experience reminds us that in the overwhelming presence of outstanding
natural scenery. world events and great men, we are apt to completely
lose sight of equally beautiful, though perhaps less magnificent
scenery, events only a little less momentous and of many men, who except
for the tedious bugbear of comparison, would be great in our sight,
being truly great in themselves.
Personally our eyes
were thus opened only a few summers ago at Saint Anne de Beaupre. For
weeks our attention had been completely absorbed by the beautiful
Basilica, its surrounding grounds, monasteries and convents. We desired
above all to see a miracle, and to this end haunted the quaint church,
stepping in to the beautiful garden whenever inclination suggested.
Again and again we strolled along the hill-climbing woodsy road of "The
Stations of the Cross", the spreading maple trees overhead, the river in
a flowing vista before.
Most of all we were
interested in the pilgrims, individually no less than in the pilgrimages
as a whole. At Saint Anne's it is the pilgrim who furnishes a
fascinating round of human interest, against a background of the church
aglow with festive lighting from hundreds of electric bulbs, and the
glowing, beckoning, flickering flame of thousands of red and green
Then, one morning,
something prompted us to turn our wandering footsteps toward the
opposite end of the town away from the church. And there, in a plain old
workshop, we experienced our awakening, the miracle we had been waiting
to see—a miracle in Art rather than in healing. And yet, are not the two
As we climbed the road
up the hill past Madame Giguere's Pension, we were at once surprised and
attracted by a life-sized figure of Napoleon Bonaparte occupying one of
the roofs ahead.
Napoleon Bonaparte in
Saint Anne de Beaupre? Can greater contrast be imagined than the realism
of Napoleon and the realm of the spiritual out of which we had just
emerged? Yet it was no mirage. There he stood, life-sized. After a
moment of doubt we knew it must be some woodcarver's "Sign". For we
recognized at sight that this "Napoleon" was some old "Figurehead" from
a ship, "stranded here" as it were in this Old-World village of French
We could scarcely wait
to meet the old Carver. Already we imagined him old. And—charming.
proclaimed that he belonged heart and soul to the age of the
sailing-ship. Therefore, we knew beforehand that we should find as the
French say, Un Garactere. So we hurried and turned in down some steps
and knocked at the door of the old shop.
In answer, there came
to the door a little, almost aesthetic-looking old man with a sweet
smile and an equally sweet voice. He stood a moment looking at us and at
our camera, entering as if by intuition into our enthusiasm. Then he
bade us, in a charming manner, combination of the sweetness of old age
and courteous French, "Entree, entree!"
That was our first
glimpse of Louis Jobin, whom we have since come to regard as "The Dean
of Canadian Religious-figure Wood-carvers"—a man possessed of so sweet
and simple a nature that he approaches easily and naturally, the carving
of Christ on the Cross.
The little shop in its
simplicity is just the place one might expect to find Jobin working in.
Everything in it falls behind its master—not a single offending note.
There is a wooden thumb to hold his hat. Everywhere on the walls bits of
carving—models and patterns—an old trumpet, a cherub's head, an angel's
wing. On the floor the old stove for heating, the tool-bench and the
figure or figures on which he happens to be at work.
Jobin found for us one
chair and that curious movable bench with legs resembling a colt's,
known in the trades as a "carpenter's horse". I sat the "horse" and
never has one carried me into more enchanted country.
Jobin made us feel at
home at once, continuing his work and chatting at the same time. There
is about the man and his shop a sweet restful spirit of repose, as if no
vaulting ambition had ever here o'erleaped itself to fall on the other
I cannot recall all
that we talked about that first morning. I remember it rather as the
occasion on which Jobin invited us to come in again whenever we felt
inclined. It lingers as the morning on which we discovered that now rare
nook "a woodcarver's studio".
It is no little thing
to have such a door open to one in these days of hurry—a little shop
full of the spell of Holy Figures, here and there, and about the door.
The acquaintance with
Jobin has now extended over several summers and in that time we have
learned from this old Canadian woodcarver's lips many a legend of the
Saints, legends that have none of the usual cut-and-dried wording of a
book as they are told by this old man of Quebec, but all the vitality
and realism which only one having working knowledge of them for a
lifetime can give.
