A Bristol artisan was recently given a promotion, taking on the prestigious title of Dominion Sculptor of Canada. Having worked for several years as an assistant to outgoing Dominion Sculptor Phil White, John-Philippe Smith said that he was excited to take on the prestigious role. He is the sixth person to hold the title since its creation.
Raised on a farm in Bristol, Smith said that he grew up enjoying the outdoors and also picked up some artistic habits from his parents. After leaving for education and employment in the city, he and his wife purchased a property in the municipality back in 2016. Smith said that it felt good to return to his old stomping grounds.
After spending time working in sales, Smith decided he needed a change and enrolled in a Heritage Masonry program at Algonquin College. Since the stone carving scene is much more developed in Europe, Smith travelled to France and honed his craft alongside some real masters of the field.
Upon his return to Canada, Smith ran his own business before joining the parliamentary sculpting team in April 2018.
He explained that his work in the parliamentary precinct involves a wide variety of sculpted elements and materials, from wood and plaster to different types of stone. Also, he and his team have the opportunity to create new sculpted elements, as the architect of Centre Block deliberately left blank spaces for future generations to add their own sculpted work.
Smith had high praise for his predecessor and former boss, White, who announced his retirement in 2021 after 15 years as Canada’s top carver.
“I’ve known Phil for some time. First and foremost he’s an amazing sculptor, particularly in wood, the work he does is incredible. I learned a lot of things from him with regard to the processes of working at parliament ... He gave me a lot of the tools that I need to be successful at my work and I owe him a lot for that,” he said.
Outside of his professional work, Smith is currently sculpting a bust of his late father, who passed away in 2019. He said that the project has taken him several years because working on it feels like spending time with his dad. He said he hoped to finish the project this winter.
The full interview with Smith is available here.
Below are examples of Smith’s work, the first being a grotesque that he sculpted for the West Block of Parliament Hill in 2015. The second is a Senate emblem that he created in 2011 that sits in Centre Block. Photos courtesy of Public Services and Procurement Canada.