When he talks about his background as an artist – about how his interest in art really began – Father Maurice LeBlanc recalls one of his favourite childhood memories.
He remembers being in school in his native West Pubnico. At the end of the school week, he would hear those wonderful words from the teacher: “This afternoon you can draw.”
Reflecting on those days now, remembering how much he enjoyed being able to express himself graphically, he says, “It was really a treat to do that at school.”
It would be many years, however, before he had a chance to receive formal artistic instruction.
“When I went to college, there was no (instruction in) painting or drawing or anything of that sort,” he recalled. “There was piano, so I learned the piano. When I went to seminary, it was about the same thing again. When I went to Bathurst, where I spent 25 years teaching, it was the same thing.”
It wasn’t until 1974, when he moved to Church Point and began a position at Collège Sainte-Anne, that he was able to pursue his interest in art in a more formal way.
“There was an art council and I joined and they had workshops,” he said. Among other things, he recalls painting trips abroad, in particular excursions to Cuba and Spain.
Father LeBlanc’s latest exhibition of paintings can be seen in the second-floor lobby of the Par-en-Bas school community centre in Tusket. There are 28 pieces in the show – most of which have been on display before – and the images include Acadian villages, chapels and fishing boats.
The artist is at work on some new ones, saying he was inspired by images captured by local photographer Gerard Cottreau.
Father LeBlanc, 94, says he still enjoys painting.
“It’s a nice pastime,” he said. He has maintained a sense of humour too. While the physical limitations brought on by age do not prevent him from continuing to paint, he said, laughing, “I wouldn’t play sports.”
Aside from his involvement in visual arts, Father LeBlanc remains a musician. He and James Quinlan from Clare get together about once or twice a month to practise.
“I play piano, he plays the clarinet,” Father LeBlanc said. “We also give little recitals, little concerts. We gave one before Christmas – of Christmas music – at the Tusket Villa. It lasted about an hour, a little bit more than an hour. People seemed to enjoy that.”
Father LeBlanc retired from Sainte-Anne’s in 1991 and moved back to West Pubnico. A few years later, the Holy Family and St. Joseph parishes (in Amirault’s Hill and Surette’s Island, respectively) were lacking a priest and Father LeBlanc was asked if he would help them. He started saying mass there and, nearly a quarter-century later, continues to do so each weekend.
“They’re very kind,” he said, referring to the people of both parishes. “I don’t drive my car anymore. They come over and pick me up in Pubnico and take me back and forth.”