ROLLIN, PAUL, wood-carver, architect, landowner, and merchant; b. 25 Jan. 1789 in Longueuil, Que., son of Dominique Rollin and Magdeleine Bouthellier (Bouteiller); m. 3 April 1815 Zoé Pétrimoulx in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval), Lower Canada; d. 1 Dec. 1855 in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse), Lower Canada.
The son of a native of the Lorraine region in France who had settled at Longueuil, Paul Rollin was apprenticed to wood-carver Louis Quévillon* of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. No apprenticeship contract has been found, but it is known that by 1812 Rollin was a master wood-carver. Quévillon considered him one of his most valuable helpers and set him up on a site adjoining his own. Rollin shared in the work done in Quévillon’s workshop at Les Écorres, along with René Beauvais*, dit Saint-James, and Joseph Pépin*. He formed a partnership with these two to fulfil contracts for ornamental work in the churches around Montreal. Thus with Pépin he helped to decorate the first church of Notre-Dame at Montreal in 1808–9. He did the baldachin, vaulting, and cornices, and then the gilding of the carved pieces.
From 1815 until about 1822 Rollin trained his own apprentices, none of whom, however, became famous. He went into partnership with Quévillon, Pépin, and Saint-James in February 1815 “to carry out all the works of the said profession of wood-carving . . . for all comers.” Their contract stipulated: “This company has the responsibility of seeing that the said parties, as they have mutually undertaken to do, shall each contribute equally to whatever is to be done and paid for. . . . And the moneys produced by the said works shall be received by any of the said parties without distinction, and they . . . shall share the profit equally.” Their partnership ended in January 1817 after the carvers had worked together in the churches at Pointe-Claire and Varennes. Rollin, Quévillon, Pépin, and Saint-James made a contract with the churchwardens of Chambly in 1819 to undertake wood-carvings in connection with the church’s vault, chancel, and jube. In the same period Rollin also collaborated with these craftsmen on the ornamentation of the churches at Longueuil and Lachenaie. Then around 1821 he joined with Saint-James to do wood-carving, including work finished in gold and silver leaf, at the church of Saint-Mathias. When Quévillon died in 1823 Rollin continued his activities as a carver, although hard times forced him to accept work as an architect and contractor. For example, he was commissioned to restore the church roof at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in 1823, a responsibility he shared with Saint-James and master carpenter Simon Hogue.
Although Quévillon’s workshop was less involved in statuary, Rollin was assigned to do a figure of the Virgin for the high altar in the first church of Notre-Dame in Montreal. This statue, which was carved around 1808, is believed to have been moved to the great second church of Notre-Dame built by James O’Donnell* from 1823 to 1829. Moreover, Rollin in 1828 helped decorate this second church by carving 243 bosses in the form of stars for the painted vault, and 213 acanthus leaves for the high altar. This work well illustrates the type of carving produced in the workshop at Les Écorres, repetitive pieces that were standardized rather than individualized. In an era when several churches had to be decorated at the same time, this approach to wood-carving offered nothing but advantages. But after 1830 the number of buildings to be decorated was dwindling because there was little new construction, and more refined work was consequently being demanded.
It is easy to reach a harsh judgement today about a carver content to make faithful reproductions of European models, especially when these were already outdated in France. But in an isolated region, such as Montreal at that period, to decorate the parish church with carved and gilded ornamentation seemed such an important achievement that few worried about how the work would be received by Europeans. The criticisms of the “Quévillon style” voiced in the Quebec region began, however, to cast doubt upon this kind of church ornamentation, and the severity of the strictures probably hastened the collapse of the workshop at Les Écorres and the consequent dispersal of the craftsmen into the surrounding regions. Wood-carving declined to some extent after 1830, but it returned to favour when Victor Bourgeau* attained prominence during the 1840s.
The prestige enjoyed by Rollin does not seem to have been affected by the disfavour into which the “Quévillon style” was falling. Admittedly this artist in wood-carving was able to broaden the field of his activities, and had become integrated into a cultured milieu of lawyers and other persons of importance, as the list of the witnesses to his marriage in 1815 demonstrates. He also proved a landowner to respect. The year he was married he bought some land in the Châteauguay seigneury, which he sold seven years later. In 1820 he acquired a property with a house in the village of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, which he made over to Saint-James in 1830 for £2,400. A piece of land bought in the same region in 1823 was rented as a farm, and another at Saint-François-de-Sales (Laval) was sold in 1828. Rollin is also known to have bought some land at Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville before 1832, and to have established himself there as a merchant, but it is not known what the latter activity involved.
Paul Rollin’s obituary in La Minerve termed him “the most senior Canadian wood-carver.” It described him as “a good father, a good husband, and a good Christian. He always distinguished himself by his simplicity [and] his gentle and honest nature.”
ANQ-M, CE1-12, 25 janv. 1789; CE6-25, 4 déc. 1855; CN1-16, 19 sept. 1812; CN1-28, 24 mars 1824; CN1-68, 17 févr. 1825, 4 mai 1827; CN1-96, 28 févr. 1812; 13 avril 1815; 3 févr. 1816; 3, 24 févr., 6 juin 1817; 10, 19 févr. 1818; 27 juill. 1819; 20 janv. 1820; 10 sept. 1821; 22 févr., 9 juill. 1822; 22 févr., 8 mars, 13 oct., 8 nov. 1823; 7 avril 1824; 11 juin 1825; 22 déc. 1828; 25 mai 1829; 11, 30 mars 1830; 20 nov. 1832; CN1-126, 11 févr. 1815; CN1-167, 8 juin 1815; CN1-334, 3 févr. 1815; CN1-375, 26 févr. 1821; CN6-29, 4 août 1823. AP, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval), reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 3 avril 1815. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, R754/P324. La Minerve, 7 déc. 1855. L’église et l’enclos paroissial de Saint-Mathias-de-Rouville (Québec, 1978). Olivier Maurault, La paroisse: histoire de l’église Notre-Dame de Montréal (2e éd., Montréal, 1957). Ramsay Traquair and G. A. Neilson, The old church of St Charles de Lachenaie (Montreal, 1934). Émile Vaillancourt, Une maîtrise d’art en Canada (1800–1823) (Montréal, 1920).