Left: Pierre-AiméNormandeau Portrait; Right: Normandeau in an unidentified studio. Photo: Vie des Arts
Production Dates: c.1929-c.1959
Location: Montreal, QC
Types of Work: Functional, Sculptural, Architectural stone sculpture
Preferred Clay: stoneware and terracotta
Signature/Mark/Chop: his early works were signed PAN. ³
Pierre-Aimé Normandeau: A Short Biography
Sometimes fame or reputation has a perverse cloak of quasi-anonymity. If this sounds contradictory please let me know what you know about Pierre-Aimé Normandeau. His name is constantly mentioned when talking with or researching so many major Quebec ceramists such as Gaetan Beaudin, Jacques Garnier, and Maurice Savoie. Respected still in Quebec and once widely known and respected in eastern Canada today he is hardly known outside Quebec, Artist and teacher Normandeau was an influencer of major proportions. He has been called one of the founders of modern ceramics in Québec. ² His name and influence deserve a wider audience.
Known principally as an educator, particularly throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was also the key Quebec contact for the Canadian Guild of Potters, reporting on activities and potters in that province. ¹
Yet Normandeau was something of a contradiction: while remaining more a European classicist, more academy-oriented, he nonetheless inspired the new Quebec pottery avant garde of the mid-twentieth century.4 While developing Quebec ceramic modernism he also saw Canada as virgin territory for producing its own industrial “Wedgwood-Sevres-quality” pottery, but admitted that people perversely bought flowers and curlicues when buying dishes for the home. [tcpn 40s] Normandeau’s thoughts about industrial ceramics were to have an influence on his pupils, many of whom were to become major leaders in that industry.
The Quebec government in the earlier 20th century was passionate about supporting and developing traditional crafts that it feared were disappearing. (This passion was mirrored by the Canadian Guild of Crafts.)
Normandeau’s art career started at the École des beaux-arts founded in 1922. The school and its programme were modelled on the École des beaux-arts in Paris. The four year programme included fine arts, and additional options in applied art and pedagogy. ³
Initially, Normandeau started by taking evening classes while working as a modelling sculptor for T. Carli, a major producer of religious art. He started studying full time at the Montreal École des beaux-arts in 1927. 5 As a testament to his artistic abilities, while a student, he won prizes for drawing and modelling, and a competition between architects and sculptors for a war memorial to the French dead of Montreal, and a medal for the École des beaux-arts which he himself won later, in 1931.³ The medal imagery speaks to the classiscism that Normandeau favoured.
1932 was a critical year for Normandeau when he won a European Scholarship.
This scholarship award enabled him to to enter the École Supérieure de Céramique de Sèvres, France, followed by studies at Manufacture de Porcelaine, at the Royal School of Faenza, and further studio and factory visits in Italy and France.³ His ceramic credentials, principally industrial, were now becoming established.
He returned to Montreal in 1935 and set up his studio on St-Urbain Street creating and researching, including papers on ceramic techniques and enamelling. 5 Much of his work included religious works portrait busts and medals, including works in stoneware and terracotta. 5
He was named head of the l’École de beaux-arts de Montréal’s new ceramic section, and oversaw the design, equipment and establishment of the new ceramics studio which opened in 1936. ³
Normandeau’s teaching career also started in 1936, in the ceramic section of the school with a two year programme. The first graduates of this programme who set up their own studios were Jean-Jacques Spénard and William Hutchinson in the late 1930s.The ceramics programme, moved to l’École du meuble à Montréal in 1945.The programme remained there until 1958 with Normandeau as Director. This programme produced such further luminaries as Gaetan Beaudin, Maurice Savoie and Jean Cartier. The school later became l’Institut des arts appliqués in 1946 and finally was moved in 1969 into the Cégep du vieux Montréal.
Jules Bazin descibes the core elements of the programme:
“The ceramic course … lasting two years, gave the student a technical and as comprehensive training as possible. It was completed by practical work on clay and enamels, on composition and modeling, so that [they] could set up a workshop, develop clay recipes after studying raw materials and adapt glazes to be able to work in in small or large production series. From the beginning, the section had been responsible for researching the Quebec clays in order to be able to use those which were specific to ceramics. “³
In this teaching Normandeau was assisted by his wife Gilberte, herself a widely recognized chemist and expert in glaze technology.