Monsieur Jobin, in
point of years far up in the seventies, gives Saint Raymond as his
birthplace but says that he spent much of his boyhood at Point aux
Trembles above Quebec.
His answer to an
inquiry if he carved or whittled much when a youngster, proved him a man
of humour. "O, oui! I cut up all my father's firewood into something or
other." Smiling at the recollection of those days he paused and raised
himself chisel in hand. "There was a good deal of wood in my figures
then. Their bodies were—what you call?—clumsy." "Clumsy?" "Yes?"
But these early
attempts were evidently of sufficient merit to determine his parents as
to a trade for him. They apprenticed Louis to the woodcarver's trade
under M. Francois Xavier Berlingeret, a master carver of the city, of
the generation before Jobin, so that Jobin represents in direct line a
century of Canadian wood-carving. Jobin served three years. "Religious
figures?" we inquired. "Oh, no. All sorts of carving with M'sieu
Berlingeret. Some religious figures too, but in those days it was mostly
'figureheads'." Big wooden ships were everywhere.
"You know the
figurehead?" He seemed very happy when we answered affirmatively. As his
mind turned back to those days there came into his eye all the light and
fire of an artist recalling some old masterpiece.
His apprenticeship to
Monsieur Berlingeret over, Jobin set out for New York "to finish". In
New York he worked for a year with Mr. Bolton, "John Bolton, an
Englishman located at St. John Street, Battery Place".
The mere mention of
those New York days recalls to mind old haunts and famous old
"figureheads" and carvers of Gotham. It was all "downtown" in those
days,—"Battery Place" and "Castle Garden". Then naturally followed talk
of this carver and that, of this and that old sea-rover among the
wind-jammers coming in and sailing out of New York fifty years ago.
It requires little
imagination for us to be able to see this young French-Canadian artist
in wood passing from one to another of these ships, searching with his
artist's eye for fine specimens of the figurehead-carver's art on the
bows. It was m reality like a momine spent in a Cosmopolitan Gallery
wherein the work of artists from many lands appeared-here, a Scotchman
there a Dane here a Norwegian, there a Nova Scotian. And when the
latter, it was like happening suddenly upon "an old friend from home"/
When the year in New
York ended, back came Jobin to Montreal And from that day to this he has
never left Canada but has given every day of his life-work to her.
Canada reared him and with the exception of that brief year in New York
she can claim him and his work.
It is somewhat in the
nature of a revelation that there should have been and that there
continues to be, enough trade and demand for wooden figures to have kept
this old carver busy for a time. Wood carving is one of the oldest Arts
under the sun and the fact that woodcarving is so widely appreciated in
Canada and the United States that a few of these old artists are in
their shops every day regularly, keeping steadily at the bench from
morning until night every day of the working week, year in and year out
reveals a phase of the national life and taste which cannot but fill
many who deemed the day of the wooden figure a thing of the past, with
surprise. here . the venerable figure of Louis Jobin bending over an
angel-a tiny gouge in his old fingers slithering lightly here and there,
"bringing out" just a little more each time the spirit, which, when all
is finished, speaks out to the forgetfulness of the medium.
The regularity with
which order, come in, no less than the air of the shop itself gives one
even stronger assurance that when Jobin had passed to the Land o' the
Leal his mantle will fall to many a successor, provided the carver of
future generations puts out work to the standard of this old artist of
Jobin belongs to a long
line of woodcarvers whose genius has given the wooden figure a sure
niche m the heart of Canada as long as there shall be saint or legend
The establishment of
Jobin in Montreal after hsi return from New York extended over a period
of five or six years. Making figureheads there for Captain McNeil, he
recalls that one was the "Chief Angus".
With a sweep of the
arm. Jobin makes you see that proud hull-those royal-yards sweeping down
the Saint Lawrence under the leadership of the spirited figure of the
old Chief on the bow, leading one of the clan to victory on the high
seas, and the ports of the world. Then the Frenchman speaks, and he
recalls the figures of an "Avoqat", for a gentleman of the legal
profession." He re- calls that it stood opposite the Court House on the
Rue Notre Dame in Montreal. No doubt many an old Montrealler recalls
this landmark of Notre Dame.
