About the collection


An ivory treasure


Over a period lasting almost 15 years, Edmond Lecouvie, a Québécois hailing from the Gaspé peninsula, sculpted 42 miniatures boats out of narwhal and walrus ivory in what was to become the only collection of its kind in the world.


His undying passion for the sea, coupled with his lifelong devotion to this traditional art form, were what sustained him through the countless hours spent carving, filing, notching and grooving the 42 boats. Each boat illustrates a particular period from the history of navigation, from its origins down to the present day. 



Edmond Lecouvie: The Man and the Artist (1886-1970)


Edmond Lecouvie was born in Gaspé, Québec on November 15, 1886.


Lecouvie's introduction to the life of ships and sailing came when he was seven years old. Even as a child, he regularly accompanied his sea captain father on his voyages throughout the Gulf of St.Lawrence and down the coast of Labrador. Family, friends, the sea and hard work were the sole instructors he was to know.


In 1913, he was hired as a member of the Québec City police department. He forgot nothing of his passion for the sea, however. He devoted every free moment he had to model shipbuilding.


At all stages of his life, Edmond Lecouvie transformed a whole range of materials - but primarily wood and ivory - into hulls, masts, spars, cannonry, figureheads and the like.


A man of skillful, patient hands, Lecouvie made no use of detailed plans or studies, nor did he employ any complicated tools. He relied instead on a rasp and a file, in addition to his sharp sense of observation and remarkable dexterity. His children fondly recall the chair he used to place his rough-hewn pieces on, and the basket he used as an all-purpose tool chest.


In his lifetime, Edmond Lecouvie achieved international renown. Several of his works are on exhibit at the British Museum, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt each acquired one of his wooden boats.


Edmond Lecouvie died in Québec City on September 22, 1970.



The Narwhal and Walrus Ivories


Narwhal and walrus ivory was supplied to the artist by Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who, in 1906, 1908 and 1910, headed three expeditions into various arctic and sub-arctic regions to claim territories that had been previously ceded by Great Britain to Canada. With this new material, Lecouvie embarked upon an adventure that was to last 14 years and which would result in one of the world's most prestigious collections of ivory miniatures.


The series of 42 ships represents world navigational history, as interpreted by a sailor and lover of all things nautical. Included in this panorama are such vessels as an Amazonian pirogue, a Viking long ship, a Chinese junk, a galleon, in addition to famous sailing vessels like the frigate Constitution, the warship Henri Grâce à Dieu, and the Bluenose - the Canadian schooner which was several times victor of the Transatlantic Cup.


The dimensions of the ships vary between 10 and 35 cm; all ships are entirely made out of ivory (except for the Weymouth which, because of its dimension, required a wood hull).


Edmond Lecouvie is, without a doubt, what may be termed an artist-craftsman. His work stands out as the accomplishment of one of those chosen individuals who are able to translate their God-given talents into objects of incomparable beauty.



A prestigious journey


The collection's current owner, Mr. Gaston Déry, has undertaken to preserve and develop this magnificent, one-of-a-kind ivory masterpiece as a means of fostering greater public recognition of the life and life work of this undeservedly little-known artist. 

Since its acquisition by Gaston Déry, the collection has traveled through Canada; in addition to several expositions in Québec, Montréal and at the Musée maritime du Québec in l'Islet-sur-mer, it was exposed at the Pavillon du Québec for the International Exposition of 1986 (Vancouver), at the Maritime Museum of Vancouver (1986-1987) and at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia to celebrate their 50th anniversary (Victoria - 2005). The collection was last exposed in Québec City in 2008 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city.