Bear comes back for artist’s birth­day

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Stanstead

Ray­mond Boudreault be­came quite well-known for his folk carv­ings of wooden bears when he was younger, ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and in the news­pa­pers for in­ter­views about his tal­ent of sculpt­ing bears of all sizes from chunks of pine with a chain­saw and chisel.

And now Mr. Boudreault will have some­thing spe­cial to cel­e­brate on his 80th birth­day at the end of the month: one of his favourite bears has come home.

“After I had a stroke in Au­gust, I was feel­ing down and wor­ried about my health,” ex­plained Mr. Boudreault who had slowly given up carv­ing after back surgery in the 1990’s limited his phys­i­cal mo­bil­ity. “Then I started think­ing a lot about my life of carv­ing, and I thought about a big bear that I had carved many years ago,” he added.

That bear, once part of an art ex­hibit at an art gallery of Matthew Far­fan’s, was sit­ting in Mr. Far­fan’s shed. “I told Matthew I would like the bear back for my 80th birth­day. I traded him two smaller bear carv­ings for it,” said Ray­mond. After a few decades of ne­glect, the seven foot tall bear was in need of some re­pair. “I picked up the bear with my brother in his pickup truck and we brought it down to a garage in Nor­ton, Ver­mont, to work on it,” con­tin­ued the carver. “The Bor­der Guard was sur­prised when I told him what was un­der the blan­ket.”

“We had to dig out the rot­ten wood in his back and re­in­force him with wood, steel and glue. Then I re­painted him. My brother and I brought it back home to Stanstead with three other men; it weighs close to three hun- dred pounds! It felt re­ally good to be fix­ing up that bear. It was very good ther­apy for me,” he ad­mit­ted. That seven foot tall bear, which looks quite ma­jes­tic with its fresh coat of paint, now stands with a few of his long-lost bud­dies, also newly re­stored and re­painted, at Mr. Boudreault’s new home in Stanstead.

In his in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal, Ray­mond, who was a stone cut­ter by trade, rem­i­nisced about some of the high­lights of his sculpt­ing days. “I didn’t just carve wood. I carved ice sculp­tures in New­port and I’d carve snow sculp­tures ev­ery win­ter at my home in Beebe for the snow

sculp­ture contest.” Guess who won that contest almost ev­ery year!

A favourite mem­ory was be­ing in­ter­viewed by Wayne Rostad, right in the mid­dle of the Haskell Free Li­brary, for the tele­vi­sion se­ries On the Road Again. “They also filmed me carv­ing for that show.” Hav­ing his bears ex­hib­ited at the pres­ti­gious Ver­mont Folk­life Cen­ter in the 1990’s was another good mem­ory.

Although he has carved things other than bears with won­der­ful re­sults, such as the large wooden carv­ing of two mer­maids that now hangs at the Goodrich Memo­rial Li­brary, in New­port, Mr. Boudreault’s fascination has al­ways been with bears. “There were lots of bears in Lac St-Jean where I grew up. I re­mem­ber pick­ing blue­ber­ries once, I had a full pail, and a bear came along. I climbed up into a tree pretty fast and the bear looked at me, than ate about half of that pail of blue­ber­ries, then it looked at me again as if to say ‘Thank-you’, and left.”

Another en­counter with a bear was not as pleas­ant. “When I was work­ing as a lum­ber­jack in Nor­ton I was almost eaten by one! I got too close to a mother and her cub while they were eat­ing and the mother clawed at me. My brother pulled me out of the way.”

I once asked a re­spected Folk Art dealer who was ex­hibit­ing at the an­nual North Hat­ley An­tique Show what the def­i­ni­tion of folk art was. He re­sponded: “Real folk art is made by some­one who has had no for­mal train­ing, and who cre­ates pieces to their own lik­ing, never mo­ti­vated by out­side in­flu­ences, usu­ally work­ing in iso­la­tion and for their own plea­sure.” So I wasn’t so sur­prised when I heard Ray­mond talk about his sculpt­ing: “I first started carv­ing wood with a chisel. Then I taught my­self how to carve with a chain­saw, a small one. I’d carve, after work, out in the woods or in the garage when it got too cold. I’d be en­tranced, just fo­cused on my carv­ing.” Just look­ing at his bears, both big and small, that there was much joy in the mak­ing of them is as plain as the big black noses on their friendly faces.

Photo cour­tesy

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Ray­mond Boudreault is happy to be re­united with some of his big friends.

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