Constantina Agganis Orphanos had not seen her brother since
1955, and she was nervous. Harry Agganis had been an All-America
quarterback at Boston University and a first baseman for his
hometown Red Sox, but in the years since his death from a
pulmonary embolism, memories of the 26-year-old scholar with the
movie-star looks had faded. Now Orphanos was to be face-to-face
with him again, and when the cover was lifted and she gazed into
his eyes, she nearly fainted.
This is an article from the Jan. 22, 1996 issue
Harry had not changed at all.
This was no horror-movie nightmare: The New England Sports
Museum, in Cambridge, Mass., had just unveiled a life-sized
painted wooden sculpture of Agganis made by Armand LaMontagne of
North Scituate, R.I., and after viewing the figure with its old
BU uniform and left arm cocked to pass, Orphanos was sure her
brother's image would no longer be endangered by the passage of
Unveiled on July 6, the Agganis sculpture joined LaMontagne's
wooden versions of better-known New England legends Larry Bird,
Bobby Orr and Carl Yastrzemski as the museum's top attractions.
Similar works of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth stand inside the
entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame; they are the most
photographed items in Cooperstown.
With hair, clothes and shoes all carved from single
1,800-to-2,500-pound blocks of basswood, LaMontagne's works
often leave viewers staring in disbelief at what appears to be
real skin, wool and leather. Sometimes amazement gives way to
emotion; upon seeing his statue in 1985, the notoriously
rough-edged Williams broke down and cried. "Armand captures a
spark of personality in his work, which nobody else seems able
to do in wood sculpture," says Roger Schroeder, who has written
nine books on the subject. "Others attempt it and come up with
something impressionistic or caricaturelike, but he makes
subjects come alive. He's pushing wood to its limits."
The grandson of an architect and son of a construction-site
superintendent, LaMontagne, 57, says he was "weaned on wood."
Today he lives and works in a replica of a 17th-century
wood-and-stone house he built and furnished himself, which sits
alongside three other homes he built on a street in North
Scituate. LaMontagne calls them "my four biggest sculptures,"
but in his studio it is apparent which work excites him most.
His subjects have included George Patton and Eleanor Roosevelt,
but autographed bats, balls and jerseys dominate the wall space
between his handcrafted tools.
"Carving athletes is a thrill," says LaMontagne, who played
varsity football at Boston College. "They are my heroes." Though
LaMontagne earns roughly $200,000 per sculpture, he is more
excited by the opportunities he has had to talk hitting with
Williams or practice foul shooting with Bird when they visited
his studio for modeling sessions. "I identify with them because
of my work ethic," LaMontagne says. "When Larry asked me how I
learned to do this, I told him it started when I was a
seven-year-old kid and skipped dinner to try and whittle a gun.
I worked with my hands and was constantly honing my craft, just
like he did."
LaMontagne also has the stubborn pride of an athlete, which in
some cases helps break down barriers. When Williams asked him,
"Is this all there is?" upon seeing his half-completed
sculpture, the sculptor handed him a chisel and shot back, "Do
you want to finish it?" Williams laughed, and LaMontagne's
childhood idol had become a friend.
LaMontagne puts six months of 80-hour weeks into each work, and
as the end draws near, the slightest detail takes on great
importance. He gave the Bird statue a last-minute "haircut"
after discovering Larry had chopped his locks before the
unveiling. By the time LaMontagne finishes a job, everything
from Bird's fused right pinky to Yastrzemski's five o'clock
shadow is perfect to within one eighth of an inch.
LaMontagne has another Williams sculpture going, this one
depicting him at his other favorite pastime--fishing. "I hope it
will be ready by spring," the artist says, thinking of
Williams's poor health. "That's the start of baseball and
fishing season, and even if he can't go fishing, this might
cheer him up." Especially when he sees himself poised for
immortality holding a 15-pound Atlantic salmon.
Saul Wisnia's last story for Sports Illustrated was about
legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich.