Celebrating the arts in Brome Missisquoi
By Nick Fonda
Their work has been found in several galleries on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border and a good number are stored in the converted garage of the rural Sutton home of Diane Guilbault and André Schirmer where they can easily be put on display for the Tour des Arts.
The yearly, nine-day event that sees several dozen artists open their homes and studios to visitors has not been held since 2019 but, in the several years prior to that, it was a great success for the artist couple.
“One year,” André says, “we had 709 visitors and sold just over two dozen paintings in total. That was exceptional, but the Tour des Arts has been good for us.”
The two artists, whose work is quite different, have been a couple for more than a quarter century, and have followed somewhat similar artistic trajectories.
“We were both divorced when we met,” Diane recalls, “and we were introduced by mutual friends. At the time, I was living in Montreal, and I had no interest in going up to St. Adele to meet anyone, even if he was a painter.”
As it turned out, they enjoyed each other’s company and found it easy to be together. In addition to painting, they had common interests, and both enjoyed gardening and landscaping, as evident by the flower beds and stone walls that grace their property.
“We kept a pied-a-terre in Montreal, but we’ve been making our home in Sutton for the last 12 years,” André says. “We had the house built to our design. It’s modest but it fits
our needs. About one third of the floor space is given over to our studio. It was the first house built in this area.”
“We ended up in the Eastern Townships for several reasons,” Diane continues. “I had lived in Sherbrooke, so I was already a little familiar with the area. We both find it exceptionally beautiful, and we find the people open and easy going. As well, we’ve met a surprising number of fellow artists since moving here. We’re both also quite taken by the history of the Townships—the Late Loyalists and the Fenian raids have a certain romance. This particular spot was enchanting because when we first moved here, we could watch the horses that performed in Cavalia pasturing in a nearby field.”
Both artists showed talent at an early age.
“I loved drawing as a child,” Diane recalls. “When I was still quite small, I used to go down to our basement, which was unfinished at the time, where I had my own little corner. At a certain point, I painted a clown, quite a large one, on the cement foundations. A few years later, when my father put up studs and gyprock to finish the basement, he framed around my drawing and preserved it.”
“I loved Fridays when I was in school,” she continues, “because that was the day that we had art. I might have studied Fine Arts at the University of Sherbrooke, but at the time I was married, my husband was still studying, and I was the breadwinner. I worked as a secretary, always in schools. Curiously, I started in an elementary school and moved from there to a high school, then a Cegep, and finally to the University of Quebec in Montreal.”
“All along,” she continues, “I continued painting, and learning. I took Fine Arts classes in Cegep and eventually got a certificate in Fine Arts from UQAM. I also started exhibiting my work in small restaurants and other boutiques. I sold my first painting when I was 21.”
Similarly, André was always drawing as a child. “I come from a large family,” he says, “and my mother was glad to see us follow our dreams, but she also insisted that her children learn a trade that they could fall back on. I was the exception in that she saw my drawings and knew that I could count on my artistic ability to support me if something else didn’t work out.”
“But for me,” he continues, “art worked out. “I had an uncle who was a commercial artist and graphic designer and when I was 16 or 17, I went to work for him. Over the years I worked in publicity for several firms including Alcan, before starting my own advertising firm with two partners.”
While he was working successfully as a commercial artist, André took evening courses at the École des Beaux Arts. These dual tracks permitted him to pursue two careers simultaneously.
“My commercial work sometimes led to artistic commissions,” he says. “For example, my advertising firm did work for the Montreal airport, and in turn the airport commissioned me to create a large painting for one of the atria. This happened a few times, including with La Presse.”
“Graphic design changed greatly with the advent of computers,” he continues. “I never really learned to use computers. By the time they came in I was able to hire younger people to work with them while I concentrated on planning and administration.”
Diane Guilbault and André Schrimer share their luminous studio in their Sutton home, often spending several hours a day at their respective easels.
“We’re early birds,” Diane says. “We’re often up at six, take a leisurely breakfast, and pick up our paintbrushes at eight. We don’t stop for lunch but find ourselves hungry by midafternoon when we’ll stop nibble on something.”
Both artists paint in acrylics.
“I started with oils,” Diane says, “but oil paint often gave me headaches. I was very pleased to discover acrylic paints. It’s true that acrylics require that you work quickly, but for me, that was never a problem.”
Diane’s paintings are best described as abstracts, although many of her canvases evoke landscapes and blur the line between figurative and non-figurative.
André Schirmer, like his wife, works in acrylic, however any similarity ends there. “I’ve always painted what I see,” says André. “Because I spent much of my life in Montreal, where I was born, many of my paintings are cityscapes, and many depict people. More recently, ducks and geese have also been turning up in my paintings.”
The two artists are connected to a couple of relatively nearby galleries. In the case of Diane, the Chase Gallery in Beaconsfield and in the case of André the Beauchamp Gallery in Quebec City. Both are also with the Galerie d’art Lise Leclerc which is a virtual art gallery.
Diane Guilbault and André Schrimer can be contacted directly by phone at 514 575-1942 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.