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“Drawing French America”


Inauguration of the new Exhibition at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum

On May 15 Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel welcomed Sisters and those who appreciate art and history to the launching of the new exhibition at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum featuring the historical illustrations of Francis Back, entitled "Drawing French America." Mr. Stéphane Chagnon acknowledged the presence of the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame and particularly that of Sister Danielle Dubois who was Director of the Museum when this exhibition was first envisaged. He also emphasized the exceptional team work which made this project possible.

Collaboration between Francis Back and the Museum dates back a number of years. It is, indeed, one of the factors which prompted Mr. Back to accept that the Museum organize the very first exhibition of his works. If until now he displayed any hesitation regarding this idea, it was mainly because he does not consider himself a creator of art. "I simply inform," he says. Furthermore in his view, a historical illustration taken out of context is meaningless, it is an orphaned image. It was the Museum's proposed approach that reconciled him with the idea of an exhibition: featured is the artist's creative process, "observe, understand, interpret".

As we move through the exhibition we enter the world of a researcher-artist. To be able to illustrate accurate historical scenes it is necessary to scour archival and archeological sources in order to find information. Mr. Back is certainly not one to take short cuts. This was made very clear when we compared some of the artifacts displayed in the exhibit with those represented in the various scenes illustrating slices of everyday life in New France: every detail is documented. Moreover, a single drawing is divided into several sections, each one the subject of a thorough study. The research of information goes beyond the descriptions of places and objects. It is necessary to integrate the information and understand the context of the time. The objective is, after all, to recreate a world that no longer exists in order to make it accessible today: a real challenge!

In his welcome address, Mr. Raymond Montpetit, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum, stated how important historical illustrations are to better understand our past. Photography did not exist at the time of Ville-Marie's foundation by de Maisonneuve or the establishment of Marguerite Bourgeoys's stable school. Mr. Back becomes, therefore a vital visual reference. As the artist himself admits, there are unfortunately few to take over in this art form. This is another reason why Mr. Back agreed to participate in this exhibition: to encourage imaginative children who today enjoy drawing with brightly coloured pencils but who will inevitably be guided toward "high-paying" careers.

Mr. Back spoke to us of his own childhood and of his parents who thought that drawing was a natural form of artistic expression. He explained that his mother taught in a local schoolhouse. She was the one who gave him the special gift that is his deep interest for our history, an interest that was nourished by, among other things, the book Les Anciens Canadiens by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé.

The artist stressed the work of all those women, lay teachers or Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, who pushed back poverty by providing knowledge to their students. Mr. Back knows the Sisters of the Congrégation very well: his illustrations embellish our virtual exhibition, Faith in Action. True to his artistic process, everything in his drawings was first researched. No doubt he has found in the story of Marguerite Bourgeoys and her companions the principles of liberating education, a principle he himself applies.

Indeed, a pedagogical element will be added to the exhibit in September. Students visiting the exhibit will be introduced to the "researcher-artist" process. Once they are familiar with it they will be asked to draw the first chapel.

The exhibition will be featured at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum until April 2013.

We were welcomed to the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel for the inauguration of the exhibit.

From left to right, Sisters Arlita Matte, Josephine Badali, Huguette Lévesque, Marie de Lovinfosse (from the back), Ms. Angélique Pichon, of the Chapel's pastoral ministry and Ms. Marie-Josée Morin, of the Archives Services of the Mother House.

Sisters Jeanne Bonneau and Annette Courtemanche were among the first to arrive!


One of the illustrations from the Faith in Action virtual exhibition featured in the Museum's current exhibit.

A pencil sketch, a step to achieve the above illustration.


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