Saturday, August 1, 2015

Statues at Saint Joseph's Church and Flavius Boucher

 Reading recently of  the theft of a small statue of Saint Joseph that was  adorning a small garden in the  yard of Saint Joseph's Church on the corner of Walcott Street and South Bend in Pawtucket  made me instantly  think of  a person who had once also created a statue for that same Church yard.
I pity the thief who took the  small, mass made object and only hope he did it out of  an overflow of devotion.
I want to recall the fact that once that Church yard held  original  artwork of a pious parishioner.
 I am thinking of  Flavius Boucher, he was  a semi-literate French Canadian  who was the father  of my best friend Lucille Boucher. He was also a self-taught genius of a sculptor in  granite.  Flavius was  an  extraordinary  human being with a  natural talent  for  cutting stone. Professionally he was a mason and stone-cutter. but he  went further. In the 1950s when  I was  visiting  his family  home on  Columbus Avenue everyday, he began  a miraculous self transformation to an artist in stone.  I could  not believe the  long hours he spent patiently finding the  forms and faces in the great blocks of granite that he  brought to his workshop  garage. He rigged a  hoist and  would  create statues  especially busts of such historical  figures as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Pope Pius, and  even  heads of his three  children, Arlene, Lucille and Raymond. He would use a caliper to  measure their  noses and lips-- I was so  envious of  those  lovingly crafted images of his children.  In my my eyes Flavius was  an ideal father.  He enlisted my  help  in his enterprise in an original and creative way.  Since he could not   read or write beyond the most basic  English, he asked for my help  because I  was known as  someone  who read obsessively and liked to write   poems. He instructed me  to read  aloud to him the  histories he found of the figures he was  drawn to recreate in stone. Then after he had listened to me read  and reread the  encyclopedia entry he had found, he would try to create aloud a  brief  history of the  person and also a history of his own interest and of the stone itself to accompany the work he was  creating. He would talk to me about the person, his interest in the person, and the special characteristics of the stone itself, and I would  frame sentences  that  reflected what he was telling me. Remember--I was in grade school at the time.   I would read them back to him repeatedly until he was satisfied.  When  he liked the  way I had expressed his ideas, he would thank me and ask me to  write in print a copy of what we had  composed together and he would  place that on a  cardboard and    stand it next to the  bust he had completed.  I  never heard what  became of all the things he  carved  so  perfectly.  I know that he sold some of them, I know that he  got orders  from some people  for specific  subjects to be carved and I also know that many of his finished  works languished in the  stone  dust of his work shop.

But he worked on--- and one of his works, a statue of Saint Joseph, he contributed to Saint Joseph's Church.  That statue is not where it used to  be, and I am not  aware of how it was  moved or when, where or why.  One day  several decades after I left Pawtucket, I drove to  my friend's  old three- decker on Columbus  Avenue and walked around the large  yard and tried to  see into the garages.  I could find  no trace of  the old stones or  the workshop.  I don't even know  when Flavius died because all of his children left Pawtucket and went their separate ways.

I do know that he influenced me  because of his originality, his productivity and his fierce  persistence in creating his art in a  world that was largely indifferent to him.  He and others that I knew and cherished in Pawtucket also modeled  for me the kind of dedication  to art and to their  creative genius that impressed itself on me as  real artistry and real intellectualism.  Those relationships guaranteed that  I would never make the mistake of thinking that education and intelligence are congruent:  that  just because  a person is educated means that he is intelligent or  just because a person is not educated maybe even illiterate meant that they are not intelligent.  No, intelligence and creativity  are  like  birds that  can alight on' the  branch of any tree.