Lead image, Artist: Calixte George
For many years, I wanted to capture the story of my husband Nick’s involvement with a group of artists in Anse La Raye, all the way back in the 80’s. The outcome of this involvement is a rather remarkable collection of over 1000 artworks which so far very few people have seen.
When I re-decorated our Anse Chastanet beach restaurant earlier this year, I used large blown up copies of a few of these artworks in the installation. Selecting the artworks and going through the collection, I was reminded of how exceptional all of these works of art really are.
Nick’s routine in the 80’s would be a weekly business car trip from Soufriere to Saint Lucia’s capital Castries.
The scenic drive along the coast takes about an hour each way and takes you through two villages, Canaries and Anse La Raye. On the way back from Castries to Soufriere, Nick used to love to stop for a beer at one of the rum shops along Anse La Raye’s Main Street.
Over time, he became friendly there with a gent called Wills Lamontagne. Wills asked Nick whether he was interested in looking at some paintings that he, Wills, had created.
Nick, of course, said yes. He was very impressed by what he saw and asked Will what made him interested in painting.
It turned out that Wills was the long time caretaker of a house in the Anse Galet valley that belonged to a family called Poindexter. The Poindexter family had owned a paint company and contributed paint to the village of Anse La Raye, which led to many houses in Anse La Raye being painted in a very colorful way.
Most importantly, the lady of the house, Eleanor Poindexter, owned an art gallery in New York. I learnt that “The gallery showed art work by New York and California artists; such as, Richard Diebenkorn, Al Held, Jules Olitski, Nell Blaine and Robert De Niro. The gallery closed in 1978.” (1) “Before she became a dealer, Mrs. Poindexter collected the works of both abstract and figurative painters with her husband, George, a commodities broker. He died in 1975. She founded the Poindexter Gallery in 1955 and showed the works of New York and California artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Al Held, Jules Olitski, Nell Blaine and Robert De Niro. The gallery closed in 1978.” (2)
From time to time she would invite some of the gallery’s artists to experience St Lucia.
At some point in the 60’s, one of the artists who visited the Anse Galet house, was Nell Blaine. Nell stayed in Saint Lucia and Anse Galet for a longer period of time, almost a year.
In my research, I learnt that Nell Blaine was “foremost an abstract painter, first a student of Theresa Pollak at the Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU), and later moving to New York in the 1940s to learn under Hans Hofmann. She immersed herself in the post-World War II New York art scene, which embraced color and gesture through Abstract Expressionism. The acute sense of hue, shape, and line apparent in her oil paintings originate in part from her early stages of art making, characteristically unabashed and intuitive. In 1959 at the age of 37, she contracted bulbar-spinal polio which paralyzed her from the waist down, forcing her to relearn how to paint. She began painting in oils with her left hand, adding a genuine looseness and determination. Poetic, lyrical, and charmingly clever, Blaine’s oil and ink compositions lure in viewers as their luminous quality carries through to present day. Blaine was born in 1922 in Richmond, VA. In her lifetime, she exhibited at major galleries including Tibor de Nagy, Jane Street Gallery, and Fischbach, all, New York, NY; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL, among others. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. Blaine passed away in 1996 at the age of 74.” (3)
Reading about Nell Blaine on this link, it says that she “spent eleven months on a banana plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, inspiring many paintings.”
Nell became friends with Wills and his wife, Maria.
Seeing that Wills was interested in painting, she encouraged him to paint alongside her and basically tutored him along the way.
Nick was very intrigued by this story and started buying Will’s paintings whenever he had some for sale. Nick also organized art materials for Wills. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted over 10 years. Wills had a son called Stephen Lamontagne, who also got into painting through his father. Eventually, Nick also started collecting the paintings that were created by Stephen.
Nick’s presence in Anse La Raye and his steady support of Wills and Stephen brought out some other artists. These included Calixte George, Mark Fedee and Matthew Paul. Over a period of 10 years, over 1000 paintings were created, all of which Nick bought and collected.
I am not an art scholar but looking at this rich variety of paintings, my untrained eye can see Nell’s influence in some of them, especially Wills’. Clearly not all of the works are remarkable. They go from totally astounding to completely bizarre but then some “ganja” may have influenced the creations along the way, but not Wills’. Wills was elderly by the time he met Nick and his eye sight slowly left him. When he could not paint any more, he produced small, lightweight, carved and painted canoes for Nick, to sell to our resort guests.
At this point in time, I am negotiating with Nick to see what we are going to do with these many paintings. I am encouraging Nick to make a selection and create a photobook so that the amazing creations of the artists of Anse La Raye can be shared with our guests and the world at large.
Of all the artists, I personally developed a long-lasting relationship with Matthew Paul. Whilst the other artists stayed in Anse La Raye and drifted out of our lives after Wills died, Matthew moved to Soufriere. Matthew not only produced paintings but also created murals and painted our “sky” ceilings in some of our Anse Chastanet guest rooms. He was one of the artists who inspired me to open an art gallery at the resort.
Matthew, sadly, lost his life in a dramatic landslide during hurricane Tomas, together with his friend, Sabinus Thomas and Sabinus’ family. It is a loss that I still feel today and often think about. I still consider Matthew one of our most talented self-taught artists who would have developed even further, had he been granted a longer life.
There is tremendous talent in Saint Lucia but we don’t talk enough about our artists, nor do we do enough to promote the creative arts in school, to draw out and nurture all that talent. I have no doubt that this will change soon as we look to create a more sustainable and authentic Saint Lucia, which proudly celebrates our unique history and our culture.
Click on images below to enlarge
In researching some of what Nick told me, I came across the following links.
- (1) https://research.frick.org/directory/detail/475
- (2) https://research.frick.org/directory/detail/712
- The Most Difficult Journey: The Poindexter Collections of American Modernist Painting – https://www.amazon.com/Most-Difficult-Journey-Poindexter-Collections/dp/029598242X