Leo Arcand had no idea that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was carrying one of his sculptures Wednesday morning when he arrived in Washington for a state visit with the president of the United States.
The Alberta Cree artist from Alexander First Nation said he had only heard the news after his artwork had been presented to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Arcand said he got a call Wednesday morning from Bearclaw Gallery in Edmonton, where his work has been shown for the past two decades.
"She said, 'I have some great news. One of your pieces was given as a gift to President Obama.' I'm, like, 'What? How did that happen?' I didn't really know what to say."
The sculpture, titled Courage, was among the gifts Canada's first family presented to their White House counterparts when they arrived in the U.S. capital.
No one was more surprised, perhaps, than the artist himself, who said he had no idea the prime minister had even bought some of his work.
Gallery assistant Hope Wright said Bearclaw was contacted by the prime minister's office a few weeks ago. The PMO asked for information about the gallery's artists and some photos of the works.
Trudeau's office eventually purchased some pieces, Wright said, though the gallery had no idea where the work would finally end up.
"I couldn't believe it," she said, after learning the sculpture was headed for the White House. "We knew that it could go to a world leader, but we weren't given any information beyond that."
Wright characterized Arcand's work as deeply spiritual, saying it "reflects a lot of the animals that are important in his culture."
"By presenting a piece like this, it just goes to show he's backing the people of Canada and those First Nations artists," Wright said of the prime minister. "And showing the world the beauty of our culture and our art we're so lucky to have in Canada."
Arcand has worked mainly in soapstone since 1991. His artwork has been sold all over the world.