Figurehead
Figurehead
Figurehead
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The contributing institution must be credited.
Fort Point Museum

Figurehead


Accession number: 07.08.01
Date: 1700 – 1800
Materials: Wood
Narrative: The first sculptures made in New France were made out of wood. Craftsmen were imported from France; in 1671, Jean Talon had the French government send him sculptors to decorate the ship Canadian. Sculptures were imported from France by wealthy people and by religious communities. Bishop Francois de Montmorency Laval, the first bishop of Quebec and spiritual leader of New France from 1663 to 1685, believed that it was important for the new colony to advance culture through institutions, churches, and art. He brought artists to Canada and was a catalyst for the development of craft. The church was the first patron of the arts. The first group of sculptors to come to Canada was able to set up an apprenticeship system so that they could have trained artisans—Seminaire De Quebec. In 1651 the brothers Jean and Pierre Levasseur settled as carpenters in New France, and their grandsons Noel and Pierre became the first sculptors of New France who had been born in New France. The oldest surviving nonreligious sculpture that is known in Canada, was a 1727 commission, made by a Levasseur, of the French royal arms. The royal arms were carved into the doors of buildings around the colony. In 1760 the wars made a poor economy and sculptors did not have the time to create, but within the last quarter of the century there was a boom of church construction and need for sculpture. Naval sculpture was a tremendous industry during the eighteenth century-- figureheads, shields of arms, rear escutcheon, and bas-relief, were all parts of wooden ship sculpture. In the nineteenth century, 10,000 figureheads were sculpted in Canada—almost all the sculptors in the country were contributing to this production. The figureheads were modeled after historic persons, Amerindians, members of the ship-owners family, or important local people. There were also images of women, animals, bear, caribou, beaver, and scrolls that were carved for the ships. The sterns of ships were ornamented with coats of arms and shields. Wood was used less as the industrial revolution introduced different methods and capabilities of mediums. Wood is a reductive process; on the other hand, bronze would be an additive process. Additive processes in sculpture allow for more changes to be made while the sculpture is being built up. There were not any known facilities in Canada to cast bronze objects until the 1960s. Up to that point sculptures and large monuments were sent to the US, and Europe to be cast and then shipped back. Wood has been a primary medium for folk-artists in Canada. Traditional Nova Scotian folk art was an innate practice, that was often unrecognized as ‘art’ by the maker, and that came from the various ethnic groups-- French, English, Irish, Scottish, German, Black, and American- who settled in Nova Scotia. It was through the adoration of objects, and the want to fill new homes with furniture, accessories, architectural details, sculpture, paintings, domestic utensils, and tools, that a wave of objects unique to Nova Scotia emerged. The objects communicate ethnicity, values, and beliefs, through ornamentation, cultural signifiers, and by the combination of motifs with functionality. Almost all traditional folk art served a purpose while contemporary folk art is not significantly based on functionality—it is primarily decorative.
Description: A young women is perched atop a piece of a ship. Her dress looks like wind is blowing in back. Her right arm is placed on her right knee, and her left arm holds the left side of her dress. She is looking upwards.