For the last few years two friends and I have been meeting at different metro stops and exploring the artworks in the stations before heading out to investigate the area around them. Montreal has 68 stations so there’s plenty of exploring to do.
Last Friday we went to Berri-UQAM Metro. It’s a busy downtown station linking three lines.
I know the metro and the area pretty well: right nearby there’s the Université du Québec à Montréal where I did my MA in Contemporary Dance, the government offices where one renews medicare cards and driving licences, and the Grand Bibliothèque which, now that I’ve learned my way around, is a terrific library with a good range of books in English.
Nearby is Jardins Émilie-Gamelin which used to be a very dark, scary space near the main bus station. Now it’s been spruced up with gardens, art installations and entertainment. The Montréal Cirque Festival gives tremendous outdoor shows in here.
But on this particular visit I discovered something new. I was leading my friends to the next spot I thought they should see when one of them stopped me and pointed to an entrance to the metro that I’ve never used.
Inside was a bronze statue of Émilie Gamelin.
Émilie Tavernier Gamelin (1800-1851), the youngest of 15 children, dedicated herself to charitable works after her husband and three children died. She was the founder of the Sisters of Providence of Montreal who provided shelter to orphan girls and elderly women. She was beatified in 2001.
I love the simplicity, energy and humility in Raoul Hunter’s sculpture, and the details – the beads of her rosary, the woven basket covered with a cloth.
“I wanted to make as faithful as possible an image so that everyone could remember the features and the expression of this woman, who was directly concerned with the misery of her times.”– Raoul Hunter
My friend pointed out that while most of the statue was dull bronze, the outstretched fingers gleamed gold. She explained that this was because many people liked to touch the hand in passing.
As I pressed the shutter to take a photo, a woman reached out. Her fingers met Émilie Gamelin’s for hardly a second, but you could tell that this was a familiar gesture to the toucher and an important one. I found it very moving.
“Hunter’s full-round sculpture presents her dressed in her community’s habit, in action, carrying on her arm a basket of foodstuffs destined to relieve the hunger and misery of the forgotten of her time. The accentuated movement of her step recalls her great energy and generosity. Mother Gamelin is not portrayed on an elevated base; rather, she is on the same level as passersby. Her smile testifies to her openness and sympathy.” Art Public Montreal