When the new Laurentian University School of Architecture building opens later this year, there will be distinctly northern Ontario art featured in its halls.

One of the installations will feature 300 life-size rock bass created by Sudbury artist Ray Laporte. 

The fish, crafted from rock and wire, are recognizable to many Sudburians.

Laporte, 65, says he's built a reputation on his rock bass creations, but the work has very humble origins.  

"When I was driving cab, and pretty broke," Laporte said, "I kept seeing people buying these pet rocks. So I was studying [an artist who made pet rocks] and I thought 'how can I get in on that?"

"I was driving by the slag heap in Copper Cliff, and then it dawned on me," Laporte said, "Rock Bass."

And so the Sudbury artist began collecting red and black granite, from Willisville to south of the French River - to create his 'rock bass'.

Laurentian School of Architecture

When construction of Laurentian's School of Architecture is completed this year, it will feature some of the most unique art in northern Ontario. (Marcus Schwabe)

The rock bass proved immediately popular with customers - in his second summer of making them, he was able to sustain himself with food and gas money across two tours of Georgian Bay.

Laporte estimates that in 20 years, he has probably sold 1000 of the fish, at between $30 and $60 apiece.

"They're sort of a synthesis — the outside will have heavy steel wire, and the inside I'll fill or play different shapes in it," Laporte said.

Rock art piece

Unique art piece, created by Sudbury artist Ray Laporte, will be displayed in the Laurentian University School of Architecture's new building in downtown Sudbury. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

For about ten years, a longtime friend of Laporte's, Sudbury architect Dennis Castellan, has wanted to get the bass into an installation.

Castellan was able to introduce Laporte to the School of Architecture's director, Terrance Galvin, who was intrigued by the work, and invited the artist to develop a piece for the new wing of the school.

Laporte views that commitment from the director, and the work it will entail, as a high-water mark in his career. He's even calling the installation a "legacy piece."

"This is as good as it gets," said Laporte, "I'm honoured, it's humbling, it fills you with pride."

Castellan is trying to raise funds for the installation, and those who are interested in contributing can contact Dennis Castellan, at (705) 674-2300 or dcastellan@cjparch.com.

with files from Markus Schwabe. Edited/packaged by Casey Stranges