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Leo Mol fonds
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CA UCAWA 07.01, 07.04, 09.01, 10.07
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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)
Dates of creation area
1949 - 2005 (Creation)
Physical description area
2 m of publications from Mol’s private library, including 85 books, and 38 pamphlets or exhibit catalogues
328 still images, b/w and colour
47 holy cards
1 mosaic, glass and tile in grout, on plywood
2 photocopies of sketches
1 set greeting cards, Stained glass window, Ss. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba
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Archival description area
Name of creator
There are at least two distinct versions of Mol’s life story. Recent facts indicate the first version was relayed by Mol himself, and fabricated in an effort to protect his family from harm by the Soviet regime. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991, Mol re-established contact with family members and, no longer fearing threat of harm, revealed an authentic, revised version of his life. The two main promulgators of the authentic second version have been Elise Swerhone, filmmaker, who interviewed Mol extensively in 1992 to produce the 1994 NFB film, “Leo Mol In Light and Shadow”; and Margareth Mol, Leo’s wife of sixty-six years.
Research into the life and works of Leo Mol is circuitous to say the least. Information on the internet or in the scant publications created during Mol’s life is clearly and studiously based on the first version of Mol’s life story, promoting what may be called “myth”. In an effort to clarify the facts, periodically since 2007 the archivist has been interviewing Mrs. Mol, principle donor of the fonds material. The archivist has been corroborating the facts wherever possible. Mrs. Mol will not permit use of recording devises or even note-taking during the interview, but she very strenuously tells their life story.
With an intense and straightforward gaze, Margareth Mol says “Some people live larger than life. Leo lived larger than life. Leo lived larger than life!” The emphasis is on “larger”. The creator of hundreds of sculptures, portraits, innumerable sketches, paintings, ceramics, stained glass windows, mosaics, for six decades shared life with his wife, Margareth, living together in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada for all but the first few years of their marriage.
Margareth Mol, born Scholtes, met and married Leonid Molodoshanin in Berlin during the height of the Second World War. She knows every piece of art from that time forward, knows the competitions, his commissions, his awards, his travels and his dreams. There are things, however, from the years before their marriage that she does not claim to know.
Most of the biographical sketches written about Mol were informed by Mol, or Molodoshanin, as he was known before coming to Canada on December 31, 1948. For reasons he alone understood, prior to 1991 he promulgated what appear to be myths about his origins, his family, his student days. Even the lengthier, later biographical monographs accepted a story from him which bore significant inconsistencies. Once the Iron Curtain was lifted, however, his story did begin to change. Once family members contacted him, Mol dared to welcome family members from Siberia whom, under Communist rule, he long had secretly feared would be greatly endangered through association with him. The family reunion occurred towards the end of his life, and by that time the mythical story was entrenched. In fact, by that time, the retelling of mythical elements over and over again might well have begun to sound like the truth to Mol and, by extension, to those interested in his story.
In the 1994 National Film Board production, “Leo Mol in Light and Shadow”, directed by Elise Swerhone and filmed in 1992, Leo talks to his long-lost sister, Nina, on the phone and later is seen to greet her with a shower of tender affection at Winnipeg International Airport. Still images in the film, show three children with Hryhorii Molodoshanin and his wife in 1931 in Nalchyk, in the Caucasus, dispelling Leo’s story that he had no siblings. In fact, Leonid was one of seven children, but only three survived to adulthood. By the time he visited Nina in Siberia in 1991, she and he were the only Molodoshanin family survivors.
Leonid Molodoshanin received a grade five education in Nalchyk. From a biographical sketch suitable for publication, written by Leo and Margareth c. 1984, it is known that he was born in 1915, but it is not clear where he was born, other than to say generally in the former Soviet Union. The Soviet approach to education and training around 1925, when Leonid was ten, demanded that youth from the grade five or six level cease school and move into a trade, either in wood, metal or machinery. The ten year old showed artistic talent, and guided by a teacher and by his father, he found work painting posters, sketching, working with terracotta and eventually with ceramics. Glimmers of fact do shine through the cloudy uncertainties of Molodoshanin’s early years. The youth was taught from an early age the secrets of working with clay, largely in part by his gifted artisan of a father. What else is fact? Did he, as many have written, go to Vienna to study at the age of fifteen?
Contradictory in one sense because what was written earlier was informed by details supplied by the artist, himself, his widow states that Leonid studied in two academies only. He did not study in Vienna. From 1936 to 1941, he studied at the Leningrad Academy of Arts with Professor M. Manizer, in present day Saint Petersburg; and while in the Netherlands after the Second World War, he studied at the Academy of Arts in The Hague. In The Hague, Molodoshanin, a man who never stopped learning, added two skills to his profile: he learned the art of stained glass, and he learned to ride a bicycle. The climate of the seaside country, however, did not agree with him. More importantly, an overriding fear had settled on Leonid. He sensed that Communist Russia could overtake the continent; the young couple left the Netherlands for England, and in the last few days of 1948, they emigrated to Canada. Settling in Winnipeg early in 1949, the harsh Manitoba winter did not deter Leonid; the student, the artist, the master would thrive on the prairies.
