SPOTLIGHT – Take a bow, Leo!

Leo Arcand poses beside one of his works at the Maggie Willier Health Centre in Driftpile.
Leo Arcand poses beside one of his works at the Maggie Willier Health Centre in Driftpile.

Driftpile artist’s work given to Barack Obama

Chris Clegg

A Driftpile man is humbled and honoured after one of his works of art was given to American President Barack Obama during a visit from Prime Minster Justin Trudeau to Washington March 9.

“I would say, ‘What are the odds?’” says Arcand, who had no idea the president was receiving one of his works.
“It’s a big honour that the prime minister of Canada selects one of your works to give to one of the biggest world leaders.

“I really should give myself a pat on the back,” he adds. “I certainly paid my dues as an artist.”

Arcand had no idea that Trudeau was carrying one of his soapstone sculptures to give to Obama.

“It was kept hush-hush,” he says.

It was only on the morning before the work entitled Courage was presented that Arcand was informed of the news by the Bearclaw Gallery in Edmonton, where his work has been shown for the past two decades. The 12-inch high work shows half a woman’s face beside a hole and an abstract figure of an eagle. Arcand says the sculpture represents unity and spirituality, wellness, prosperity.

So, how does the work of an Alberta artist wind up in the White House? Arcand says the federal government purchased several sculptures after Christmas to present as gifts to present during state visits.

Bearclaw shows the sculpture as having sold for $650 on its website.

Arcand, 47, is an Alberta Cree artist originally from Alexander First Nation. He now makes his home in Driftpile with his common-law wife, Shawna Bellerose.

Arcand has worked mainly in soapstone since 1991. In the beginning, he also used to sketch.

“I was introduced to it 25 years ago,” he says. “I started quite young.”

Being an artist is a “double blessing” in that he started his career the day one of his daughters was born.

Arcand describes his sculptures as contemporary, spiritual and traditional.

“I like to bring the spirit of animals and humans together,” he says.

Another one of his prize works in the 12,300-pound marble carving in the Edmonton Remand Centre. Because the sculpture is so huge, Arcand had to carve it while the centre was being constructed.

“I had a few setbacks, it took me 87 days,” says Arcand.
Arcand does commissioned work and is currently very busy. No doubt his newfound fame will attract even more interest.

“I have about 20 pieces on the go right now,” he says. “I work on about 5-10 pieces at a time.”

Arcand works out of his studio at home and says whichever piece he works on from day to day depends on the inspiration afforded each piece that day.

Arcand’s work has been sold all over the world. After his art was presented to Obama, his works flew of the shelves.

Bearclaw, where many of Arcand’s works are shown, features a variety of art showcasing the uniqueness, creativity and varied experiences of Canadian Native and First Nations cultures, traditions and history.

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