapped the protective padding, Bob and Doug emerged, and I knew the boys were home. At first glance these street level figures just appeared to be two friends or brothers engaged in humorous conflict. Only after closer scrutiny does the viewer realize they are a sculpture. Perhaps two Edmontonians sitting on a bench engaged in silly banter inspired by the characters created by the comic genius of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas while they filmed in Edmonton. As dusk approached it was time to leave. Although I was extremely proud of the piece, its installation seemed anticlimactic. I could not help but feel somehow cheated. Was this the way my 5-year journey was supposed to end? No unveiling or celebration …. But these were unprecedented times: COVID-19 had changed the world.

COVID meme

Early in the process, Fish Griwkowsky – an art reporter and critic from the Edmonton Journal – learned about the project. During an interview at my studio I convinced him not to break the story. It only seemed fitting to let him know Bob and Doug were in the public domain and, with the installation complete, I messaged him. He immediately contacted me and asked a few questions to supplement the interview he had done years earlier. Fish’s story broke in the middle of the night and the next day I was flooded with calls for interviews. I was finally able to talk freely about the project and process. Congratulations and compliments poured in and the sculpture became a local sensation and even got some provincial and national press. Images on social media popped up everywhere and pictures of people sitting with Bob and Doug quickly replaced fan’s Facebook covers or profile shots. A picture of Bob and Doug wearing surgical masks with the caption “#StayHome It Could Save Lives” flooded the internet and became my own personal temporary Facebook profile picture. The SCTV Monument: Bob and Doug McKenzie became the feel-good story of the day and distracted Edmontonians from the sobering reality of the world situation. I had no idea it would resonate so strongly with so many people. Somehow an official unveiling and celebration seemed mute.

 

 

Artist’s Acknowledgements

Art processes build cultures of collaboration and creativity. Part of my legacy has been to create community driven, interactive art. The very success of the SCTV Monument would not have been possible without the collaboration and hard work of the SCTV Monument Committee, the input and comedic genius of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, and the artistry and skill of Vaughn Stewart and Melissa Parsons of Bronzart Casting Ltd. of Calgary. I am also grateful to the curatorial team of Harcourt House Artist Run Centre – especially to Darren Kooyman, the curator of this exhibition project – for the opportunity to share this incredible story about this extraordinary art project with the public.

My career highlights thus far have been dependant upon collaborative efforts, and I am humbled and proud to have created a sculpture that honours Edmonton’s entertainment history with the help of such an exceptional group of individuals. I look forward to the day when it is safe to have an official celebration honouring the sculpture in the company of the actors, members of the SCTV Monument Committee, my collaborators, and the Edmontonians that love the sculpture as much as I do.

Ritchie Velthuis

 

The artist with SCTV Monument: Bob and Doug McKenzie, photo courtesy of Marc Chalifoux

 

SCTV Monument Committee:
Paul Allard, Vice-President, Allard Developments
Orville Chubb, Publisher (now deceased), Avenue Edmonton
Beth Allard-Clough, President, Allard Foundation
Duncan Fraser, Senior City Planner, City of Edmonton
Scott Gibb, Vice President of Sales, Vertical Impression
Carole Henson, former Producer, SCTV
Jason McCulloch, Partner, Witten LLP
Simon O’Byrne, Senior Vice-President, STANTEC
Steven Sandor, Editor, Avenue Edmonton

 


 

A quick walk from Harcourt House to the SCTV Monument.

 


All photos courtesy of the Artist unless otherwise stated