Samuel Walrond during an interview with the Express last year.
PHOTO: Dexter Philip
Saving Samuel's work
Samuel Walrond fought for decades to get work recognised
Richard Charan Multimedia Editor Richard.email@example.com
SAMUEL WALROND died doing what he loved.
To the very end, he was sculpting. And he died in the way he wanted, not enfeebled or languishing.
He had long gone blind, but the body was strong, those hands still capable.
He had told family that if they came calling at the home one day and he did not answer, it meant he was gone. And so it was, that weekend in January when sometime during the night, he passed on to whatever there is at death.
Walrond, who chose to live alone his last 50 years, was found in the bedroom, surrounded by his life’s work, in a house he built himself. Walrond was on his way to his 95th birthday.
However, it was only when Walrond’s relatives began examining the things contained in the house at New Village, Point Fortin, that the sheer number of pieces formed by the hands of this man became known.
What also emerged, through the correspondence that Walrond kept (some dating to the 1940s), was his tireless but ultimately defeated attempts, over many decades, to bring national recognition to his work, and find a place where it could be displayed as a collection.
Reward came through smaller things.
From the letters from foreigners who visited and spent time being inspired by the man’s wit and intellect, being tutored in the art of concrete sculpting, and then being sent away with a parting word of advice or a Shakespearean verse.
From the visits from the members of the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago, which a decade ago recognised the man’s greatness and had been lobbying for Walrond to be acknowledged and celebrated, while still alive.
And from the people driving by, but stunned into stopping to see a place not noted on any tourist map, to exclaim: “Nah Pappy, you do this?”
Walrond turned away no one, not even the politicians who kept promising and never delivering.
And even if he wanted to, it appears Walrond, despite the darkness, could not stop working. It consumed him.
When the Express spoke with him last year for an article (A Sculptor of Heroes—published September 22, 2013), he said of his gift: “I had no formal training. I feel like a fairy struck me with that. All along my life, I have been making my creations. I cannot be at peace. Something always erupts in me. Something volcanic. Do this, do that. If I don’t do something for today, I feel I ain’t do nothing. It is in me.”
A man could be rich, but without a sense of purpose, would always be small, he said.
One of Walrond’s four children, son Rex Bobb, is in charge of what has been left behind. Bobb, a Petrotrin firefighter (who along with deceased brother, Renroy Bobb, acquired some of his father’s talent), has been cataloguing the items left behind at the house.
It was a home Bobb (now 59 years old), his three siblings and mother lived in until he was ten, when his parents separated, and his father became immersed in the work.
Said Bobb: “My father saw art in everything, in every scrap of metal. And he disposed of nothing. There were things I found I never knew he had done. He has a bead curtain made from seeds he found in the backyard. Containers to store flour and salt and sugar for the kitchen done so well you would think it was from a store. He was also a tailor so he had clothes stored away he never wore, and bolts of cloth stuffed everywhere. The electric lamp we used growing up he made from milk tins. He did his work with tools he made himself. And each piece had a story. Some of his sculptures and busts he would loan out for display. They sometimes came back broken.”
Among Walrond’s finest work was the “Caribbean Man”, a huge head atop a tiny body, containing motors and gears (mostly scavenged from a bicycle) which allowed the eyes to light and the figure to move.
The body represented the small size of the Caribbean territories, the head symbolised that we were big thinkers with much to give the world, Walrond told his son.
Bobb said that his father was able to sell some of his work. There was an exhibition in 1997 at Long Circular Mall in St James. But sculptures and busts would often be commissioned, then forgotten.
And there is also a letter kept by Walrond from the San Fernando municipal council in 1974 telling Walrond that while they had been happy to display his amazing work, they had no money to buy anything.
One addressed to the Siparia regional corporation in 1973, where he noted his sculptures of TUB Butler, George Weekes, George Lamming (famed Barbadian writer) and Sir Frank Worrell, which, Walrond suggested, would look great on a pedestal in the area.
And correspondence from 12 years ago when he pleaded that the Point Fortin politicians help him develop a museum at the site.
Walrond’s unfulfilled life has troubled all who value art and its ability to civilise a place and its people. And son Rex would laugh when friends asked why he did not follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I saw the struggles of my father. Why would I put myself through that? What makes me emotional is now that he is gone, everyone will now value and celebrate his talent and ability. My father may not have died a sad man. He took great pleasure in what he was doing. But he died disappointed and frustrated. I heard him say that if he was from Port of Spain, or the colour of his skin was different, or if he lived away, it would be different. I don’t even know now what his art is worth. It was so devalued and undervalued during his life. But it would be a tragedy to give away his life’s work now, for nothing” Bobb said.
Walrond outlived almost everyone who knew him when young. So the memories he shared formed the eulogy at his funeral, of growing up in Ste Madeleine and, at the age of ten, shaping concrete into fruits to the astonishment of others, and of being able to imitate a woman’s voice, and luring males to the sound, for a laugh.
Point Fortin Mayor Clyde Paul, who attended the funeral, committed to maintaining Walrond’s property and fencing it, while a long-term user plan was formulated. The fence is yet to be built.
If Walrond’s work is saved, it would likely be through the effort of his family working with the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT), whose president, Rubadiri Victor, has a plan.
SAVING SAMUEL'S LEGACY
Unknown to many, the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) has been trying for years to bring recognition to Walrond.
ACTT president Rubadiri Victor said: “We were trying to get the last two administrations to convert it into a best practice heritage site. In a decade, we could not get private sector or public sector involvement. This place is surrounded by major oil companies. It is the richest borough in Trinidad, but we couldn’t get engineering firms or oil and gas company sponsorship, or Government.
"At various times, a municipal official would show interest. Last year, we got some traction from the head of the Energy Chamber, Dax Driver. Unfortunately the election came and put everything on pause. It is in the aftermath that Samuel died.”
Victor said the ACTT visited Walrond’s home/workshop after his death to do an assessment.
“There are 60 pieces that are outdoor. More than half are broken. I noted that pieces are missing. There are things I am no longer seeing. This is not counting the hundreds that are in the house. The entire collection is in peril.”
The Artists’ Coalition is working with the Citizens for Conservation group to rally the borough corporation officials, URP, CEPEP and private sector companies to save the site.
A photo archive of Walrond’s work would allow for a sculptor, who had worked with him in the past, to repair some of the damage. A log of the smaller items is being done.
The big plan is to make the location into a heritage site. The tapia house is still solid (Rex Bobb can remember dancing the mud and straw before it was used to form the walls then covered with a layer of concrete shaped to resemble wood).
To bring attention to the project, the suggestion is for Walrond’s work to be highlighted at a nearby park, where his incredible statue of Butler looks over the village. If support comes, the area around Walrond’s home could be landscaped to allow visitors easy access to his creations.
Victor envisions a museum/restaurant, where the community is employed and where direction signs to help people get to the place would be erected from as far away as Piarco. And a robotics expert has already been contacted and is willing to bring back to life Walrond’s signature piece, “Caribbean Man”.
The tragedy of course, said Victor, is that Walrond is never going to see any of it happen.