Notre Dame in her heart – and art

Watching images of flames bursting through the roof of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop was heartbroken.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2019 (1505 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Watching images of flames bursting through the roof of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop was heartbroken.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Artist Wanda Koop: 'I was just heartbroken when I saw the steeple topple'

Koop’s grief was personal, as the cathedral holds a special place in her heart — and in her art.

For six months in 1991, when Koop lived in Paris, she sketched the cathedral. Hundreds of sketches of the world-famous monument’s exterior, from front to back and near to far.

“I drew Notre Dame from every conceivable location,” Koop said, sitting in her studio Tuesday, thumbing through a sketch book. “I was just heartbroken when I saw the steeple topple (Monday).

“I did 10 books like this and I gave them away. I only kept one. I did them over a six-month period from different angles and then I used them to make my big ink drawings.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Artist Wanda Koop in her Winnipeg Studio with one of the ten sketch books she carried with her that she filled with drawings of the Notre Dame Cathedral during her six-month Canada Council Paris Studio trip. 190416 - Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

While the ink drawings were created as large, poster-size artwork, Koop’s original pencil sketches are small.

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The sketch book is so tiny — about five by three centimetres — with the drawings not much bigger than an adult’s thumbnail, it is amazing to see so much detail in such a small space. With about 150 drawings per notebook, she did around 1,500 sketches.

The small notebooks served another purpose.

“I don’t like people watching me at work,” Koop said.

“I would hold it and with my pencil, I would draw. No one could see what I’m doing. It was so personal and so private, and I was alone in Paris.”

Koop, who was honoured in 2005 as a member of the Order of Canada, as one of the country’s most renowned visual artists and the founder of Art City, a community centre for inner-city youth, was already well-established when she moved to Paris.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Koop, who went to the the University of Manitoba’s School of Art in the early 1970s, had her first solo show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1981.

Koop said when she went to Paris, she had no idea the only work she would produce there would be the series of cathedral drawings, but that’s what happens when you are an artist.

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“As an artist, especially when you go to a foreign place, you are looking out and observing and translating the world around you,” she said.

“I just found a motif that worked for me. I was a metaphor for my centre. It is the centre of Paris — it became a metaphor for the heart. And I became obsessed with it.

“It isn’t human, it is a structure, but we still feel it.”

The 12th-century monument was ravaged by fire Monday, with most of the roof burning as firefighters battled to save the two towers and main structure.

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

As for what happened to the artwork which came from Koop’s sketches, a handful are owned by public individuals but most are still wrapped in paper, tucked away on a shelf in her studio.

“I never did anything with them. I just brought them home. It wasn’t to be shown. I didn’t make a show out of it,” she said. “I just did it.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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