On buying a large collection of Quebec folk art

surrey and driver by  Albert Conrad Ranger, and documentaion

surrey and driver by
Albert Conrad Ranger, and documentation

Collectors collect, and then eventually die, and then most often it is up to the family to decide the fate of the collection.  In the cases were the subject of the collection is dear to the hearts of spouses and offspring things are dispersed within the family.  In other situations, no one is interested, and so it becomes the responsibility of the family to disperse that which had taken their loved one all those years to acquire. Sometimes collections get donated to a public institution for a tax write-off, sometimes it all goes to auction, and sometimes the preference is to sell it outright.

composition vegetale  by Yvonne Bolduc

composition vegetale
by Yvonne Bolduc

It was such a case when at the springtime Bowmanville show in 1999 we were approached by the wife of a well-known Quebec collector and given the sad news that he had suffered a sudden illness and died.  She came right to the point in suggesting that based on several happy past dealings she felt compelled to offer it to us first. We chose to believe her.

muscleman by Leo Fournier

muscleman by
Leo Fournier

She was only interested in selling it all outright, with no picking or choosing. She pointed out that her husband had kept meticulous records on the purchase of all the pieces and realizing the nature of being in business she would be content to recover 50% of the money spent.  It sounded reasonable but we had no idea how large a collection it was, or just what we were talking about.  We knew and respected the taste of the collector, so in spite of the fact that we had just spent a lot of money a few months earlier to buy the Ewald Rentz collection, we told her we were interested and to please send us the pictures and information she had. She warned us that she was busy with other things and that it would be awhile.

About six months later as we beginning to wonder if something had happened, we received a package which contained photographs and information on the 164 items that made up the collection.  There was a package of rolodex cards which carefully listed where and when each piece was bought, and any notes he had about the carver. It was all quite interesting, and at times downright wonderful stuff.  Many pieces by known contemporary artists such as Leo Fournier, J.C. Labreque, Magella Normand, Robert Paradis, etc. but also a lot of older, hard to come by pieces such as a composition vegetale by the highly -regarded Yvonne Bolduc of Baie St. Paul, Quebec. An absolutely stunning surrey and driver made in 1970 by Albert Conrad Ranger (1894- 1973).

a group of the last carvings by Rosario Gautier

a group of the last carvings by
Rosario Gautier

The last 19 pieces created by Rosario Gautier (1914-1994), a primitive master from Lac St. Jean, Quebec. There were 5 wonderful lamps by the previously unknown to us Adelard Patenaude.   Also included were several early carved candle sticks and wall shelves which we knew would fly off the shelves.  The most interesting, but also potentially problematic was a collection of 12 Quebec crucifix of various age. I sense that today these might find a lot of interest, but in 1999 it was hard to sell a crucifix out of Quebec. We knew of only a couple of collectors.  The notes recorded that he had spent a total of about $38,000, so we are not talking pocket change.  Still, when we went through the list assigning modest retail prices, the value was there, so we decided to take the plunge.

one of 5 finely carved pieces by Leo Laramee

one of 5 finely carved pieces by
Leo Laramee

When you take into consideration the hours and the dedication it takes to build a large collection, to be able to buy it all at once at a good price is an attractive proposition; provided you relate to the sensibility of the collector, and there is an active market to sell it in.   That was the case for this collection in 1999.  Quebec was and remains home to many knowledgeable and dedicated collectors of it’s past, and it’s art.   Most everything sold quickly, and the rest in due course.  Even the crucifix sold, although to be accurate the lot sold to the one collector we knew would be interested.  Had he not gone for it, it may have been a different story.

one of 12 Quebec crucifix  by an unknown carver,circa 1900

one of 12 Quebec crucifix figures
by an unknown carver,circa 1900

Finding Fournier – how we met the acclaimed Quebec folk artist, Leo Fournier

Leo and Jeanette Fournier at home

Leo and Jeanette Fournier at home

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.  .

pig, by Leo Fournier

pig, by Leo Fournier

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.

last supper, by Leo Fournier

last supper, by Leo Fournier

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.

Old man fantasy by Leo Fournier

Old man fantasy by Leo Fournier

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.

one of the works commissioned by the Quebec government

one of the works commissioned by the Quebec government