Stained glass and quilts - the incredible world of Irma and Roger Cote'
Where to start and what to do next....Irma and Roger Cote'
By Manfried H. Starhemberg
"I have to finish this piece today" explains Roger Cote' as he is cutting the last pieces of stained glass to complete a huge panel designed by his wife Irma."What's the hurry? Going on vacation?" "No", he chuckles, "Tomorrow I am having heart surgery and I do not want work to lie around unfinished". Is he worried about the surgery? "No, not really, it is just a bother with so much to do here". And he and Irma are not kidding, There is work in progress everywhere and the large house in Knowlton is a personal museum for Irma who has been at the variuous stages of her art for decades. There are her monoprints, bas relief work and hundreds of fascinating and stunningly beautiful quilts, there are dozens of Tiffany-style lamps, some of which, Roger explains, have up to 2,400 pieces.
Irma came from Bavaria in 1956 and still speaks German with that lovely Bavarian lilt. "There was nothing for me in Bavaria at the time, it was hard after the war and so I came here as a maid". This did not last because even in Germany she had studied art, has painted "since I was five years old" and soon became a full time artist. "I do everything for a few years, from bas-relief to stitchery, then came the monoprints and my quilts and then of course I combined all of this into my stained glass work, which I have been doing for about 20 years now".
There are dozens of quilts and Irma even has a separate studio for her stitchery work, with shelfes upon shelves of recycled material which she gets from church sales and friends. "I wash all the garments, then I separate the buttons and cut up the pieces into manageable sizes for the next quilting project".
Roger explained how the stained glass projects work: "Irma is the artist, I am the artisan", he chuckles. "Irma will make the drawing of the piece, segment it into it's individual pieces which get numbered and then it is my job to hand cut the glass and assemble it". "Just imagine how difficult it is to draw the pattern of a tulip shaped lamp", muses Irma. "You have to take the curvatures into consideration, it is really a three dimensional piece you have to draw".
The great artistry comes in when Roger has to match the texture of the tinted glass so that every piece is a continuation of the grain and the liniature of the next. "I work with one large piece of glass which may be dark green on the top, has grain almost like wood veneer and might be almost white on the bottom. So if I do a lamp or a window piece, every single piece has to correspond to the next. There is no room for error because if I miscut a piece, I have nothing to match it to the next ,as all comes off one large pane". The glass panes are expensive, mistakes can be huge but Roger seems to not have a problem whith it. "We have cooperated for 35 years" he smiles. "We are both in our seventies years of age and the experience helps".
"Picasso on the beach" - the newest quilting project
While Roger toils in his glass studio upstairs, which is backlit by a myriad of stained glass windows, Irma will sneak down into her quilting room and start the old sewing machine up. She does both the traditional blocked quilts, made famous in the United states by the Amish, she does not hesitate do go wild with her imagination as the newest piece in progress, "Picasso on the beach" amply demonstrates. Irma has an incredible way of blending colors into a harmonious whole which is almost visually sensuous. There is not one color out of place, not one uneven stitch, simply nothing that distracts from the composition of all her work, be it in prints or quilts or her artistry in designing the most elaborate stained glass pieces, many of which adorn homes in the Townships and in Montreal, as windows, door enclosures or simply as beautiful light catchers.
As for Roger, he is not too concerned about the surgery on Friday. "We are planning a huge open house event for October and I have a number of projects I wish to finish before then", he smiles. Good luck Roger and Irma and thank you for having us in your home.