Tuesday, February 20, 2018

'The most beautiful man I ever saw'

...how Tobago tradesman Allister Bruce became timeless

The Luise Kimme Museum of Sculpture and Art at Mr Irving, Tobago, at the entrance is the sculpture 'Shango.' Photo: Richard Charan.


IN the hill village of Runnemede along Tobago's Northside Road, lives a widow raising two children fathered by tradesman Allister Bruce.

One evening 18 years ago, Bruce was on his way to pick up his infant daughter from school, when the vehicle tumbled off a bridge down in the valley, and fell into the rocky river. 

They found him broken and paralyzed in the overturned Land Rover. How the accident happened, no one ever found out. 

When he died ten days later at the Port of Spain General Hospital, Bruce had never been further from home.

Bruce was married for three years when he died. He was 30-years-old. 

Wife Avril Stewart-Bruce never remarried.  She made a life in a cliff-side house not far from the famed silk cotton tree growing there since its residents were enslaved on the Runnemede sugar estate. 

And this is where we found her last December, asking about her long-deceased husband, a man whose face she thought had been forgotten by everyone except loved ones. 

Avril was wrong about that.

 “Bruce” is in art galleries, homes and business places all over the world, we told her. She could also find the features of his face and body in paintings and murals and sculptures located in one of the most fascinating places in Tobago that you may never have seen.

 “I can't begin to understand this” said Avril. 

So we explained. 

Part of Kimme's collection. 

 When German-born Professor Luise Kimme arrived in Tobago in 1979, she was 40-years-old and already an acclaimed sculptor, writer and painter, her work and life celebrated in the iconic cities of Europe and the United States. 

But it was on the island that Kimme would create a space like none other on a property below the village of Bethel overlooking Mt Irving Bay and its golf course.

 It was there that her greatest works were fashioned, sculptures of bronze and wood representing the men, women and children of Tobago, honouring their folklore, history, culture and the Orisha and Yoruba beliefs that survived slavery. 

And while she often left the island for her exhibitions and to teach in other places, Kimme always came back to this place and her adopted people.

Bit by bit, the original house would grow over the years into the Kimme Museum of Sculpture and Art, which came be known as “The Castle”.

 An unprepared traveller coming upon the place would be stunned. 

Tradesman Allister Bruce and arist Luise Kimme. At centre is Kimme's sculpture, Shango, which will be on exhibition in Stockholm, Sweden until February.

 Introducing the place is a creature from your dreams and the statues of a towering dancing Tobagonian couple who will hold your attention for only as long as the figure of the dog-headed man with the bouquet of flowers catches your eye, the scene watched over by the blue bird spires the bronze sentinels at the front door. 

Kimme added a gallery to display her larger-than-life representations, a studio where she contemplated and created things, and wrote her books, and tolerated awe-struck visitors, when not visiting a small circle of like-minded artists and thinkers across the world.

She considered Peter Minshall an inspiration, gushed over the bronze statue she made for Calypso Queen of the World Calypso Rose (a Bethel Village native), doted over her beloved dogs, and studied what she considered her real passion – ancient sculpture and salsa dance, for which she became renowned. 

Her work included more than 100 wooden and bronze sculptures carved from oak trees salvaged from a storm-damaged German forest and shipped to Tobago, and countless other pieces littered along the passageways and staircases, objects you would agree were meant to be right there and nowhere else. 

New York based architect Ekkehart Schwarz was credited with the structural drawings of the unique building carved into the hillside, with its points and steeples inspired by the architecture of famous buildings and paintings from across the ages. 

But it would be the local master craftsmen of Tobago who Kimme named as the men who built her castle – mason/carpenters Roger Duncan, Dusty Williams and Allister Bruce. 

The men would all but live on the property during the building phase, which took more than a decade, leaving their handiwork on every level, as they used this place to learn their craft, on an island where the wealthy accept only the finest worksmanship.

But it was Allister Bruce that Kimme would put on record as being “the most beautiful man she had ever seen” who would become “her imaginary model for sculpture and drawing for some time”. Many a great artist had a muse that influenced and inspired. 

 

Some of Kimme's work.

And once you see photographs of Bruce, you cannot unsee him at the Kimme Museum.

We told his widow this during that awkward meeting last Christmas in Runnemede. 

 “I know they we close” she told us “but I didn't know it was so deep”. 

For her, Allister Bruce was good man. 

“I want people to know he was a kind person, easy to get along with. He was a people person”. 

Avril Stewart-Bruce has never visited the Kimme Museum. She intends to now. 

NOTE: Luise Kimme died at her Tobago home in April 2013. But her art lives on, along with her dreams for the “castle” which are now being pursued by her friend, confidante and now resident artist in Tobago, Cuban sculptor Dunieski Lora Pileta. 

You can read about Dunieksi on the Monday edition of the Trinidad Express.

You can find out more about the Kimme Museum by visiting its website at www.luise.kimme.com