Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Artist in Tobago

Mythic woman with wings, leg of a bird and another of a shark,
with additional protection of dogs looking in opposite directions:
this is the spirit of Luise Kimme overseeing the work of those like Dunieski Lora
who will keep her legacy alive.  
In 1985, Luise Kimme published the first book about her work in Tobago. She wrote in English and German, accompanied by hundreds of photos and drawings, some postage stamp size. Such audacity in her book, "Chachalaca" - named for the cocrico, national bird of Tobago - with its kaleidoscopic impression of people and events recorded during her early years on the island. Here's her immersion in village life, so much passion, such wild love, absorbed with complete and utter nakedness that was both beguiling and terrifying. This proper German bourgeois artist delighting in the details of an island, a small island. Swinging down the road on a bicycle, buying fish, dancing at Sunday School.

Among some of the larger sculptures in Luise's gallery in Mount Irvine

Christ figure

Lady with White Hat by Dunieski

Unfinished pieces by Luise
All of this, even as she carved out a niche for solitude and devotion to art.  Her artist's head and hands - conditioned in Europe and modernism, seeking for Apollo - still yearned for Dionysus, for Thoreau's "wild and original."  In Tobago, according to her friend Herbert Schmitz, Luise lived with "sensuality - far away from our habitual restrictions." In Tobago, Luise Kimme came home. She loved how the people looked - the men with voluptuous sheep's lips, the women wearing rubber slippers, lifting or tugging children - she loved how they walked and talked - such easy grace - how they danced and sang. So she stayed and crafted a new world of majestic personalities, a grander vision of island people. We miss her now, Tobago misses her. But Luise has surely left a legacy that's greater than "two sons." (She was once distressed when the man left her, because she said, "he wanted a woman and two sons.")
Mother with two children: small bronze by Luise

Small bronze by Kimme
It's 17 years since I was sitting in this passageway - a sitting room that was on the way from one end of the house to her workshop - hearing her life story. Even then, she was  thinking of what would happen to her sculptures, as if they were children. Not yet 60 at that time, she was also predicting that she wouldn't live long past 72. (On April 19, 2013, she would have been in her 74th year.) She always spoke softly, short sentences, staccato phrases. Her tone matter of fact, brooking no contradiction. As she said, so it was. Now I am in her house again, I wander off to look closely at what she's left behind, to hear what the sculptures might whisper.

Bunty O'Connor (middle) chats with Cuban artist Dunieski (left) and Luise's sister

Her sister is here from Germany to look after Luise's estate. She's establishing a foundation to administer the trust which will provide for young artists who wish to come, stay and work in Luise's Tobago. A Cuban artist is setting up the kilns to create bronzes of Luise's wooden sculptures. He is a young man with his own family back in Cuba. Dunieski Lora is delighted to be doing this work, eager to press ahead with Luise's vision, which will surely enable his own artistic growth.

When she came to Tobago and sculpted her "larger than life"creatures of myth and fable - soucouyant, la diablesse, Papa Bois, Zandolie taking wife, Heel and Toe and Bele Queen, a pantheon of heroes - Luise Kimme defied the convention of her day. Why was she adoring and adhering to the human form in the way that she did? "Like Egyptians", she called the Tobagonians, with narrow waists and broad shoulders. Whatever Europe may have thought, she made Tobago stand taller and prouder. No doubt one day, many words will be written about the white lady with her chain saw and chisel. She may be compared with Gauguin for his work among the noble natives. Or classified with Minshall - whose work she adored - holding up the mirror so that we living in paradise could see ourselves.

Original fretwork created by Luise

Patterned and crazy fretwork

She spent a lifetime - over 30 years in Tobago - obsessed with this work. She let nothing get in the way. She worked all the time, even when she was in pain. She went through phases trying to make the work easier: fretwork and flat pieces using a jigsaw; painting murals on the Black Rock church; always drawing. She was certainly on to another phase with the small bronzes, that are nothing like her ten-foot people. Here are the textures and details allowed by working in more malleable materials which are then cast in metal.

She has left her mark in the landscape of Tobago, in the way we think of Tobago these days, and certainly in the way Tobago may think of itself. There's possibility here, quiet power, and pride. And at the last, Luise will have her place: "Later on, they will forget what colour I was."

One of the Cuban musicians

From the Cuban nightclub
From the Cuban series

From the Cuban series


Luise's bronze horse with dog, cat and rooster:
the musicians of her hometown Bremen?

Do you see the human form hidden in this abstract?


  1. A national treasure. I am heartened to learn that her legacy will live on

  2. Beautiful sculpture. Good to know her vision will be continued.