In the late 1980’s when we were antique shopping in Quebec on a regular basis, we would follow up on leads for new sources that were offered to us by other dealers. We were told about a great shop in the town of Deschambault, which is on Rt. 138 on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river between Trois Rivieres and Quebec city. Rte. 138 was a popular tourist route back in the heyday of motoring vacations in the fifties and the sixties, but traffic dropped dramatically when the auto-route 40 opened and people’s attitude changed, and they started to just want to get from point A to B as quickly as possible. There wasn’t much of the old “motoring” culture left along the route, but it was a gorgeous drive and every so often you would spot a handmade sign in front of a little roadside shack indicating “Souvenirs”. Naturally we would stop and check it out. You never know when and where you may find the next great folk artist or crafts-person. Most of these shops were a disappointment however in that they contained the St. Jean-Port-Jolie style tourist carvings, and the typical plastic commercial schlock, but once in a while we would find some crazy, old guy making something interesting, or in this case of this story, a great source of charming, original designed hand hooked rugs.
It was a fine summer morning as we rounded the bend just a few klicks from our destination of Deschambault, when we noticed several signs around an old frame house indicating “Souvenirs” “Quebec textiles”, “hand hooked rugs”, etc. These signs had a charm all their own so we were hopeful that we may be on to something. We went through the door indicated as “shop”, and entered into a long thin room which had an end to end run of long, thin, fabric cutting style tables, stacked with dozens of different varieties of hooked rugs and woven runners, and mats. The back wall was covered with examples of rugs, and behind the tables stood a lovely looking elderly woman looking every bit the Victorian lady with piled up hair and white powder makeup. Right out of central casting. She had a radiant smile and seemed truly delighted to meet us. She told us her name was Madam Tessier and all the textiles on sale where either made by her, or one of her three or four rug hooking neighbors.
Our attention moved from her to the rugs, and we were immediately taken with the charming original subjects, the vibrant colors, and the workmanship. The expected florals and geometrics were interesting, but what caught our attention were the many depictions of rural Quebec life. Scenes of bringing in the ducks at night, of workers stopping in the field to observe the “angelus” or moment of prayer at 6 pm, a sugaring scene in early spring, a farmer about to feed the animals, and so on. There were also riffs on classic themes like a beaver on a log, a maple leaf. As well there were tables full of multi coloured runners. Rainbows in fabric everywhere you looked. The prices were very reasonable considering the amount of work that went into them, and you could see that they were well made, and would wear well. She was surprised and delighted when instead of choosing one or two, we bought a dozen or so. We explained who we were and that we were buying for resale, and that if they should sell as we thought they would we would soon be back for more. And so it was. They went like hotcakes and within a month we were back buying about twice as many as before. Madam Tessier grew to look forward to us pulling up.
After a few visits she asked us into the adjacent house for tea. She explained that she had lived there all her life with her brother, but that he had recently passed away so she was now there on her own. She said she didn’t mind because she had many friends in the village and was never alone for very long. It was lovely to sit in her kitchen and have tea and listen to her story. It took me several minutes before I noticed something peculiar about the walls. As I looked more closely at the tongue and groove wood grained boards which ran from floor to ceiling, I realized that they were not wood paneling at all, but rather a hand painted facsimile. I couldn’t believe it. The whole room had been meticulously grain painted by hand. Every groove and the wood grain was done free hand, one at time. Then I realized that where there was a painting on the wall, that the painting had been done in the same hand right on the wall with a painted frame around it, as it should be. Amazing. Can you imagine how long it would take to do something like that? I had to ask her. “oh that. Yes, that was my brother’s project later in life. He volunteered to paint the place but then he got the idea of the wood grain so it took him several years.” He completed many rooms before he died.” You could see she was proud of her brother’s accomplishment.
It’s funny what sticks with you in life. Sitting in that room, drinking tea with Madam Tessier and coming to the realization that the entire room I was sitting in was faux painted freehand by her brother remains as vivid in my memory today as the day it occurred. I’d imagine that the conclusion of a psychiatrist would be obsessive/ compulsive behavior, but to me it felt like an act of a deep dedication to the concept of beauty and love of environment, not to mention persistence. I had a deep feeling of warmth come over me, and I knew I was in the presence of true inspiration. Madam Tessier there smiling benevolently with her white powder make up and piled up Victorian hair.