Sometimes, you find art, and art patrons, in the most surprising of places.
One of the great free-to-the-public installations of sculptural art in Canada lines the Windsor, Ontario-side bank of the Detroit River.
Formerly known as the Odette Sculpture Park, the now-renamed Windsor Sculpture Park has more than 30 large-scale sculptures installed along a park trail that spans from the current Art Gallery of Windsor in downtown Windsor west to the Ambassador Bridge.
The original inspiration for spiffing up the waterfront with art came from Louis and Patricia Odette, avid art collectors. Louis, who died in 2011, founded Eastern Construction, which became a prominent contracting firm based initially out of Windsor that completed major projects across the country, including Roy Thomson Hall and the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto. Although the Odettes moved to Toronto in 1963, as the business grew, they never forgot their hometown. It was Louis’s wish to establish a “museum without walls” in Windsor and in 1997 the Odette Sculpture Park opened, financed by him, his wife, and their charitable foundation.
The family also funded for many years the much-smaller Toronto Sculpture Garden, opened in 1981 to host short-term sculpture exhibitions, tucked away on a small plot of downtown land running between King and Front streets, east of Church Street.
As a frequent traveller to Windsor to visit relatives, I appreciated being able to take a walk along the sculpture trail, whether on a sunny winter morning, in spring when the parks department’s accompanying bulb beds were full to bursting, or on a hot summer’s day.
And in one of those small-world moments, when my partner started a new job in 2014, we discovered one of his colleagues was Louis Odette’s son, also Louis (known as Lou).
Philanthropy of many hues make Canada a more-vibrant, innovative and healthier place to live. And there’s a fascinating history behind the Odette urge to beautify through sculpture.
Louis Odette studied at the London School of Economics (LSE) in London, England, and travelled in Europe before returning to Canada to begin his business “He saw sculpture gardens in Europe and appreciated their effect on public life,” his son, Lou, says. ” I think that as a builder of public spaces, such as malls, universities and government buildings, he had direct experience of how art could improve these spaces.”
Not well-known in Canada is that Odette also donated 11 sculptures (some from the same artists as are in the Windsor Sculpture Park) to his alma mater, the LSE, to beautify that urban campus.
And not known at all, Lou says, is that his father was “a bit of a jokester and created and installed a few things himself under the name ‘Alphonse Duquette’.” Two such sculptures are part of the LSE installation and one — “Tiger Business” — has a place of pride along the Detroit River in the Windsor Sculpture Park.
The sculpture is described thus: “A whimsical sculpture reflecting found object art, this piece features a navigational buoy adorned with a bronze tiger head and claw feet. Tiger Business presents the dual nature of fun and fearlessness often reflected in young children. The raging face of the tiger contrasts with the curved ball-shaped body and grounded with traditional claw feet from a piece of furniture.”
“Very few people were in on the joke,” Lou says. “I told the story to a reporter from the Windsor Star who was writing [Louis Odette’s] obituary but, when he called back to confirm, my mother denied it — dad had never told her.”
Main photo: Chris Moorehead of Kelley Teahen with Cordella by Marion Kantaroff