In Canada, Molodoshanin became Mol. His first known church decoration, in 1949 in St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Winnipeg, is signed Molodoshanin. Soon afterwards, however, he was signing simply Mol, or a stylized Leo Mol. Leonid became Leo. In addition to St. Edward Church, he decorated the Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brandon in 1950, followed in 1951 with St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Beausejour. Mol began to look for opportunities in iconography and church decoration, working for a short while for Jakiv Maydanyk . His creative drive was divergent, expressing itself in porcelain, ceramics, portraiture, sculpture, painting and stained glass, all within his first decade in Canada. Later, mosaic was added to the list of media he employed. He found ways to promote his art, to sell it, to test the waters in competition.
In Leningrad, Molodoshanin’s first commission, in 1939, was a sculpture of composer Aleksandr Borodin, which still stands in the Leningrad Conservatory. His sculpture work was interrupted by the Second World War, but by 1952, in Winnipeg, he produced three sculptures: Madam X, Negro Girl, and Allan Eastman. Within another decade, the trickle became a torrent, and his subjects were individuals who walked the world stage. By 1958, he had produced a portrait of Pope John XXIII, and in June, 1964, his life-size sculpture of Taras Shevchenko was unveiled in Washington, DC, winner of an international competition. Mol was to win competitions in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1971; in Prudentopolis, Brazil, 1989; in Ottawa, in1986, and again in 2001, among others. His private commissions throughout this period grew with his reputation.
Portrait busts created by Mol include prominent world figures such as: Queen Elizabeth II, 1967, 1970; the Honourable John Diefenbaker, 1964, 1975, 1985; Winston Churchill, 1966; Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1965; John F. Kennedy, 1969. Bronze sculpture portraits or full figures of religious leaders include: Pope Paul VI, 1967; Pope John Paul II, 1979, 1982, 1983; Cardinal Joseph Slipyi, 1966, 1971; Cardinal Eugène Tisserant; Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, 1981; Metropolitan Michael Bzdel, 2005; Metropolitan Ilarion, 1968; Achilles Delaere, CSsR; Birth of Christ, 1971; Blessed Virgin of the Cossacks, 1971; Moses, 1969; Saint Volodymyr, 1984, 1988; Monsignor Kushnir, 1974; Pater Pio, 1984, and others.
Included in the lengthy inventory of Mol’s works are prominent public figures, artists or leaders, such as: Peter Kuch, 1960; F. H. Varley, 1961; A. Y. Jackson, 1962, 1965; Ferdinand Eckhart, 1963; Taras Shevchenko, 1964, 1970, 1971, 1989, 2000; K. S. Adams, 1967; A. J. Casson, 1970; Jaques Hnizdovsky, 1970; Tom Lamb, 1971, 1991; Dr. P. H. T. Thorlakson, 1973; Arno Breker, 1977; Terry Fox, 1982; Max Bell, 1990; William Norrie, 1995; William Forbes Alloway, 1996; Olexandr Koshitz (sic); Sviatoslav Hordynsky, among others.
In addition to sculpting world famous personalities, Mol was continually portraying natural beauty, in figures such as Kateryna, 1960; Kneeling Girl, 1965; The Bather, 1968; Walking Girl, 1968; Hairdo, 1970; Sasha, 1972; Vicki, 1972; Jane Lawson, 1972; Youth, 1972; Singing Girl, 1973; Torso of Balance, 1974; Surprise, and Justice, 1976; Girl with Mirror, 1977; Sunny, and Summertime, 1978; Sitting Girl, 1979; Swing and Reflecting Pool, 1980; and many, many others. He portrayed deer, bears or bear cubs as a repeated subject. He honoured the Ukrainian pioneer, the family, the bandurist, the trumpeter, lumberjacks, the farmer.
Finally, in 1992, as related by Margareth Mol, Leo was able to realize a dream he had held dearly for many years. Maintaining connections with a foundry in Germany, Mol visited Europe frequently at the peak of his career, visiting other artists and displays of art. As his personal art collection grew, so grew a concept to display this collection in a natural, green setting, similar to gardens in Germany, for instance. Through conversations late in the 1980s with City of Winnipeg Mayor, William Norrie, Mol sparked this dream into reality by offering the City hundreds of pieces of art to be displayed in Assiniboine Park. In the summer of 1992, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden was officially opened amid fanfare and celebration. It is touted as the only sculpture garden in North America of its kind, devoted to a single artist.
