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Heart and Soul: Quebec Folk Art in the Spotlight

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--September 27, 2012.

From October 20, 2012 to January 13, 2013: "Heart and Soul: Quebec Folk Art"
A traveling exhibition produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization
Opening ceremonies: Saturday October 20 at 5 p.m.

larger_heart_021.jpgThis lively and colorful exhibition takes visitors on a journey through 400 years of creativity. It showcases about 65 exceptional works of Québec folk art dating from the 18th century to today, showing the diversity of folk art through the ages. Most of the works come from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which has the best collection of Québec folk art in the world. Many of the pieces are taken from the exceptional collection assembled by Nettie Covey Sharpe, a native of the Eastern Townships and one of the most important collectors of folk art in Canadian history. To heighten awareness of the very nature of folk art, visitors will be invited to participate in explorative activities in an interactive zone. Visitors will discover the various facets of folk art through the eyes of the collector and the creator, and will be invited to create works themselves. Videos and interviews available at:

Supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program.

Spotlight on a collector…

larger_heart_081_0.jpgNettie Covey Sharpe:
Born on May 22, 1907 in Saint-Augustin-de-Woburn (Eastern Townships) to an American father and Scottish mother, Nettie Covey Sharpe would collect Quebec antiques and folk art for nearly a century. When she was born, Woburn was a small rural village in which Anglophones and Francophones comfortably rubbed shoulders.

Nettie learned about rural Francophone traditions there, thanks to her school friend, Fernande Larochelle. Nettie’s father had many different trades and occupations, and taught his daughter to look after herself. He took her hunting and fishing with the American tourists he guided at their lodge. He even took her along when he drove visitors around Quebec, exploring the back roads and villages of the Beauce, where many traditions had been kept alive.

larger_heart_071.jpgAs a result, young Nettie developed an early fascination with traditional ways of life — and the objects which resulted. She would never lose her interest in Quebec’s material creativity. “I met my husband at Stanstead, but he was originally from Montreal. He was a student at Stanstead College in 1924, at the same time as I. At the time, I was 17 years old. We began a correspondence which lasted nearly ten years. We were finally married, ten years later, on September 22, 1934, and we honeymooned in the Gaspé.”

After they got married, they moved to Montreal and Nettie pursued her passion: purchasing objects in villages situated not far from Montreal and reselling them to antique dealers in Montreal. The couple bought a stone house in St. Lambert in 1951, where Nellie Covey Sharpe died, in March 2002.

larger_heart_061.jpg…and seven artists.

There are hundreds of folk artists working in Quebec today, but this exhibition shines the spotlight on seven of the most interesting. These featured artists were chosen for several reasons, including their talent, their originality and their passion. Together they represent the richness and variety of Quebec folk art.

Léon Bouchard (Roberval):
After leaving the army in 1943, he became a specialist in building log cabins. He also started a regional veteran’s association, and served as its president for 22 years. When he retired in the 1980s, he built his own cabin and started taking long walks in the forest. He discovered in nature the forms that inspired him to sculpt. He created an entire kingdom, which he named “Le P’tit Bonheur”. “After building my cabin, I began taking it easy. I studied trees and rocks. I saw shapes in the water or on the ground. Then I began to sculpt my life.”

Michel Fedak (Jonquière):
He created his first works in the mid 1970s. That was when he discovered that he could follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a “tinkerer”. He kept all his creations until one day he got up the nerve to sell them at an antique shop near Quebec City. He likes to sculpt domestic and wild animals, as well as the people who have inspired him in his life. “Folk art is more philosophical than technical. At the same time, folk art is simple, the way life should be. In order to love folk art, you have to accept imperfection and come to love it.”

Clémence Lessard (Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce):
Born into a family of farmers, she was the ninth of 14 children. She worked as a teacher from 1955 to 1995, and her dynamic teaching methods inspired the authors of the Parent Report, which revolutionized traditional education in Quebec in the 1960s. In 1974, she signed up for a course in sculpting at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), but the instructor rejected her because she had already developed her own distinctive technique. Now retired and living in the region where she was born, she pursues her art full time. “In my first year of sculpting, I made 60 pieces. I worked at it day and night. Then I went to teach the next morning. I slept two hours a night. I loved it. I’m passionate — in other words, incapable of stopping.”

Raymond Massicotte (Shawinigan):
Raymond Massicotte began whittling at the age of six, in an orphanage. At 10, he created his first sculpture: a spinning top. He went on to master a number of trades that allowed him to develop his creativity, and devoted his free time to wood-carving. Eventually, he became interested in how the universe works, and that fascination took shape in his work. In 1987, he entered university to learn how to work in stone. His motto: “Making the impossible possible”. “I never studied, but I always knew what to do. I always knew what I would be able to do with a piece of wood and a pocket-knife.”

Fleurette Solomon (Gatineau):
Born in Navan, near Ottawa, she married at the age of 16. She had eight children, two of whom died of cystic fibrosis. For a long time, she campaigned for research into this disease, which was not well understood at the time. One night, when caring for one of her sick daughters, she discovered an outlet in working with clay and created an entire rural village. She also sculpted people engaged in traditional trades. Her favourite character is The Thinker, who represents the autumn of life. “I had so many uncles who worked with wood and I sculpted them all. When I displayed them, people said: “You have some imagination!” But I answered: “Not really. I just see what’s there!”

Jacqueline Tremblay (Baie-Saint-Paul):
Jacqueline Tremblay has a number of artists in her family. So her talent for art comes naturally. When she started out, she was able to draw but did not start painting until 1976. She works in mixed media using painted eggshells. “I kept experimenting until one fine day I found some eggshells. I took the eggs and stuck the shells onto cardboard. Then I started making pictures that were completely covered in eggshells.”

Michel Villeneuve (Chicoutimi):
Son of the famous painting barber, Arthur Villeneuve (1910–1990), he worked at a number of jobs, including that of bridge crane operator for Alcan in Arvida and Laterrière. In 1997, seven years after the death of his father, he discovered his own talent while drawing on a napkin in a restaurant. He had found his passion. His objective in his work: to “carry on the Villeneuve tradition.” “Where do I get my inspiration? I start by filling the middle of my paper, without really knowing where I’m going. I put on some music and make my pencil dance.”