OCAD University

Former faculty member Leonhard Oesterle (1915–2009) remembered

January 4, 2010

Leonhard Oesterle (1915-2009)

Leonhard Oesterle. Photo courtesy of Dennis Shields.
German Canadian sculptor and educator Leonhard Friederich Oesterle, R.C.A., O.S.A. passed away on November 7, 2009. A faculty member from 1964 until his retirement in 1987, he was head of OCAD’s sculpture program.

Born in Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany in 1915, Oesterle spent several years of his youth in concentration camps before escaping to Switzerland in 1943. He wrote about this period of time in a book titled Glücksvogel, published by Sigbert E. Kluwe in 1990. According to Oesterle, these experiences pushed him to pursue a career as a sculptor. Oesterle attended the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich and became a studio assistant to celebrated Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba. He eventually returned to Germany before immigrating to Canada in 1956. It was Toronto where his work flourished, and where he met his partner, Shifra Salomea Nussbaum.

Oesterle would later divide his time between Toronto and Arizona, where he discovered Californian lava stone and with it, a renewed vigour for his sculptural work. He was honoured in 1991 with two retrospective exhibitions in Germany. And in 1996, he gifted the museum in his hometown of Bietigheim with a large body of his sculpture and paper works.

Oesterle was appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy of Artists and later to the Ontario Society of Artists. Today his work can be found in public and private collections across North America and Europe. It has also been included in several Hollywood films; among them, Three Men and a Baby, America and Deadly Business.

“I first met Leonhard in 1970,” remembers OCAD alumnus Dennis Shields (AOCA, Sculpture/Installation, 1973). “His great lesson to me was not just about art, the what and the how to make it. Through his gentle humility, his passion and his indomitable spirit, Oesterle taught me what it means to be human — that it’s not enough just to survive. Rather, it’s the how you survive that matters.”

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