In addition to his teaching, throughout the years he continued to win prizes: in 1953 the le grand prix de l’Artisanat.³ He also served as president of the Sculptor’s Society of Canada. ³ From 1948-50 he headed the Pottery Division of the Canadian Ceramic Society, 5 was widely consulted, and active as the Quebec representative during the 1940s to mid-1950s of the Canadian Guild of Potters. In 1953 he served on the executive of the Canada Council for the Arts.5 Meanwhile he published journal articles, gave courses on the radio and at the University, as well at conferences, particularly in Montreal and in Quebec,. He also served on several art juries.³
However, in 1959 Normandeau forced by illness and perhaps the demands of the job retired in his early fifties. He died in Montreal six years later in 1965.
A new era of ceramics was coming: new schools and programmes; waves of immigrant artists from Europe and the United States; and the renown of his own graduates. In spite of his accomplishments history would draw a veil over the name of Pierre Normandeau outside of Quebec. During my research on other Quebec ceramists, in interview after interview, his name was respectfully cited. His mark upon the development of Quebec ceramics from the 1930s to the 1960s is undeniable. He was a seminal influence on modern Quebec ceramics. History, however, is selective and not always honest.
Jules Bazin would write:
“Generous and selfless (he enjoyed success of his students), [a] sensitive and cultured, perfectionist – his friends always called him ‘Master’ a nickname deserved.“ ³
NB: consider this page a work in progress and will be updated. For readers and collectors who have further information and pictures please contact me to share them with other readers
Pierre-Aimé Normandeau Gallery
- Normandeau was a man of his times. The early half of the 20th century resonated with a push for a Canadian, and national ceramic industry and art, especially in materials and subjects: e.g his article under the headline ‘“Wedgwood Line” For Canada, Ceramics Instructors Aim’
“’There is as much important stuff here as in the artistic line,” he said. “Our Craftsman have a definite role to play in industry. The one cardinal rule for them to remember, however, in any field, is not to try to compete with machine-made ware. Mr. Normandeau thinks that the building up of a distinctive Canadian line will follow the trend away from the ornate curlicues of older form. “People are getting away from the fancy ideas,” he said. “They seem more in favor of functional design. But it is funny — Whenever they decide to buy a “good” set of dishes for instance, they still choose a pattern with flowers all over the place.’” Printed from the Montreal Daily Star.¹
- Normandeau further pushed for the making of “useful objects” as well the artistic, and the use of local materials.¹
- Artists such as Gaetan Beaudin would pursue this philosophy. The general push for a ‘national’ approach was amplified by the Second World War and lack of access to former suppliers such as Britain, Europe and Japan.
- Interestingly Normandeau himself did not pursue the industrial route. Rather he created one-off works, functional and sculptural. His artistic model was standard, French academic, not avant garde.
- Jacques Garnier, remembered he had seen his master
“[a] true manic of the ideal form, turn[ing] the same pot, hours and hours before the form comes up pure, dense, controlled.” 3
- The Musee de beaux arts de Montreal describes his work and market:
“Normandeau is best known for his stoneware vessels (bowls and vases), executed on the wheel, which he sold to a rather elite public. His production remained artisanal and artistic and did not explore the industrial paths of the estate. Typical features of Normandeau’s work are the use of rich oriental-inspired glazes and a classical aesthetic resulting from his European [studies].” 7
- Normandeau’s works in the slide show below show a variety of styles, from the unusual pictorial decorativeness of hand-painted porcelain and italian majolica plates, through to the simple, sturdy solid forms and glazes typical of much of the work in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. His stoneware sculptures are of a solid, figurative 20th century style (that remind me of Ernst Barlach works), here boldly declaring their clay medium.
Pierre-Aimé Normandeau Slide show
Endnotes & Bibliography:
1. The Clay Product News and Record. March 1951, p.11.
2. Beaurepaire-Beaconsfield Historical Society. Exhibition of 20th Century Canadian Pottery. April 30-May 1, 2013.
3. Bazin, Jules. Pierre Normandeau : sculpteur et céramiste. Vie des Arts, vol. 34, n° 135, 1989, p. 26-28.
4. Lamy, Suzanne et Laurent. La renaissance du métiers d’art au Canada français. Ministère des affaires culturelle. Québec. 1977. Add accents, etc. and capitalization.Good copy on pp 41-54 .
6. Pierre-Aimé Normandeau. Céramique. June1938. Article/presentation by Normandeau.