September 23, 2005
University of Maine at Fort Kent professor of history Roger Paradis and his wife Rosanne were recently invited to Prince Edward Island to participate in the unveiling of a series of six paintings depicting milestones of Acadian history between 1881 and 2001.
The exhibit, entitled Les Grandes Heures du peuple acadien 1881-2001, by internationally renowned artist Claude Picard, was revealed to the public for the first time at the Musée Acadien in Summerside, Prince Edward Island earlier this month.
The Paradis' were among the invited guests attending the event, which included the lieutenant governor of the province, J. Leonce Bernard, and Michel Cyr, president of the Société Nationale de l'Acadie.
"We were honored to participate in the unveiling of Claude Picard's latest work. He has established himself as one of the premier artists depicting the tragedies and triumphs of the Acadian people," said Professor Paradis.
Picard of St. Basile, New Brunswick, is particularly well-known for his paintings which tell the story of the Acadian deportation or Grande Derangement of 1755.
In his most recent renderings, Picard focuses on six moments of great significance to the Acadian people in the late 19th century through present-day.
The period depicted begins in 1881 with the adoption of Our Lady of Assumption as the national patron saint of Acadians and the creation of a National Day for Acadians (August 15). The tableaux are all four by five feet in size, and took nearly five years to complete.
The first painting in the series of six is entitled "A Patron Saint and a National Day for Acadie", and refers to both events in 1881, as well as the official proclamation by Pope Pius XI in 1938, declaring the "Notre Dame de L'Assumption" patron saint of the Acadians.
Painting number two, entitled "An Insignia, a Motto and a National Flag for Acadie," represents the events of 1884, which saw the creation of the starred tricolor national flag of Acadians by Marie Agathe Babineau, and the national motto "In Unity There is Strength". A national emblem, featuring a blue silk ribbon with a star, the motto and a boat with a flag bearing the word Acadie, was also developed that year.
The third painting in the series, "First unfurling of the tricolore étoilé and a National Anthem for Acadie," shows the public unveiling of the new Acadian flag in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, on August 15, 1884.
It is followed by a fourth painting "First raising 'on land' of the National Flag of Acadie," which occurs in front of the church in Miscouche, the day after the flag is first unfurled.
Painting number five "Irony of history: England, first nation to salute the Acadian Flag!" depicts the first tribute for the new National Acadian Flag from a foreign country. In an ironic twist, the military salute was given by British vessels docked in the port of Summerside, 129 years after they had deported the same people they were now saluting, and mistaking the Acadian "drapeau" for the flag of France..
The final painting, "Flag of Acadiana, French lyrics for the Ave Maris Stella and National Arms for Acadie," tells the story of more recent developments for the Acadians, including the writing and performance of the new French lyrics of the Acadian National Anthem, the granting of a new Acadian coat of arms, and the adoption by Louisiana Cajuns of the Flag of Acadiana.
Although each of the six paintings depicts a unique period of development in recent Acadian history, as Paradis learned at the unveiling, each is connected with a common symbol of the culture.
"If you look closely at each painting you will find a saw-whet owl somewhere in the scene. Whether it is perched on a tree branch outside the window or in some other position, this national Acadian symbol is present," said Paradis. "The saw-whet owl was first identified in Acadie, and bears the name of the colony Aegolius Acadicus'."
The saw-whet owl, known as "la petite chouette acadienne," is a little owl that is about 7 inches long with big yellow eyes. It is smaller than a screech owl and doesn't have the ear tufts.
Professor Paradis, a well-known and well-respected scholar of Acadian history, has been on faculty at UMFK for 37 years. He is a long-time acquaintance of Claude Picard and was privileged to see the paintings as they were in progress.