Thursday, October 12, 2017

Evangeline, an homage to Longfellow

16 x 12'', acrylic on gessoed aluminum panel
painting #254, 2017 


Evangeline is an epic poem written by American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was published in 1847, 170 years ago. Longfellow was born in 1807 in Portland Maine. His best works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. I've had the chance to visit his childhood home twice. The Longfellow house was built in 1785-86 by the poet's grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth. It is one of the oldest brick structures on Portland's peninsula.




The deportation of Acadian people from their lands by British troops (1755-1764) becomes the backdrop for the poem. Recounting the tragic tale of a young Acadian woman named Evangeline Bellefontaine who was separated from her fiancé Gabriel Lajeunesse on the eve of their wedding during the great upheaval in 1755 in Grand-Pré. (in Nova Scotia). The prose follows Evangeline on her long and arduous journey across the eastern landscape of America as she spends all of her adult life in search of her long lost love. Now an old woman working as a Sister of Mercy among the poor in Philadelphia, at long last she finds Gabriel among the sick while caring for the dying during an epidemic, only for him to die in her arms. Even though Evangeline is fictitious character, she is perceived as a heroine and became a symbol for faithfulness, courage, hope, perseverance and love.

 The eloquence in Longfellow's writing is evident from the first paragraph:
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Instead of reading the book before starting the painting as I've done before, I read it only once the painting was completed. Being myself an Acadian, it is a painting that carries a bit more weight within the narrative of the imagery. 

I found a vintage Evangeline soda pop bottle in an estate sale last summer in Summerside, PEI. I can't recall ever seeing this brand. After doing a bit of research, it would have originally contained Ginger-Ale and was bottled by Seven-UP Ltd in Halifax, NS. The book used for my composition was acquired on eBay from a seller in Newfoundland. It was published by Airmont Books in 1965 and sold for 75 cents.

Antique Evangeline crate. 

Two months before spending our 2012 Christmas vacation in Louisiana, I found my genealogy on-line dating back to 1630. My French ancestor and 8th times grandfather, Michel "Sansoucy" Richard, born in Saintonge France immigrated to Port Royal, Acadia in 1652. During the deportation of Acadians, my 6th time grand-father, Michel Richard was deported from Fort Beauséjour to Charleston, SC and died shorty thereafter. Avoiding the deportation, his wife and children had exiled themselves on Prince Edward Island when tension was mounting during this period of great uncertainly and resistance from both sides. To pay homage to my ancestors, I returned on the grounds of Fort Beauséjour, located in Aulac, NB and used it as the setting in the composition. With views of the Tantramar Marsh, the waterways opens up into the Bay of Fundy. From here, you can make your way by boat to Grand-Pré. In the poem, Longfellow writes, Shaking his head, as in doubt; then, heaving a sigh, he continued:- "Louisbourg is not forgotten nor Beauséjour, nor Port Royal".

While in Louisiana, we visited the Acadian / Cajun region of St James Parish, Broussard, Beaux Bridges, St. Martinville and the city of Lafayette. St Martinville is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Cajun culture and traditions, and it is in the heart of Cajun Country. Between the dates of 1764 and 1785, upwards of 2600 Acadians took exile in this state, then under Spanish rule, but previously owned by the French.

  My wife Suzanne with the statue of Evangeline, St. Martinville, LA





I've recently had by DNA done through Ancestry.com. Much to my surprise, I am only 5% western Europe which would include France. As it turns out, I am 41% Great Britain, 12% Irish, 12% Spain/Portugal, 8% Italy/Greece and 6% Western Europe.  I may consider myself an Acadian or French Canadian, but in the end, I am a citizen of the world.   

In 2013, the Charlottetown Festival produced "Evangeline" a musical that ran during the summer at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. We were fortunate to attend a presentation. "Epic, ambitious, Canadian...comparable to Les Misérables" wrote The Globe and Mail. It was reprised in 2015 for a one month run at the Homburg Theatre in Charlottetown. 

In 2005, I was among a very fortunate small group of four in the entourage of one of the judges during the Moncton stop of the auditions for very popular TVA reality-TV singing competition, Star Académie". A then unknown singer, Annie Blanchard from Maisonnette, NB sang Michel Conte's ''Evangeline'' with so much heart and conviction that I could no longer hold back tears less than half way through. This link is not the audition taping but a similar version with piano accompaniment, click HERE to listen. At the conclusion of the show, Evangeline was release as a single on the compilation album. It would climb all the way to #1 on the Quebec charts. Annie Blanchard would go on to win the Félix for the song of the year at the 2006 Gala de l'ADISQ with this title (highest musical distinction in the province of Quebec).

Part of my two-person show with Yvon Gallant entitled ''HARVEST'' at the Fog Forest Gallery from October 12 - November 8, 2017.

Opening reception - Thursday October 12, 6:30- 8:00 pm

Fog Forest Gallery
14 Bridge Street
Sackville, NB, Canada
(506) 536-9000
website- http:/fogforestgallery.ca

-SOLD