The mad scientist of the Whitehorse art scene, Philippe LeBlond, has been busy in his lab – er – studio the last six or so weeks.
LeBlond and local painter Halin de Repentigny have teamed up with Mt. Sima to raise money to help cover the cost of the ski resort’s new $3-million chairlift.
“We’re very excited about the program we’ve created that will allow the community to show their support for the new chairlift,” said Patti Balsillie, a board member with the Great Northern Ski Society that oversees Mt. Sima operations, in a media release. “This is a fun and unique program, which allows people to see their contribution for years to come.”
Like many of LeBlond’s works, “unique” is good word to describe it.
The Mt. Sima Rolling Ball Sculpture, unveiled this week, is a hectic work of art.
The sculpture, which is 2.4 metres high and 3.6 metres wide, sits in front of de Repentingy’s mural of Mt. Sima of the same size. It contains a functional, miniature chairlift and T-bar that collect ping-pong balls from the base and delivers them to the top. The balls then zigzag down a multitude of wire tracks, resembling the movement of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes. There’s even a loop.
LeBlond describes the kinetic sculpture as “a lot of randomness.”
“What I like about these sculptures is the random aspect,” he said. “This one has some randomness to it. You don’t know how the balls are going to kick out of it, which gate they are going to go through. It’s not repeatable – it doesn’t get boring.”
In addition to some coffee cans in the pulley systems, a curved grate to resemble a halfpipe and beaded chains as little lift-cables, the sculpture contains three oven rotisserie motors with the miniature chairlift using one at the top and another at the bottom. The miniature T-bar uses the third.
LeBlond estimates he used 30 or 40 metres of hardened steel welding wire to make the tracks and spent “hundreds” of hours working on it.
“At the end of November I built the frame, tinkered here, tinkered there, but the last three weeks have been solid,” said LeBlond, who believes it to be his sixth rolling-ball sculpture.
“Ping-pong balls are perfect for little advertising signs, and they’re all identical, which is really important in a rolling ball sculpture,” he added. “And people can write on them.”
Writing on the balls is where the community fundraising initiative comes in.
Starting this week the sculpture’s 400 ping-pong balls are up for sale, ranging from $50 to $500. Purchasers will be listed in order of the amount spent on a plaque next to the piece, which will be on permanent display in the resort’s lodge.
Then, on Feb. 4, contributors can decorate their balls before the sculpture is incased under Plexiglass.
“We found a unique and fun way for people to show their support,” said Balsillie. “Key to know, the ball you purchase is not only recognized on a permanent plaque, this will be incased in glass with all the balls that have been purchased. It will be running during operational hours when people are in here, so the kids, families and supporters can come in here and see the balls they have purchased in action.”
LeBlond first delved into the art world making wind vanes a decade-and-a-half ago and has kept his welding torch going ever since. He is behind many of the unique bike racks seen around Whitehorse and creates popular raven pieces out of recycled refrigerator panels.
His love of bicycles has been an inspiration. Last fall he caught the media’s attention with his five-metres in diameter dome made entirely out of bicycle rims on his front yard on Lewes Boulevard.
“Mt. Sima has something now to tinker with from now until eternity,” said LeBlond. “It certainly was a lot of effort … I really like the idea of people taking possession of a sculpture and being able to participate in it is really exciting.”
With an injection of $100,000 from Pelly Construction Ltd., giving the new lift the Pelly Construction Chairlift name, the Great Northern Ski Society has raised $233,000 so far in its fundraising campaign. It also received a $1.6-million grant from the City of Whitehorse last June.
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