Having demonstrated no discernible interest in art heretofore, a down-to-earth, middle-class barber in a town best known for its paper mill began covering his home in bright, lively frescoes.
In a little over two years’ time, Arthur Villeneuve managed to cover his house inside and out, top to bottom in motifs that drift from realist to romantic, human to animal, and back again. In the years since its creation, critics have come to note how well suited this complex and conflicting imagery is to the situation in which it was conjured: at the confluence of hardened industrial mills, situated within Quebec’s oft-heralded natural beauty.
Completing his artistic dream home wasn’t enough for Villeneuve. Once it was finished in 1959, he opened the doors of the home to the public as a museum, even as he and his wife continued to live inside. Word spread quickly of the spectacle and before long it reached people at the National Film Board of Canada, who produced a short documentary about the “painter barber” and his newfound passion.
The uniqueness of Villeneuve’s oeuvre resists easy classification and categorization. He received no formal artistic training, yet his work transcended traditional barriers of “folk art” by gaining domestic and international recognition within his lifetime. Controversy followed his paintings, from Villeneuve’s closest neighbors who weren’t pleased with his decorating scheme to critics who were often polarized by his style.
Until his death in 1990, Villeneuve and his wife welcomed visitors into their home to marvel at Arthur’s creations. But after his passing, benefactors close to home recognized Arthur’s tradition of an open house could live on much longer. In a daring act of engineering, what had become a piece of communal heritage was moved in one piece from its original neighborhood and re-installed within the walls of the Musée de la Pulperie de Saguenay. Visitors may once again explore its rooms, just as Arthur had envisioned on that one fateful day that changed everything.