Jobin's work in
Montreal lasted as long as sails on the high seas created a demand for
figureheads, and as long as the Red Indian with his calumet idled the
day outside the Tobacconist shops. But steam blasted the growth and life
of sails, and paper signs and bill-boards did away with the Indians
except in Old Quebec city where the Red Man is still to be seen on Saint
Only then, in the lean
years that followed these changes, did Jobin move to Quebec—the
home-city of sacred "figures", and be- gin what turned out to be his
forte and life-work,—the carving of religious figures.
He tells how he had a
shop first in Quebec City. But from Quebec out to the quiet shop in the
little town of Saint Anne de Beaupre was for a man of Jobin's feeling a
short and natural step. At last his barque had come from the busy marts
of the New York waterfront into this quiet little haven, whose main
street has at one and this little shop and at the other la Basilica,
Mecca of a continent
Every evening at the
close of the day's work the striking figure of the old carver may be
seen on the street of Saint Anne's wending his way to Benediction. And,
however numerous the pilgrims, his is one of the figures to be
remembered—a benediction in its sweet humility.
Jobin has been an
indefatigable worker. In his day the number of figures carved by his
hand is almost incredible. The very mechanical part must have occupied
more than a lifetime of a man less talented and sure of every stroke. He
talked of one figure after another so rapidly that track of all could
not be kept. Yet not one of his figures seen could in any sense of the
word be termed "mechanical"; rather, he was able to work quickly because
his every stroke ran true.
There is, of course, a
difference in his work, depending on the ultimate position to be
occupied by the figure. Those to stand out of doors on an eminence, or
on the roof of some church to be viewed from a distance, are executed in
big broad touches of the chisel. Detail would be lost if indeed it did
not spoil in such instances. But the figure to stand in some church, and
to be closely approached by a supplicant, lacks nothing in detail of
line that would express the fine nature and understanding of the saint
that is symbolized.
All of Jobin's work,
whether Saint or otherwise, has about it a distinctly individual touch,
so that once you are familiar with his work you are able to see a figure
for the first time and say at once whether it is a Jobin or not.
Since our first
acquaintance with Monsieur we have happened on many a "figure" of his.
And nothing affords us greater pleasure than to come on one at some
unexpected place and moment. These we recall to Monsieur on the occasion
of a next visit. And how it delights the old man to hear of these, his
"art-children", whom he never expected to hear from more.
It pleased him that we
should recognize the Province of Quebec as his Gallery and go along her
highways and byways with art eye open for his figures.
It was during one of
these conversations that he let fall that he carved the figure of "The
Blessed Virgin" on the top of Trinity Cap on the far-famtd Saguenay.
Jobin gives the dimensions as twenty-five feet in height and says that
around the head of Mary he carved twelve stars. He carved it in 1880 or
just forty-two years ago, long before many who now view it were born.
Many have wondered why the figure on this cape, twin with Cape Eternity
on this scenic river of eastern Canada? Here is the reason from the
carver's lips. A gentleman out driving was in a run-away accident The
carriage was thrown over a very steep cliff but almost by a miracle he
was pitched to safety as the voiture went down. He wished to erect a
memento of his wonderful escape and as the accident had been over a
cliff, he conceived the idea of having an heroic figure of the Blessed
Virgin erected on the beautiful and beetling Cap Trinite. .
From the Blessed Virgin
to Neptune seems indeed a tar call. Yet it was mention of this figure
which recalled to Jobin's memory that about the same time he did this he
also carved the figure of Neptune to stand on the old hotel of that name
on Mountain-Hill Street near South Matelot, in Quebec.
The student of history,
abroad in Quebec, is familiar with the old carved-wood figure of General
Wolfe, now sacredly preserved, after an escapade to the West Indies, in
the library of the Historical Society of Quebec. But few there be who
know that Jobin carved the substitute which fills in the niche in the
old house on the street corner, and that it is thanks to Jobin that
Wolfe still mounts guard on the corner of Rue Saint Jean. A new interest
must cling to this old scarlet-coated figure of the General whose
romantic boat-ride down the river to attack the city in the rear gave
Quebec to the Empire. It is said that a condition of an old will
provides that a figure of Wolfe must always stand in this niche in the
old house facing the street, so that the passing world may never forget
how much it owes to Wolfe.
