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Olivia Chow sculpts Jack Layton memorial

By Diana Swain

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When I learned that Olivia Chow had personally sculpted a bronze bust of Jack Layton, I was surprised and honestly a little apprehensive.

Before her time in federal politics, Chow was a Toronto City Councillor.  I had seen and met her many times and I don't remember ever hearing that she had artistic talent.

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"Maybe it's only me that doesn't know that", I wondered.  But as I canvassed colleagues in the newsroom, including those based in Ottawa, everyone reacted the same way.   

"She's done what?  Does she know how to do that?"

And so it was with some trepidation that I recently met her at a Mississauga warehouse where the bust was being stored until it was ready to move to Toronto's Necropolis cemetery.

What if it's not that good, I thought as I drove up to meet her there?  Will I be able to mask my reaction?  It would be inappropriate in the extreme for me to ruin, even unintentionally, such a personal tribute to her late husband.

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And yet, as the pictures on this page show, the bust is very good.  Strikingly good.

I learned that Chow not only has talent, but began her professional life as a sculptor after finishing art school.  Even then she was drawn to political causes, trying to move people into action with provocative sculptures of children who were starving.

It was that social conscience that attracted her to volunteerism and ultimately to politics.  She told me changing attitudes through art was subtle and time consuming; she was impatient, and believed then as she does still, that political action is the way to get things done more quickly.

Chow says it's been years since she's done sculpture, and despite having done the bust, she doesn't have plans to do more.  She says she wants to keep her day job...for as long as the voters will have her.

But hopefully, she'll find the time to do both.  Talent like this shouldn't be a secret.