Leo Fournier has always been one of our all time, favorite folk artist for his whimsy, elegance and balance. Leo’s sculptures cover a wide range of subjects from the religious to the erotic, as well as animals and everyday life scenes. The work is composed mostly of figures and animals in various forms of shared or confrontational activities. .
He had a keen eye for detail, a great sense of fun and a love of life. You can recognize a Fournier from across the room, and we would purchase the work when we came across it, in picker’s barns, shows, or auction. It was always our desire to find and meet Leo, but of course the pickers were not anxious to have us contact him directly so would not provide information, and his address was not listed in the reference books. All we had to go on was that he lived in the town of La Prarie (pop 23,000), on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, across from Montreal.
Sometimes our trips to Quebec were straight there and back affairs, but on other occasions we would take a few days to meander and explore, and it was on one such occasion in the early nineties that we found ourselves in La Prarie late in the afternoon with some time to kill before we hit one of our favored road side motels. I pulled up to a phone booth, and said to Jeanine “let’s see if we can find Leo Fournier in the book. Maybe we’ll get lucky.” Our hearts sank a little when we realized there were over thirty Fourniers listed in town and only one L. Fournier. Of course we tried this number first and it was not Leo, and furthermore they did not know of him, but we were not so easily discouraged and just started with the first listing and kept dialing. Jeanine was getting a little tired after about a dozen dead ends, with not everyone being delighted to participate in our little search, but she persevered, and low and behold after about another six calls she spoke to someone who was a relative, and she was happy to provide his number. “Well that was sort of easy.” I quipped. “O.K. well not that easy, and yes it was you doing all the calling”. In any case we dialed him up directly. and spoke to his wife Jeanette who said he was out momentarily but would be home soon, and he would be happy to meet us. She gave us good directions to their house which we soon found on a quiet little street right across from a Depanneur , or variety store.
Leo met us at the door and warmly invited us in to the sunporch, where he liked to entertain visitors. Leo was a very charismatic storyteller, and he launched right into some great stories while sit ting in his rocking chair sipping on a big can of Molson Export. “ I like my beer but I only buy them one at a time. That’s why I’m happy there is a depanneur right across the street” he laughed.” I noticed there were four empty cans next to his chair, but then again it was getting on in the day. Jeanette arrived directly with some coffee for us and we spent a very pleasant hour or so listening to his stories. He was a retired auto body man of good reputation, and was involved in the scrap business. He told us about and showed us his first carving which was a crucifix done in 1967 when he was 43 yrs. old. Since that time until his death in 2007 he continued to be a prolific carver, selling to friends and the occasional picker, Nettie Sharpe among others who would come by to see what he had been up to.. He was aware that his work was included in books and exhibits, but he never felt he was really appreciated until sometime in the nineties when the Quebec government commissioned him to produce a series of about a dozen sculptures on food production.(See the butcher with hog’s head below) With this big pay cheque he chose to go to Leningrad on his own where he spent two weeks at the Hermitage studying the art there, rather than fix the roof on the house which was what the rest of the family was pushing for. Leo was that kind of guy. He lived his life the way he wanted to and never thought twice about convention. We bought the six or seven pieces he had available that day and his house became a favorite stop on subsequent trips. We always took the time to stop and listen to his stories. According to his pal Andre Laport who phoned to tell us of his death in 2007 “he lived his life just the way he wanted to right to the end, with no lingering illness, and a beer in his hand”. Like so many others who knew him, we really miss him , and his infectious spirit. One of the greats.