Sculptor recalls session with David Ben- Gurion

By Janice Arnold
The Canadian Jewish News
June 11, 1998.

MONTREAL- In the corner of a basement in an Outremont home, the stern countenance of David Ben-Gurion looks down form its pedestal. For over 30yrs., the bronze bust by pre-eminent Quebec sculptor Paul Lancz has been a fond reminder of a meeting he and Israel’s founding father had in 1967 in Montreal in the heady days following the Six Days War. Lancz, who had emigrated form Hungary10 years earlier, was commissioned by State of istail Bonds to produce a small terra cotta bust of Ben gurion, copies of which were to be given as tokens of appreciation to 100 purchasers of $ 10,000 or more of the securities. Lancz did most of the work form photographs, but when Ben-Gurion came to Montreal to speak at a Bond dinner he spent about 1 ˝ hours with him, giving the bust its final touches. A wealthy member of the Jewish community, whose name now escapes Lancz, 79, commissioned him to cast the bust in bronze, which he donated to the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. On a whim, Lancz cast a second one for himself. And so that solid bald head, with the wisps of hair floating at the sides, has ruled benevolently over Lancz’s studio, where there can be found the plaster models of many of his other subjects form a 40- year career, including U.S. president John. K Kennedy Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips, ballet mistress Ludmilla Chiriaeff, and businessmen Pierre Peladeau, Rene Lepine and Alexis Nihon. Ben-Gurion was dusted off recently and put on public display at Place des Arts for the Canadian Zionist Federation’s concert in honor of Israel’s 50th anniversary. Lancz’s wife of 47 years died a few months ago and he has sold his three-storey cottage, where he has lived and worked for 40 years and is moving into a small condo in St. Sauveur, near his daughter.

Still creating

He intends to keep working, but he won’t have the space he has now. He’d like Ben-Gurion to go to a good home. " Ben - Gurion was quite a small man physically, and when I met him he was past 80, but you could feel this fantastic power, the strength of his personality. He was like a lion." Lancz said. Lancz wanted that iron will to whine through in his rendering of Ben-Gurion’s visage, and he succeeded. The eyes are penetrating, yet tinged with an avuncular kindness. " a bronze bust shouldn’t be a photograph. I would say I add between 25 and 30 percent from my imagination to what is there in reality because bronze has no color, no blood. It isn’t alive. Lancz describes Ben-Gurion’s features themselves as " interesting.. a real Jewish face. " During much of the time Lancz spent with the Israeli elder statesman in his Queen Elizabeth Hotel room, the two men sang together the songs of the left-wing Zionist youth group, Hashomer hatzair,, to which they had both belonged. " He was very pleased that I could still remember them," said lancz, who hadn’t then and still hasn’t visited Israel. Ben-Gurion liked the model Lancz sculpted before his eyes., and when the sitting was finished he carved his name- in Hebrew- in the shoulder of wet clay and this is quite visible on the bronze. Although rather frail and hard of hearing, lancz is still creating. Among his new works are busts of artist Jean-Paul Lemieux, which is to be unveiled in his native Quebec City in September, and premier René Levesque, which was commissioned by Hydro- Quebec. " I remember I met lLevesque on St. Lawrence Boulevard years ago and asked him if I could do a sculpture of him. He said, " later," and I said, " I might not be here later". As it turned out he went before me, and I had to make his bust from photos. Over the years, lancz has immortalized in bronze and sometimes marble such eminent Quebec personalities as Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger ( who came to his home in the heart of the Chassidic community for five sittings), Daniel Johnson Sr. And Dr. Armand Frappier. Lancz finds just a bit of irony in the fact that a Jewish immigrant, who speaks little French, became so favored by the province’s elite. One of his most personally meaningful assignments was Raoul Wallenberg, whose bust the Jewish community erected as a memorial in the garden behind downtown Christ Church Cathedral. Lancz, who was in Budapest during the war working for the Hungarian army, knew firsthand of Wallenberg’s efforts to save Hungarian Jews form the Nazis. Lancz lost the great majority of his 170 relatives in the Holocaust. His Kennedy bust, commissioned by Birks jewellers, can be seen at the corner of President Kennedy and Jeanne mance streets. Lancz was already an established sculpture in Hungary before he left in 1957 in the wake of the revolution, but his early interest was in figurative art. But after arriving penniless, he did what he had to do to make a living. His first commission in Canada was from Seagram executive Abe Bronfman, who wanted a bust of himself. He later did his brother Allan as well. More recently, he did a small head of Zionist pioneer Theodor Herzl for their nephew, Edgar Bronfman, which was also exhibited at Placce des Arts beside Ben-Gurion.