FATHER AND SON: MASTER CRAFTSMEN (Times & Transcript, Sunday March, 2003)
Father and son: master craftsmen
Renowned carver continues quest to fulfil dying wish of his father, also a famed craftsman - present work of art to Queen Elizabeth
Times & Transcript Staff
|(JAMES FOSTER/TIMES & TRANSCRIPT)
Serge Savoie displays a duck carved by his father, Amateur, which, with the help of New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, he hopes to present to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The circle of life will finally be complete for a second-generation Neguac-area artist when one of his late father’s coveted carvings is presented to Queen Elizabeth II.
While it’s not yet a done deal, it is expected that sometime this spring Serge Savoie will present one of his dad’s famed carvings to Lieutenant-Governor Marilyn Trenholme Counsell for forwarding to Her Royal Highness, a dying wish of Serge’s late father Amateur (Mat) Savoie.
"It was such a dream that my father had," Serge says wistfully, "that I will feel the promise of my father will finally be fulfilled."
Amateur Savoie died in 1983 after winning worldwide fame for his carvings, mostly of ducks. There are just 10 of his works left in the care of his son Serge, who has turned down five-figure offers for just one of them from collectors and fans.
In 1937, his father offered a carving of a Mountie on horseback to George VI, along with a letter to His Majesty. But to his dismay, the gift was returned.
"As gifts can only be accepted from those with whom His Majesty is personally acquainted, the Keeper of the Privy Purse regrets that he must return the present herewith," states the letter from Buckingham Palace.
Amateur was disappointed, but life went on at the tiny shingled barber shop/carving studio in which he earned his living since early in the last century, and where, in another ironic twist, his son Serge works as a barber 70 years later using the exact same barber’s chair his dad used, a tiny artist’s studio crammed in the back.
Amateur’s fame as a carver flourished during his lifetime, with his exquisitely detailed works reaching the farthest corners of the earth. Fast forward to November 1983. As his end drew closer, Amateur asked only that his son Serge continue his artistry.
Serge had never carved before. How could he continue his father’s work? And yet somehow, today Serge is as renowned as an artist as his father, his pieces in high demand around the world. His only explanation for his talent he has no training in carving or art of any kind is his father’s guidance.
"I tried carving like my father had asked me to. I didn’t know what I was doing. And then one day, I felt very strange. I felt my father’s presence there as I worked. I’d turn around, thinking someone was there. But nobody was there."
Almost at that very moment, Serge’s skill took a giant leap forward and he was able to carve ducks in such exquisite detail that it’s often difficult to tell his wooden specimens from the real thing.
"After that point, I never felt my father’s presence again."
It seemed the two generations had finally come full circle, but still something gnawed at Serge. Despite his growing skill and fame as an artist as his father had wished, he realized there was still one more task before his dad could rest in peace. He had to get one of his dad’s carvings to the Queen.
Serge has only 10 of his dad’s carvings left in his possession and they aren’t for sale at any price.
"It would be like parting with part of my father. To me, it’s more valuable to keep them because it’s my father who made them."
Yet he’s willing to part with a carving his father hewed of a duck at rest, if only Her Majesty will accept it. The work was in the hands of a 91-year-old fan of his father who offered it to Serge, who in turn will offer it to the Queen.
Miramichi Bay MLA Réjean Savoie, who successfully nominated Serge for a Queen’s Jubilee Medal last year, is helping to smooth the path to royalty.
"Serge just wants his father’s dream to come true," Réjean says.
"There should be a date arranged soon for him to present it to the lieutenant-governor, probably in April. I know for a fact that the lieutenant-governor is really looking forward to making this happen."
Serge has dutifully followed in his father’s footsteps and has reached the point in his own artistry that prospective buyers clamour for pieces before he has even started them. A man whose modesty matches his talent, he has turned down thousands of dollars for work that had previously been commissioned to friends and fans at a much lower price.
"He’s an amazing talent," says Moncton aficionado Denis Basque.
"I don’t think he knows just how talented he is."
Many say Serge has now surpassed his father’s artistry, and while Serge readily admits his works have never been more popular, he won’t compare himself to his father. Still, his carvings of birds with feathers extended display the most excruciating detail, so much so that if you pursed your lips and blew air on them, you’d swear the wings would ruffle. His creations of ducks at rest are mirror images of the real thing.
Some of his works require 500 hours of meticulous carving using some of his dad’s original tools, a few modern blades and an electric burner. Then the carvings must be painted, often adding more than 50 hours to the job.
While his dad’s pieces are now among collections around the world, some remain close to home, such as the schooner Amateur carved in 1905 at age 9, which is still in the hands of Serge’s sister. A seagull carving owned by Serge is much coveted by collectors, but he won’t part with it.
Serge’s own pieces are owned by former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the late former French president François Mitterand, by the president of Ducks Unlimited, the president of the Audubon Society and by captains of industry across New Brunswick, North America and around the world. He’s been to Morocco, France twice, Expo ’86 in Vancouver and other venues to display his skills.
"Each time I have an honour like that, it reminds me of my father," he says.
Despite his works routinely fetching far above expected price at auctions, Serge demands only a comparatively modest price for his pieces - he doesn’t want the cost to become a barrier to ownership.
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