Bear comes back for artist’s birthday
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.
Raymond Boudreault is happy to be reunited with some of his big friends.