The Ballroom (carving)

CMC PCD 94-687-018

By Archelas Poulin (1892-1969); Lac-Mégantic, Quebec; 1946; painted wood; 150 x 130 x 69 cm. CMC 86-184

This dioramic carving incorporates 113 handmade figures animated by geared mechanisms and dressed in costumes made by the carver's daughter, Annette Poulin. "It took 23 months to make this display", Archelas Poulin wrote on a sign hanging in his ballroom masterpiece. Poulin was clearly proud of the labour he had lavished on the figures in this scene, each of which moves in response to a network of hidden mechanisms driven by electric motors. Dancers whirl, musicians play, and feet beneath the toilet doors tap in time to the music.

CMC PCD 95-170-070

Poulin's artistry comes out of a rich tradition of wood carving in Quebec. And like many folk artists, his creative genius began to flower in a period of personal isolation. After the young resident of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, was severely injured in a logging accident in 1917, he took up a pocketknife and began to whittle carvings from pine. The twenty-four dioramas he completed depicting the life of Christ caused such a sensation at local fairs that he decided to take them on the road, first by train and later by truck.

CMC PCD 95-170-072

Visitors to fairs as far away as Cuba and Mexico marvelled at the ingenuity of Poulin's mobile exhibit. When the entire display was stolen in Boston in 1926, Poulin was undaunted. Soon he was touring with another show. Each of his twelve new dioramas represented a month in the life of rural Québec one hundred years ago. This ballroom scene was one of several additions made after he acquired a modern tractor-trailer in the late 1940s. The adventurous Poulin is part of a small phenomenon of itinerant carvers who bring their art to their audiences, usually in small towns and rural fairs.