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.