Nfld. & Labrador

'Goosebumps' for Ottawa artist in Gander seeing father's work for first time

An artist from Ottawa travelled to Gander last week to see his father's sculpture in person for the first time.

Rene Price saw the airport's Birds of Welcome sculpture in person last week

Rene Price examines a piece of art created by his father, the Birds of Welcome sculpture, which was installed in the Gander Airport in 1958. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

An Ottawa artist made a special trip to Gander last week, to see a family treasure up-close.

For the first time ever, Rene Price got a first-hand look at the original Birds of Welcome sculpture, a fixture in Gander Airport's international lounge since 1958.

The piece was created by his father, under commission by the airport's designers, and has greeted international passengers travelling through Gander throughout the terminal's heyday.

"It gives you a bit of goosebumps, you know," he said. "It actually really looks good."

Price believes his father, Arthur Price, never got to see the piece in Gander. However, the installation did lead to a bit of a break for the Ottawa artist.

According to Rene, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Walter Annenberg, saw the piece on a stopover in Gander, and immediately ordered two replicas to be made.

"For my father, that was probably his biggest deal that ever happened," Price said.

The Birds of Welcome statue was displayed in Gander's airport throughout the heyday of the airport's popularity. Airport CEO Reg Wright said in August that as many as 1.5 million travellers would move through the Airport during its peak. (GanderHeritageTrails/Twitter)

Those copies are now on display in New York and in California — Rene Price and his wife Petra Halkes had seen the two replicas before, but this was their first time inspecting the original creation.

"I'm kinda like collecting them," said Price. "So this was an opportunity to come to this thing."

Because it was kept inside, Price said the original sculpture is in much better shape than its replicas. But he said he believed the art work was at risk recently, because of the Gander International Airport Authority's 2014 plans to replace the entire terminal building.

The main lobby of the Gander International Airport as seen in 1959 by photographer Gar Lunney. The Birds of Welcome sculpture is front and centre in the lounge. (Gar Lunney and Library and Archives Canada/National Film Board)

"Over the years — my father passed away in 2008 — I've watched a lot of his sculptures as a lot of them have disappeared," he said. "Because the way people do things nowadays is they start over again."

But in 2017, the airport said it would renovate — not replace — the existing building. And this month, Airport CEO Reg Wright announced plans to open up the celebrated international lounge to the public.

Watch Rene Price find his father's artwork in Gander and see Arthur Price in his home in Ottawa in 1955 in the video player below.

An Ottawa artist travelled to Gander to see his father's sculpture for the first time. 2:17

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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