Leo Mol’s art is found around the world, in private and corporate collections, in galleries, museums, universities, and institutions such as the Vatican and the Collection of Modern Religious Art in the Vatican Museums in Rome; the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba; the Gallery of the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre, Oseredok, Winnipeg, Manitoba; the Great West Life Assurance Company, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Denver, Colorado; the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario; the Hamilton Art Gallery, Hamilton, Ontario; the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation, Toronto, Ontario; the Peter Whyte Gallery, Banff, Alberta; the Riveredge Foundation, Calgary, Alberta; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; and various other corporate and private collections in England, Germany, Italy, Holland, Canada and the United States.
The young man who travelled to Leningrad before the Second World War to work and to study was able to obtain the equivalent of an academic grade ten standing, and while he soaked up the skills of the artist, he learned the ways of the world. A life-long learner, Mol’s hunger for knowledge was recognized in his later years by institutions of higher learning. Both the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba conferred Honourary Degrees on him, as did the University of Edmonton, and the University of Sudbury. In 1989, Mol was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 2000, he received the Order of Manitoba. In 1992, upon the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, he was presented with a commemorative medal. The land of his student years honoured him as well, with a medal in 2003 during the 300th Anniversary of Saint Petersburg.
All his life, Mol sought out other artists, from his early student days in Leningrad, where he studied with Michail Annikuchin, to his friendships in Canada, with Winnipeg colleagues, Sviatoslav Hordynsky and Roman Kowal, to his contact with A. Y. Jackson and Fred Varley of the Group of Seven. Hordynsky, in tribute to his friend’s talents, wrote a commentary in the 1984 catalogue for the exhibition of Mol’s works at the Loch Gallery in Winnipeg. He pointed out that Mol’s knowledge of world art was vast, because Mol was studying the world’s art at every opportunity. Furthermore, though Mol was a classicist and realist, still, in Hordynsky’s perception, Mol ranked among the innovators of modern sculpture, among artists like Alexander Archipenko, or Ossip Zadkine, or cubist, Jacques Lipchitz. Almost from his arrival in Canada, Mol joined professional groups, for instance, first as a member and then as vice-president of the Sculptors’ Society of Canada. He served also as past president of the Manitoba Society of Artists, from 1957-1960, and belonged to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Margareth and Leo Mol occupied the same home for the last fifty of the sixty years they lived in Winnipeg. Really, though, it may be said Leo Mol made the world his home. He traveled the world in search of art, to gain knowledge of art. He studied art with a passion, and he poured that passion prolifically into creative works. He created, in every sense of the word, for eighty years, leaving behind him immortal treasures which grace homes, gardens, corporate walls. In 2009, Leo Mol, or Leonid Molodoshanin, passed from this world. His legacy in art remains, however, and more than that, together Leo and Margareth bequeathed to universities, libraries, archives, schools, and individuals who had entered their life, touching their hearts. From the turbulence of the Soviet regime and the Second World War to a life of artistic prominence, Mol finally could rest. Tellingly, as Mol says within the walls of the Sculpture Garden in Swerhone’s film, sculpture is light and shadow. Mol understood well the qualities of light and shadow; qualities of a life as well, and certainly of this sculptor’s life: light and shadow.
Scope and content
The books, pamphlets and exhibit catalogues were accepted as donations from Mrs. Mol for the intrinsic value of the volumes in relation to religious art or to Ukrainian art, or in relation to Mol’s art, and his thought process towards the making of art. Most of the publications have been integrated into the Chancery in-house library. The 328 still images include many of Mol’s sculpture subjects, living photos of individuals like Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, Metropolitan Michael Bzdel, Cardinal Yosef Slipyj; many photos are of Mol’s completed bronze sculptures; a large number are of his early church decoration in Beausejour, Brandon and Winnipeg; some are of his stained glass work in Winnipeg. Three sketches are of church decoration; one is an unfinished ink on glassine (?) Christ figure; two are white ink on matte board, of apostles; the fourth is pastel on paper, a portrait of Taras Shevchenko. The copies of sketches are of Metropolitan Ilarion and A.Y. Jackson. The postcards are religious by theme, predominantly Catholic, many of art in European heritage repositories. The holy cards include many Christian symbols. The poster is of the Caritas Dinner in Mol’s honour, 2001. The unfinished mosaic of Christ’s face is a conservation risk.
Immediate source of acquisition
The books, still images, other records, sketches and unfinished mosaic were created by, collected by, or held by artist, Leo Mol throughout his life in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They were donated to the Archives by his wife, Margareth Mol in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Language of material
- Church Slavic
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Restrictions on access
No restrictions on access, other than conservation risk, as indicated above.
Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication
Fonds description. Book list. Partial item level database description.
09.02.049 Rev. Semen Izyk Audio-Visual Collection DVD; interview in Ukrainian, Ukrainian Program 1989.
10.12. St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beausejour, Manitoba, 100th Anniversary booklet, 1909-2009, and Church Directory and Portraits, 2002.
10.13. St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Centennial Parish Directory, 1908-2008.
At least one more accrual anticipated, in cooperation with Margareth Mol, in order to create a full inventory of her husband’s works.
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