LAKELAND - Louise Piquette was the youngest of seven children, a renowned Francophone artist in Western Canada and — was the love of her husband’s life.
“I had a life partner that was just amazing, that's why I can't be sad,” Andre Piquette says, reflecting on the couple's romance that spanned over half a century. “How lucky a guy I was to meet such a lady?”
Louise Piquette art is on sale at Friday's Lac La Biche Farmers' Market. Proceeds will go to a bursary for Francophone artists.
(Louise and Andre Piquette pose near the top of Machu Pichu, Peru during their second visit to the country in 2012. (Image provided)
Born in St. Paul and calling several Lakeland locations home throughout her life, Louise passed away in September of 2019 at the age of 77 after a battle with leukemia. To honour the legacy of a mother, a wife and an artist, the Piquette family is creating a bursary that will help fund the education of the next generation of Francophone artists. The initial funding for the bursary is coming from the sale of her artwork.
Louise is regarded in Alberta’s Francophone and artisan community for her pottery, sculptures and most recently, her watercolour depictions of natural landscapes that often featured the province’s lakes, farmlands and boreal forests. She enjoyed and drew inspiration for her work from the beauty and serenity of the boreal forests around her Plamondon home as well as the majestic, bold geography in and around the community of Sidney on British Columbia’s Pacific coastline.
Throughout her life, Louise attended workshops in Banff and Calgary and Victoria, traveling as far as Oaxaca, Mexico in the pursuit of studying the techniques of fellow artists she admired. Recollecting on her skills and lifetime achievements, her husband said: “There was hardly anything she couldn’t do.”
Louise dedicated her life to mastering her craft and raising her four children Doug, Jim, Susan and Marc, in a way that fostered expression and passion, says her husband. The family of six lived and traveled regularly between British Columbia’s coast and the small northern Alberta communities she grew up in.
“She was able to see colours in everything”
- Andre Piquette on his late wife's passion
By early 2000, Louise had transitioned from sculpting to a new medium of bright and rich hues that watercolours offered her.
“She was able to see colours in everything,” Andre said proudly, recalling a time he asked her if she really saw all the colours she painted with.
“She said, ‘look carefully at the underbrush, the tree, the shadows and the lights the next time you go trapping. You are going to see all those colours that are in my paintings.’”
In 2018, closing her Plamondon-based Boreal Gallery and moving to Sidney, Andre and Louise enjoyed the coastal life … but still carried their love of the Alberta boreal forest.
Louise brought a unique vibrancy to her paintings of tranquil wooded landscapes that differed substantially from the common scenes found in paintings sold at Vancouver Island art markets, Andre said, which were predominantly canvases full of ocean views and coastal sights.
Despite spending time on the British Columbia coast, Louise always stuck with her woodland roots, continually returning to the northern landscapes she had mastered.
Andre says, her work resonated with audiences because she painted what people across the Canadian Prairies already knew — the dense boreal forests.
Louise’s connection to the environment ran deep. In her artist statement, which is included on the back of all her custom-framed painting Louise wrote: “Art is a major part of my life. It is my passion and a way of life.... The feelings of excitement, awe and peacefulness in nature and art nourish my soul and help create balance in my life.”
Finishing the work
In the spring of 2019 after the couple had traveled back from Sidney, they went for a routine medical checkup before settling back into their Alberta life. A few days later they received the news that Louise’s white blood cell count was abnormal. After more tests she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Louise and Andre were told there was a five per cent survival rate. With advice from doctors and specialists they began treatment despite the daunting statistic they were presented.
In the months that followed, she was more determined to carry on with her art. Spending hours every morning dedicated to her watercolours, she passed her days recreating Canadian landscapes on her paper canvas.
“She didn’t want to sight-see around Vancouver Island, she just wanted to paint and paint and paint,” Andre said.
Before her passing on September 8, 2019, Louise had filled two studios, one in Lac La Biche and the other in Sidney, with hundreds of varying sizes of her artwork — her artistic legacy.
Supporting the next generation of artists
Looking back, Andre warmly remembers Louise telling him while in hospital, “I am leaving you quite a mess.”
With the help of his daughter Susan LaPierre, Andre is starting to clean Louise's beautiful “mess” by creating a memorial scholarship in her name. The father and daughter have been using social media, word of mouth and displays at recent farmers’ markets in Lac La Biche over the last few weeks to sell many of the Louise’s pieces. They plan to continue the sales through the summer.
All profits generated from the sale of Louise's paintings will be put towards a post- secondary scholarship designated for a Francophone student enrolling in their second year of visual arts studies. The intended scholarship will see the majority of its funding come from the sales of Louise’s remaining body of work.
Out of the paintings that remain for sale, a select few are being held back for an exhibition in Louise Piquette’s honour. From October 8 to 14, her work will be on display at the ArtSea gallery located in Sidney, BC for a memorial exhibition.
More information on Louise Piquette’s paintings and the plans for the artistic bursary can be found here.
A 50-year romance
It was at the 80th birthday of Louise’s father in 1968, that Andre was first formally introduced to his future wife. At the time he was an assistant parish priest in the St. Paul area.
“The parish secretary was friends with her, and she said to Louise, ‘[Andre] likes social things and he likes dancing, so why don’t you invite him?’ So, I got invited through the parish secretary to her home,” Andre reminisces.
During the celebration, the young pair spent the evening dancing together. That’s when Andre realized he was falling in love with the young widow with three children.
“We started dancing together and that was it. I was a goner,” he said.
Once the couple found each other they never looked back.
Andre moved to the coast with Louise and the children, where he worked toward his doctoral degree while Louise continued her work as an artist.
Three years later, Andre, received his dispensation letter from the Catholic Church, allowing the couple to marry in St. Paul, before heading back to British Columbia.
At times the relationship was a whirlwind of change, recalls Andre.
“Once we decided [something] we never looked back...we just moved on and made our home where we were.”
Over the years, and as their family grew by one, they continued to be influenced by Louise’s work and passion.
“Marc grew up in the studio while Louise was doing, at that time, mostly pottery and sculpture,” said Andre.
In the early years while Louise was establishing herself in the coastal art scene, Andre recalls fond memories of loading up the van with shelving, pottery, sculptures and the kids in order to get Louise to art to craft shows across the region during the summer.
Since the pair’s first dance, they continued to support each other's dreams and pursuits. Together they traveled throughout Latin America, built family homes in Plamondon, Lac La Biche and BC, welcomed grandchildren into the world, and continued to lead full and vibrant lives together for as long as they could.
With Louise’s passing, Andre is using his time to reconnect with old friends and family while continuing to find ways to honour the work and legacy of his late wife.
The planned bursary is a fitting tribute to a woman who loved life, art, family and learning, says Andre. Yet while the legacy will live on, like a frame around a blank canvas, losing his life partner has left a large void in his life.
“When you live with a person like that, with such richness of presence, it's like half of you is gone.”
More details on the bursary and ways to donate will be released in the coming weeks.