Predisposed to the life of an artist
Madeleine Dansereau was born in Montreal in 1922. Her mother may have been the source of her insatiable love of learning, while her father, a dentist and inventor of all kinds of dental tools and systems, may have been the source of her creative genius and great manual dexterity. Perhaps she inherited, from birth, a genetic heritage that predisposed her to the life of an artist. Possibly.
As a child, Madeleine Dansereau arrives late to school so often that the principal must advise. Her worried mother starts following her to school. She is surprised to discover that her daughter’s fascination with the shapes, textures and colours along the way makes her forget time. Madeleine stops for long periods, here and there, and watches branches, buds, pebbles and window decorations with admiration. This child, sensitive and amazed, seems to have already adopted creation as her way of life.
Madeleine Dansereau is interested in painting. Between 1938 and 1940, she studies at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal with Arthur Lismer and Jacques de Tonnancourt. However, it is wartime and life is hard for everyone. Art is the luxury of another time. She becomes a wife and mother and, for twenty years, she devotes her energies to her family. In 1958, she returns to the arts. She becomes a tour guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and studies jewellery with Philippe Vauthier for four years. She apprentices with this renowned Swiss artist – whom jeweller Armand Brochard admiringly calls “the handyman of genius” – and is involved with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as Co-Chair of the Volunteer Committee. In 1971, she begins teaching jewellery at the Canadian Guild of Crafts, in Montreal, but two years later, her involvement is interrupted following a change in the association’s mission.
Co-founder of the École de joaillerie et de métaux d’art de Montréal and renowned artist
In 1973, Madeleine Dansereau approaches Armand Brochard and invites him to share a studio. The space would have to be large enough to pursue his jewellery classes with his students. They set up the Atelier de joaillerie on St-Vincent Street, in Old Montreal. It is a success. Less than two years later, they move to a larger location and decide to refine their teaching structure. Madeleine Dansereau is delighted. Teaching stimulates her career as a jewellery artist and her research on metal work feeds her teaching. In the years to follow, she accumulates awards and recognitions. In 1974 and 1976, “Artisanat 74” and “Visages du Canada” reward her with the Prix du Mérite. Between 1977 and 1990, she exhibits in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto. In 1981, she creates the ” Grand Montréalais ” trophy, awarded to Charles Dutoit and Charles Bronfman, among others. In 1985, she creates the National Order of Quebec medals. A recognized artist, she is invited, between 1974 and 1990, to sit on numerous juries, committees and commissions. In May 1987, Ms. Lise Bacon, then Minister of Cultural Affairs, mandates seven artists, including Madeleine Dansereau, to reflect on proposals for a bill on the recognition of the status of the artist.
Her passion for metalworking and her desire to learn are endless. She takes part in several courses and workshops in the United States and Italy. She studies metal forming and enamelling with James Malenda at the Penland School of Crafts. She discovers chasing and repoussé with Lois Betteridge. She is particularly fond of the ancestral Japanese technique of Mokume-gane, which she explores in 1980, at the University of Michigan, thanks to a scholarship from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. A second scholarship in 1984 allows her to perfect her knowledge of electroforming and photoengraving with Stanley Lechtzin and Linda Threadgill. That same year, she completes her reflection on jewellery and art, and obtains her master’s degree in visual arts at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
In defence of jewellery as art
Madeleine Dansereau considers metal to be a living material. She is amazed at how it expands, shrinks and curves under safe and patient handling. Madeleine Dansereau is equally amazed by humans. She sees them as creators, sensitive, conscious and preoccupied with the meaning of their existence. For these reasons, she considers jewellery to be intimately linked to human life. Her interest lies not in commercial jewellery, but rather in ” sign-bearing ” jewellery, as she calls it. This type of jewellery, more than a decorative object, she considers it to be the witness of a creator, a time and a place. She sees it as the result of intellectual, formal and technical research and, above all, as bearing a meaning. To her, jewellery is a work of art.
More than anyone else, she believes in the need to institutionalise jewellery training and yet, following the 1984 submission of the ” Plan national de formation en métiers d’art “, she finds the courage to express her doubts to the Minister of Cultural Affairs. She criticises an approach that encourages teaching methods that satisfy the needs of cultural industries to the detriment of artistic reflection and research. She sees this programme as a forced union between craft and commercial demands. She would have preferred to see a proposal for teaching based on reflection, understanding and awareness, which would have led to a university level arts program, similar to those that exist in a number of Canadian and American universities.
Increased passion, limited time
We are all going to die and this idea is traumatic in itself,” says Madeleine Dansereau. Only passion, of people, of art and work, allows us to overcome this fear. At the end of the 1960s, the news of a cancer diagnosis confronts her with her convictions. Faced with the disease, she chooses to live her passion to the fullest and to experience life intensely for the time to come. Within the next twenty-five years, she accomplishes what few people achieve in a lifetime.
In 1988, her cancer relapses. Metal working then becomes too demanding for her diminishing strength. She feels her body vulnerable and her condition leads her to think of a birds’ plumage, fish scales, invertebrates’ shells, all natural materials that are organised to protect a living organism. To this reflection, she combines her research on Greek and Mesopotamian mythology, and is involved in a project to create paper “ornaments”. She prefers the term “ornament” to “jewellery”, reflecting the idea of protection, almost like an armour, which she is keen to infuse into her work.
On March 20, 1991, Madeleine Dansereau passes away. In her memory, the City of Montreal gives her name to a street in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood, and the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) creates, in 2001, the Madeleine-Dansereau Award. Today, many consider her to be the first female jeweller in Quebec.
- Untitled, unknown date, brooch, sterling silver, 18k gold, Stéphanie Dansereau collection
- Untitled, unknown date, brooch, sterling silver, 18k gold, diamonds, École de joaillerie de Montréal collection
- Icthos, 1990, sculpture, brass, gold leaf, Mireille Dansereau collection
- Untitled, unknown date, earrings, sterling silver, 18k gold, Stéphanie Dansereau collection
- Déesse cycladique, 1977, pendant, sterling silver, Stéphanie Dansereau collection
- Chevalier’s insignia of the Ordre national du Québec, designed in 1985, sterling silver, 18k gold, given to Louise Lemieux-Bérubé in 2013
- Collaboration with Janis Kerman, Untitled, 1988, neckpiece, handmade paper, brass, niobium, Janis Kerman collection
- Artémis, 1990, ornament, handmade paper, fibre, dye, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec collection
- Untitled, 1990, ornament, handmade paper, fibre, dye, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec collection
- Dou Wan, 1988, ornament, handmade paper, water based paint, Mireille Dansereau collection
Text and research : Lyne Gagnon
Photo credits : Anthony McLean