A recent documentary presents the work of esteemed Acadian ceramic artist Léopold Foulem.
Léopold Foulem is perhaps New Brunswick’s best kept secret. The ceramic artist recently passed away in February of 2023.
A recent documentary by Renée Blanchar pays homage to the artist. Titled Lettre d’amour à Léopold L. Foulem [Love letter to Léopold L. Foulem], the documentary is an intimate journey into the artists’ enchanting world.
Twenty years younger, filmmaker Renée Blanchar is from Caraquet, the same town as Foulem. Blanchar appears in the documentary in moments shared with the artist and while filming him. Her aptly-titled film genuinely shows her admiration for the Acadian artist.
Blanchar studied filmmaking in Paris and is best known for her 2020 award-winning film, The Silence, about sexual abuse by priests in New Brunswick. In May 2022, she received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Moncton for the quality and engagement of her work.
Blanchar received privileged access to Foulem’s personal life, filming him in interviews and in ordinary daily moments in his family home in Caraquet: sleeping, shaving, having breakfast, etc. The result is a heart-warming portrayal of the man, who beyond his prestige as a “star” of the art world, becomes a real person. The film’s music is also of note, creating an ethereal ambiance for the documentary.
Born in Caraquet in 1945, Foulem’s professional career started in his home province but he studied in the U.S. He has practiced as an instructor of art in his chosen medium for years in the province of Québec, working in Montreal-area high schools (cegeps).
However, Foulem established his artist’s workroom in his hometown and would spend summers there creating and gleaning objects in the region. Foulem’s sister is also prominently featured in the documentary, since she, like Foulem’s partner, assisted in his work.
The works are extraordinarily original, marrying traditional ceramic figures (think Royal Doulton), with found objects and metalwork (teapots, goblets, etc.). Foulem also did painting and transfer printing on certain objects. Foulem’s partner helped the artist with soldering metal pieces.Foulem was also explicit about his representation of homosexuality and difference in his works, some of which playfully allude to sexuality. One piece, Jewish Banana #2, from the “Showy bananas” series, is reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s surrealist Lobster Telephone from 1936.
Foulem’s art is featured in museums nationally and internationally. For example, he is present in collections at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec which has 16 pieces created by the artist.
Foulem received a Prix Éloize for artist of the year in the visual arts in Acadia in 2003. His work was featured in a solo expo at Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Gallery in 2009. Before that expo, he had had shows in Caraquet in 1997 and in Moncton in 2002. Unfortunately, of the 54 solo expos and 230 group expos he participated in during his impressive career, these were his only exhibits in New Brunswick.
Blanchar’s film is a fitting tribute to the Acadian artist who deserves to be better-known in his home province.
Sophie M. Lavoie is a member of the NB Media Co-op’s editorial board.