Armand L. LaMontagne stands out as one of the most celebrated and gifted artists/sculptors that Rhode Island has ever produced. Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on February 3, 1938, to Raymond, a general superintendent, and his wife, Jeanne [nee Ferland], Armand L. LaMontagne attended Pawtucket public schools.
Recognized by the Providence Journal for his innate athletic ability, LaMontagne made the all-state football team as a fullback in 1957 and the all-star baseball team 1956 and 1958. He transferred to Worcester Academy for his senior year, primarily to play sports and was then recruited by Boston College coach Mike Holovak, who offered LaMontagne a football scholarship. Although the future sculptor played for two years, he left BC to enlist in the army. After he “met his military obligation” he returned to Rhode Island and served as a member of the state police. Realizing that the police force was not for him, he turned to the arts as a career. Awarded a prestigious Russell Grinnell grant to study in Florence, Italy, he embarked on a life changing move. Boarding the Queen Mary for Europe, he and his new wife, Lorraine [nee, Robitaille], honeymooned in Italy in 1963 while Armand also apprenticed under a professional. Florence was the ideal setting for a burgeoning artist. He was able to hone his natural skills in sculpture and the experience proved invaluable. Studying the great Renaissance works of art, he transformed what he observed to his own carvings and as a result, he was able to capture the essence of his subjects.
When they returned to Rhode Island, the LaMontagnes settled in rural North Scituate. Armand designed and built their new home, a reproduction of a colonial farmhouse and he continued to cultivate his talent for sculpture. Essentially self-taught, he earned fame for sculpting some of the most famous military, political, and sports personalities of the twentieth century.
One of his most celebrated pieces, a “life-size, all wood …” sculpture of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, the statue was unveiled in Cooperstown, New York at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. To sports-minded youngsters like LaMontagne, Ted Williams was a hero, their “John Wayne.” At the unveiling, the usual stoic Williams was brought to tears.
Molding life sized figures of General George S. Patton, President Gerald Ford, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Boston Celtic Larry Bird, and Yankee legend Babe Ruth, among others, LaMontagne’s work has impressed and amazed those around him for its authenticity and character. His sculpture of Roger Williams was commissioned for that Bristol university.
Known for his honest appraisal of existing artwork, LaMontagne was asked by then-Governor Garrahy what he thought of official gubernatorial paintings. The artist quipped that “Gilbert Stuart did the last good one. That was a couple of hundred years ago.” The result was LaMontagne’s portrait of Governor Garrahy, which now hangs in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House.
Lastly, the Providence Journal won an award for unearthing a story about LaMontagne. While visiting the Wallace Nutting Collection in Hartford, Connecticut with a friend in 1969, LaMontagne commented on the imperfections in the furniture, and argued that he could do better. When the curator overheard, he asked LaMontagne to leave.
From that brief encounter, the resourceful LaMontagne set out to fool the experts. He then reproduced the great 17th century Brewster chair, named for Pilgrim Governor William Brewster, by first aging white ash wood for a week to give the chair an authentic look. When the work was completed, he “planted” it in a little shop on an island off the coast of Maine. Practically giving it away, LaMontagne’s only reward was in tricking the experts. The piece changed hands a few times before it eventually appeared at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan as an “original 350-year-old” chair, touted as the oldest in the United States. He did not reveal the origins until much later when the Journal wrote a story uncovering the truth behind the work. He boasted that he had fooled the so-called professionals.
For his lifetime achievements, Armand LaMontagne has received much recognition and was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1998. He currently lives in Scituate with his wife, Lorraine. They have one daughter, Lisa Ann, who is a graduate of Salve Regina University.
For further viewing:
Splendid Splinters: The Armand LaMontagne Story- Sports sculptor- wood carver