Joe Cotter has long been at the fore of artistic pursuits in Oregon. And it's been McMenamins' good fortune that, for several decades, Joe and his wife, Kolieha Bush - also an artist of remarkable talents - have done exceptional pieces. Joe Cotter passed away on Saturday, March 31, 2012. His lovely, magical artwork can be found throughout McMenamins' establishments. We have lost a friend and one of the color masters of the company. Cheers, Joe.
Joe Cotter was a man of excellence. He held himself to a very high standard of quality, from his artwork to how he walked with the people around him. He valued justice and was quick to champion a cause if he felt it worthy, without a thought of what it would cost him. He was a man of wisdom and insight. He had the ability to honor and be attentive to the smallest details. He was creative beyond belief, and he brought that creativity to everything he did. He was also gentle and loving and I believe he held his wife Kolieha and his sons Noah and Leon, to be his biggest treasures.
When I think of Joe, I will always carry a picture of him in my mind painting a mural at the Crystal Ballroom. There was no heat. The only lights were halogens that were connected to outlets by hundreds of feet of extension cords. These lights would be pointed at where we were working, having the effect of a spotlight on a stage. Joe would be balanced on a rickety old six-foot wooden stepladder that was perched on top of a 12-foot scaffolding that would bounce slightly anytime anyone walked across the floating ballroom floor. In Joe’s hand would be a tiny brush and sitting on the rungs of the ladder were multitudes of little cups of paint threatening to tumble down at any moment. In this picture, he is reaching out, too far to be wise. Any person in their right mind would hold their breath when witnessing this scene. Surely any moment all would collapse in disaster and mayhem. It never did, and the results of this tortuous painting method would be beautiful.
Joe was not someone to do things the easy way. He was also not someone to take short cuts. The Crystal murals were perfect examples of who he was as an artist and a man. These were big murals, high off the ground. No one would ever be able to get up truly close to them. But that didn’t matter to Joe. Everything was detailed. Both murals are filled with a crowd of characters, as well as many of his other paintings. Often times the people were pulled from historical reference and many times he included his family and friends in the paintings. That is also why he painted with a small brush. He could have worked larger and painted with bigger brushes, but then he couldn’t get the detail and the results that he wanted to get. He understood that these paintings could be on those walls for a very long time. He couldn’t get himself to do simple compositions or dumb down a design just because he wasn’t going to get paid much for it. His paintings had a tendency to have a jewel-like tapestry feel to them. The faces and the figures seem to pulse and dance and come to life as you are drawn into Joe’s world, Joe’s painting.
It is what made him such a great artist. He couldn’t, even when he wanted to, give less than his best. I could give you many examples of how that reflected through all the threads of his life. But, for now, it is enough to say that he was a special person who brought something special to everything and everyone, and he left us far too soon.
–Myrna Yoder, longtime friend and fellow McMenamins artist
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