BCHS Museum features local artist’s wildflower paintings

CULTURE. Throughout the summer, the Brome County Historical Society is featuring an exhibition of original watercolours of local flora by the late Deborah Stairs Rotherham, a long-time resident of Knowlton who lived and raised her family here before retiring to Salt Spring Island in British Columbia in 1994. The exhibition is titled “Deborah Stairs Rotherham: Wildflowers of Quebec”. A book of prints of the paintings is available from the Historical Society.

The artist was born in Montreal in 1916. She grew up in the city, spending her summers at the family’s country house, Fairwinds on Lansdowne Street in Knowlton. In 1937 she married British Navy officer Geoffrey Alexander (“Hank”) Rotherham and moved frequently. After his retirement they settled in Canada and by 1954 were living full-time in Knowlton. They had four children, Tony, Gib, Judy and Arthur. She passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.

Rotherham’s sensitivity to her local environment has always been shared by her family. Her late husband Hank was the developer who created the lovely low-density, environmentally-friendly Barnesfield development, which straddles the border between Town of Brome Lake and Brome Village.

Her son, Knowlton resident Tony Rotherham, is a retired forester and long-time director of the Brome Lake Land Foundation (BLLF), the area’s main wetland and forest conservation group. One of the Land Foundation properties is a wetland in the Barnesfield development, dedicated in 2000 as the Deborah Stairs Wildlife Refuge.

The 26.7 acre Wildlife Refuge consists of a pond and wetlands with a beaver lodge, fish, amphibians and water birds, plus stands of trees typical of both this area and the boreal forest further north. While some Land Foundation properties are open to human activities, the Stairs Wildlife Refuge is protected against human disruption. Land acquired by the BLLF is maintained in its natural state in perpetuity and cannot be sold.

Her son Gib also lives in Knowlton. I first knew her as the mother of my friend the late Arthur Rotherham, her youngest son. The family house in Knowlton was at the end of a cul-de-sac, with woods and the Coldbrook right next door. Many of the wildflowers depicted in her watercolours are lesser-known woodland and wetland species rather than showy open-field blossoms.

The paintings in the exhibit have been donated by her family to the Brome County Historical Society. They are available for sale to the public, with proceeds benefiting the restoration of the Paul Holland Knowlton house. The Knowlton founder’s old log home was moved last fall from the Knowlton Golf Club to the Society’s museum grounds, and is undergoing a top-to-bottom restoration.

The exhibition is located in the Brome County Historical Society’s Centennial Building at 130 Lakeside in Knowlton. For more information call the Society at 450 243-6782 or go www.bromemuseum.com.

Jim Ferrier, special collaboration