Ant-hill brain sculpture is Alberta artist's gift to life-saving surgeon

When Pierre Bolduc's brain aneurysm burst on an operating table, his surgeon sprang into action, clamping veins and arteries and saving the Alberta artist's life. Naturally, Bolduc was thankful — and he came up with a unique way of saying so.

Pierre Bolduc's sculpture now on display at Foothills Hospital

Pierre Bolduc almost died on the operating table because of a brain aneurysm. He was looking for an original way to thank his doctor and decided to make an ant colony sculpture. 0:28

When Pierre Bolduc's brain aneurysm burst on an operating table, his surgeon sprang into action, clamping veins and arteries and saving the Alberta artist's life. Naturally, Bolduc was thankful — and he came up with a unique way of saying so.

While recovering from his surgery, in which he lost almost two litres of blood, he came up with the idea of making a cast of an ant nest because the structure reminded him of neural connections. 

"It was for the sole purpose of fabricating something that looked like a brain and it would be an offering to the surgeon," said Bolduc, who lives near Bragg Creek, southwest of Calgary. 

Pierre Bolduc poured aluminum into an ant nest to make this sculpture that made him think of neural connections. It's a thank-you gift for the brain surgeon who saved his life. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Tried to save ants but 'it didn't work so well'

The process wasn't brain surgery, but it certainly wasn't easy.

Bolduc built a miniature foundry out of a beer keg he found floating through Bragg Creek during the 2013 floods and figured out the best type of aluminum to pour into an ant's nest in order to capture its intricacies.

He also tried to salvage the ants that called the nest home with the help of a vacuum, but, he says, "it didn't work so well."

In the end, Bolduc managed to pour the boiling metal into a nest and placed the finished product on casts of his hands with a plaque that reads "hold on to this thought."

He delivered the thank-you gift to Dr. Garnette Sutherland on Dec. 21.

"He was incredibly touched by the amount of work that went into the piece," said Bolduc. "The brain, it's rather difficult to express."

Pierre Bolduc shares a hug with Dr. Garnette Sutherland, the man who saved his life when his brain aneurysm exploded prior to surgery. (CBC)


The sculpture is now sitting in a room of the Seaman Family Centre at the Foothills Hospital, yet another thing Bolduc is grateful for. 

"It's part of the establishment at the hospital now," he said. "It's a very touching and wonderful thought. Hopefully people will be inspired to work a little bit deeper and try to find solutions for other patients when they're going through hard times."

Bolduc thinks more people should take the time to thank the doctors and nurses who help people every day, rather than taking them for granted. 

"There are so many people that they go to visit the doctors and they say, 'Well, the government will say thank you to them. I don't need to say thank you, I just need to take my pills and leave.'"


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