How November got her growl back: Westmount School grotesque gets facelift

Two “grotesques” at Westmount School are getting reconstructive surgery care of a stone carver who’s come all the way from Norway.

Norway-based stone-carver performing repairs on gargoyle-like sculptures

Stone carver Akira Inman working on a grotesque at Westmount School in Edmonton. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Two grotesques at Westmount School are getting reconstructive surgery care of a stone carver who's come all the way from Norway.

The gargoyle-like stone carvings — nicknamed November and Sierra — flank the front door of the junior high school on 130th Street that opened in 1913.

November and Sierra were fashioned like wolves, which was the school mascot when it first opened. Over the years, both suffered facial-altering injuries.

"Sierra needs some dental work, and someone pulled its tongue out," said Darrel Babuk, principal at Boreas Architecture & Civic Design and a heritage architect who works with the school. "November was missing its snout. It was missing its nose and mouth."

The search for a stone carver 

Westmount School principal Rick Stanley said it was proving extremely difficult to find someone capable of making the fix.

"I've spent the last two or three years trying to seek out somebody who had the craftsmanship or professional capacity to take this on and there's nobody," he said. 

Luckily, serendipity was on Westmount School's side.

"Just by luck, going through my circle of contacts, I found that one of the world's pre-eminent stone carvers, Akira Inman, was going to be in Edmonton," said Babuk.

Inman's grandmother, an Edmontonian, is turning 100 years old on Sept. 29 and the stone carver decided to make the trip to Edmonton to see her. He agreed to repair November while he's in town.

Inman is performing a dutchman stone repair, or a "dutchman." It's used when the stone carver wants to repair only one part of the stone, instead of a full replacement.

Norway-based stone-carver Akira Inman is replacing the snout of November (right), which had been broken for years. A clay mock-up shows what the finished product will look like. (Darrel Babuk )

"You just remove the area that's destroyed and then you make a new carving, and you pin it in using, usually, threaded rod and the joints with mortar, and it's as tight as possible."

It's intricate work that will take Imran a few days of his Edmonton holiday.

"I'm fitting it and trying to replicate the previous carver's style, using one grainy photo that we have as reference," he said.

To make the new snout, Inman used a rough-cut piece of stone provided by local masons at Scorpio Masonry.

But first, he had to make a full-size mock-up in clay.

A close-up of a clay model for November's new snout. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"I made it as a reference for myself. If you carve stone too deep, there is no fix."

The new stone has to be fitted to the original grotesque, and eventually Inman will chisel in the final details.

Inman has been working with stone for 10 years. He had a business in Ontario for three years before taking a three-year heritage stone-carving program in London, England. Now, he's working at Norway's Stavanger Cathedral, which is the country's oldest.

As part of his contract at Westmount School, Inman agreed to a half-day presentation about his work. Babuk hopes it will inspire some of the students to get into the masonry trades.

According to Inman, it's very satisfying work. Inman's been putting in long hours in order to get the job done while he's here, but he says it's worth it.

"I love it. It can be stressful at times, but the stress, the creativity, the challenges...each job is different. As a stonemason stone carver you're always learning."