Jobin's work of carving
sacred figures either for use in churches, in cemeteries, in church or
monastery gardens, or as crosses and calvaires by the roadside, has been
deeply appreciated. For some churches he has carved practically every
figure in use.
For l'eglise at Saint
Henri, he says he has carved as many as thirty-two figures in all; for
the church at Riviere de Loup, seventeen; for the church at Saint Foye,
three—the Blessed Virgin, Christ on the Cross and The Sacred Heart.
As Jobin told of the
Saint Foye "figures" he rasped the wood of a new figure growing under
his hand. He paused in his work as he recalled "That church was burned,
but my figures they. . . ." No word completed the sentence but the rasp
went up in a dramatic sweep to indicate the high standing figures
escaping the flames.
Of the roadside
calvaires carved by Jobin, one at Beaumont is a good example. Another
stands at Visitation. The latter is a new one erected last summer.
Although much of Jobin's work is bought in the Province of Quebec,
orders are constantly coming to the old carver of Saint Anne's from
other parts of Canada. And many a figure in the United States attests to
his skill as woodcarver.
It is one of the
interesting incidents of the Jobin figures that, before sending them out
in the world, they are taken down to the Basilica to be "blessed".
We have seen a pious
.pilgrim kiss the hand of one of these waiting figures,—taking it for
one of the regular figures of the Basilica garden. This incident is a
tribute to the quality of soul attained by Jobin in his work.
Luck indeed attends the
pilgrim to Saint Anne's who happens there at the "Blessing" of one of
these figures.- For picturesqueness in ceremony it has few equals—the
figure on the grass under the trees, the priest in his robe, holy-water
in hand, generously be-sprinkling, as it were, this Soul of the Woods.
The Basilica garden at
Saint Anne's is rich in Jobin "figures" The large gilded figure that
stood on the roof was, however, not one of his, though the little Saint
Anne in the old church, he says, is.
Last winter he was at
work on a new figure for the fountain in the yard to be given to Saint
Anne's by a wealthy American.
The weather has always
stood in the way of the popularity of the wooden figure. Jobin now
sheathes his figures that are to stand in the open.
If some such measure
had only been used in early days, how much richer in figures would
Canada be. Many of her old-timers, some of them brought over from France
by early pioneers have been completely lost through wind and weather.
Wealthy societies and
churches with a taste for gold often have had Jobin completely overlay
the entire figure with gold-leaf. Mr. Jobin's nephew is the shop's
operator in laying on the leaf. This too is a most interesting process,
and the little shop offers as it were "a double bill" on the mornings
when in addition to Jobin carving, the nephew is also at work gilding a
finished angel or saint.
Part of the charm of
mornings in the Jobin shop is the almost constantly changing subjects on
which he is at work. Sometimes he chisels away on a Saint Anne,
sometimes on the face or flow- ing robes of the blessed Vierge; at other
times a triumphant angel with a trumpet, or a petitioning angel with
folded wings, humbly kneeling.
One morning we dropped
in to find him at work on an heroic-sized Christ-figure on the Cross. It
was like coming on the old carver at his devotions. An holy silence
pervaded the little shop. We dropped into the chair and upon the horse
as silently as into a pew in church. Jobin carved by inspiration. No
model stood in sight. Further, this old man of three-score, carved as
one who has seen the Master very close and feels no need of outward
suggestion. So the Old Masters must have painted, one thinks.
After a while, Jobin,
resting, talked a little, quite easily. Then he began to work again
continuing to speak now and then. The chisel gouged lightly back and
forth and then with one of his worn hands he brushed away the shavings
and critically eyed his work on the Face, to see if it told in its
lines, so far as wood, or paint or marble, can, its Love, its wonderful
Patience and its Strength.
As we sat watching in
the quiet of that old shop, it was impossible to tell which spoke the
more directly, the Figure as it slowly came to perfection or the
childlike figure of the old Master-Carver bending so gently over the
image of the Lord.
Not one, but several
mornings, we came to watch. And as we watched and listened to the quiet
voice of this old Quebec-carver, now nearing the end, it was in our
heart to wish that all Canada could step over the threshold to witness
this strange scene, wherein one of her forest trees in the hand of one
of her talented sons, is metamorphosed from a tree into the Figure of
the Saviour of the World.