We first met Pierre Laplante when he participated for one time in the 1997 Bowmanville Spring Folk Art and Antique show. We set up just down the aisle from him and before the show was over we had gotten to know each other through many friendly exchanges, and also he bought a giant lumberjack that was our show stopper to put in his indoor pool area at his rural home. Nice fellow.
It was announced at the show that Bill Dobson was managing an auction of Pierre’s collection on May 17 and 18th, with auctioneers Tim Potter and Cec Knight in Kingston. It was exciting news as Pierre had a reputation as a very serious collector of Quebec folk art. We had heard many stories from the pickers in Quebec of the dentist from Montreal that would buy almost everything that they would bring to him. Often this was said in the form of an apology for not having anything to offer us.
If you have the money and the will this is a very effective way to collect. Once a few pickers know they can rely on you to buy almost anything they bring you, they will put in a special effort, offer everything to you first, and as they say be happy to “make hay while the sun shines”. It was rumored that after a few years of collecting this way, the barn and out buildings at his weekend farm in the La Prairie region south of Montreal were chock full of wonderful stuff. Folk art was still a very strong market in 1997 so when the auction came, we broke open our piggy bank, and went loaded for bear.
The catalogue has an interesting two page introduction by Pierre which explains his interest. It begins:
“The wellspring of folk art lies in the heart, not the wallet. It is an audacious mix of techniques and materials; a multiplicity of themes and genres. Folk artists are not artists in the conventional understanding of that word, rather they are ordinary folk without pretense or grand artistic ambitions. Through Quebec folk art, we can glimpse the geographical, historical, social, and religious character of the province, and in that sense, the heritage of Quebec folk art ranks along with its architectural and technological history.” He goes on to discuss the many factions of folk art and concludes; “ I have collected folk art for over 30 years. It’s a past time – even a passion – that gives me the opportunity to meet people who live anonymously but have many things to say, and they do speak, in their own way. Many of these talented people are not considered artists. They should be. Perhaps if they had lived in another place or another time, they would be considered such. There’s so much great folk art there that deserves a place of honour in all art collections.”
Well said Pierre, and the massive, well organized, two day auction saw many such pieces make their way into some important collections, while realizing some pretty phenomenal sale prices.
We were able to buy a lot of stuff. We paid relatively big money for some things like this Lucien legare horse, buggy and driver at $750, but with so much on offer we were able to scoop up many bargains as well. Like this Felicien Levesque tableau of the Titanic sinking at $625. Well under the money.
Things started out modestly with maple sugar molds, and smaller carvings and accessories going in the expected $200 t0 $400 range, and then people started paying attention when lot 161, a painted whirligig Mountie which is illustrated on the cover went for $900. Soon after a tin rooster weather vane in old white paint realized $1,250. Then lot 195, a knife with carved wooden handles in the form of a fleurde lis with a man’s head brought $1,900. Things were moving.
There were a few gasps when a beautiful Nova Scotia document box from 1914 with interlocking hands, hearts, stars, and leaves went for $1,900. Followed shortly after by an oil on glass painting of tugboats on the Saint Lawrence attributed to Captain P. Carbonneau which saw $2,500. An Alcide St Germain hanging flying goose achieved $1,000, and the tone was set. Here’s a couple of the highlights. There were many more.
We went on to establish a relationship with Pierre after the auction and were invited to visit him and his wife at their farm. We had a wonderful evening of laughter, good conversation and an excellent meal, and we even enjoyed the adventure of climbing up the tiny ladder to the second floor guest room of the century old farm house. I made sure my bladder was empty though because I didn’t fancy climbing down in the dark to find the washroom. We realized that for as much was sold at the auction, he had twice as much great stuff still in his collection. We even had a chance to say a quick hello to our lumberjack friend in his new residence by the pool.