Arts and Culture
Food and Wine
People and Places
Science and Nature
Travel and Lodging
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » RHODE ISLAND » Moise Potvin - Artist, Entertainer, and Impresario
Moise Potvin - Artist, Entertainer, and Impresario

Part 3 – An Ongoing Legacy

By Nicholas H. Kondon | October 04, 2011

The Detail in "DeFricheurs" is astonishing
Home Sweet Home, 1925
The Roosevelt Cabinet, 1934
Mortal Combat
The Detour
Strong Men, 1925

Previous Article in this Series

In this, the final installment, acquainting you with Moise Potvin, we devote as much space as possible for photos of Potvin’s work.

“The Detour”, like all of Potvin's work, is intricately carved

Potvin had an irrepressible sense of humor, sometimes ironic, but just as often rapier-like.   A visitor to Potvin’s exhibit had this exchange: “I see your [admission] price is twenty cents.   Since I only have one eye, can I get in for ten cents?” Potvin’s riposte was: “I should charge you forty cents, because it will take you twice as long to see the show.” Ouch!

There’s plenty of irony in his depiction of the lavish, self-indulgent residents of Home Sweet Home, (See: Part 2) and still more in The Detour.   Here, four city slickers pay the price of trying a short cut.   Mired in mud, they need oxen power to get them back on the road.   Note how duded up the swell are.   Plus fours, argyle sweaters, make-up, and golf clubs.   But note also the unmistakable enjoyment on the faces of the farm folk.

Then, there is Potvin’s attention to detail.   The focus of the panoramic photo of his complete dog exhibit leaves a lot to be desired, but his carvings don’t.   The newly taken digital photos of several breeds show how intricate his work could be.

And Moise had a big, and boundless palette.   His subject matter was as precisely executed in “Mortal Combat” although he’d never experienced such a struggle except in his imagination.   Nevertheless he’s captured the energy and fury of the combatants as though he’d been an eyewitness.   And, he is dead on with the anatomy, too.

Well, why did Moise Potvin do what he did? Was it the simple need for money? Doubtful.   With his talents he could have made much more as a portrait artist – even an iterant portrait artist, or as a sign painter.   He could have stayed at the mills and succeeded to the foreman’s position, but he didn’t.

The answer may come in deconstructing his personality.   He was, first and foremost a showman.   He loved his roles in theatrical productions, and not finding as many as would satisfy him, he formed his own company.   No doubt he loved the applause that followed – and the curtain calls – and the community recognition these appearance brought him.


He also knew that his hands were talented, and that he had a natural bent for recreating in wood, or oil paints, whatever his eyes took in.   And, apparently, he was restless, perhaps even claustrophobic in a Rhode Island homestead with twelve children.   So, the open road beckoned, and there, adulation was supplied by each individual visitor to his storefronts or auditoria, one-on-one; day after day; week in and week out.   Is there an artist anywhere, an actor, a musician, a dancer, a magician who can thrive without cheers and praise?

Still, probably the safest and fairest way to analyze Moise Potvin is to let him do the talking:

“A lot of people would like to know if we [Is that Potvin’s the royal we?] are making money.   The answer is no; we are like the man who starts a small business, and keeps adding to his stock; after some years he has a big business, but no more money than when he started, we are not money mad, and after all, I get more satisfaction in giving the public more than its money’s worth than getting rich the other way around.”

Depending on your school of thought, the trove we uncovered in Niagara Falls has either suffered or enjoyed a diaspora.   Today, Potvin’s works are in important folk art collections across America.   Some have sold at auction for tens of thousands of dollars, privately, probably for more.   In my opinion, whether someone paid forty cents to see, or forty thousand dollars to own a Potvin, they all got more than their money’s worth.

Share |
ONE is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.