The Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame has recently lost a contributing artist who had been instrumental in ensuring the success of the program from its very beginning in 1986.
Bill Burns, chair of the Citizens Hall of Fame Committee, and Peter Squire, staff administrator of this unique Winnipeg Real Estate Board program, attended the funeral last week of local sculptor Josef Randa. He fought valiantly to stave off his first bout of cancer a few years ago, but following a period of remission, the cancer came back and persisted to claim his life — a life dedicated to family and the beauty of art in its entire splendor.
He was an extremely proud and caring individual with immense talent. The board was very fortunate to have him as an integral part of the Citizens Hall of Fame program, which started with his first commissioned sculpture of 1989 inductee George Campbell MacLean.
Randa went on to do six more sculptures, including 2004 inductee Carl Ridd. It will be installed later this year and was done under trying circumstances given the pain he endured coping with cancer.
Other Citizens Hall of Fame inductees who have had their busts sculpted by Josef Randa are: Arnold Spohr, Ben Hatskin, George Johnson, Vince Leah, and William Gomez Fonseca.
Over and above these commissioned works, which can be observed close up at the hall of fame site at the Formal Garden in Assiniboine Park (southeast entrance off Corydon), Randa assisted local artist Eva Stubbs with the casting of her Hall of Fame sculptures. He was also instrumental in reclaiming damaged sculptures through his strong technical knowledge of working with bronze and the different foundry processes involved. His expertise included being keenly aware of the different patinas that result from a sculpture’s exposure to the elements over time.
Randa was born in Prague, the Czech Republic, in 1933, and had an impressive background in sculpting before he immigrated to Canada in 1968.
“ He studied at the Ceramic School of Prague from 1952 and apprenticed thereafter,” according to his obituary. “He worked for the National Artist Group where he was a sculptor and restorer.”
The obituary goes on to say Randa was a complete artist who was not only capable of working in all mediums but could do his own formwork, casting and reproductions.
Of course, board members only knew him from what he did for the Citizens Hall of Fame.
Randa created many wonderful pieces of art, both public and private, that are in many far-flung places besides Winnipeg. Locally, some of his works can be seen at the Aquatic Hall of Fame at the Pan Am Pool, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet building and a number of churches. In fact, the reverend who presided at the funeral service was a close friend of Randa’s, and his church was the beneficiary of a magnificent religious sculpture.
In the early days of the program, when the Citizens Hall of Fame site was still located along the riverwalk near the Forks (a river runs through it now), Randa was called upon to touch up sculptures and advise on what we should do to secure them without detracting from the presentation. You could always count on him to not only do what needed to be done but to offer his own insights into how things could be improved.
After the city gave its permission to relocate the Citizens Hall of Fame to the higher ground of Assiniboine Park, Randa was there to help with all the refinishing touch-ups and welding that was needed to securely fix the sculptures to their granite pedestals.
Randa also made the terrific portraiture of William Gomez Fonseca displayed at the board’s 100th anniversary exhibition of housing history at the Winnipeg Convention Centre in 2003 prior to it being cast in bronze. Fonseca, inducted in the historic category, is considered a city founder and was a citizen who was around when the WREB was formed 102 years ago.
Randa is one of the four original sculptors who were called upon by the Citizens Hall of Fame Committee to apply their portraiture skills and talent to create likenesses of outstanding Winnipeggers who have been inducted in the Citizens Hall of Fame since its creation in 1986. The three other sculptors are Eva Stubbs (created the Citizens Hall of Fame medallion that is awarded to each inductee), Leo Mol (an inductee himself under the arts category) and Helen Granger-Young. Madeleine Vrignon and Miguel Joya are two other sculptors who have joined the program more recently.
Randa was a consummate professional who had a passion for his work and was always supportive of the Hall of Fame through all of its trials and tribulations. You might say he was one of the program’s guardian angels and we know he will continue in this role from up above.