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Sir Dunstan St. Omer Remembered At Jacmel

Image: Dame Pearlette Louisy’s creole-themed outfit won much praise. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]

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SCORES of family, friends and other well-wishers joined in paying tribute to late Saint Lucian painter and cultural icon, Sir Dunstan St. Omer, at a memorial service held last Saturday at the Church of the Holy Family in Jacmel.

Among the those who did turn up for the church service were Jacmel residents, Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy, Archbishop Robert Rivas, representatives from the various local cultural organizations and members of the diplomatic corps.

During the service, Monsignor Patrick “Paba” Anthony told the gathering that Saint Lucians need to pay heed to three important values that Sir Dunstan always cherished and personified: love for God, family and country.

The memorial service adds to another initiative undertaken by the St. Omer family since Sir Dunstan died of a rare cancer of the blood last May. Earlier this month, the late painter’s family launched the Dunstan St. Omer Foundation which has among its many objectives providing scholarships for young Saint Lucians.

Poet John Robert Lee told The VOICE that the significance of the event cannot be underestimated.

“We are honouring – as we should – the life of a great Saint Lucian patriot,” Lee said. “He was a man who not only loved this island but also made a great contribution to Saint Lucian art and artists.”

Lee added that being the strong Catholic that he was, St. Omer’s art was used to lift up his faith. Lee said that as far back as the 1970s, St. Omer was one of many who made sure that Catholicism spoke with the voice of and looked like the people among whom it was moving.

“The work of Sir Dunstan St. Omer, through his art in the church, shows the very people in the community praising God in their wob dwiyet, in their Creole music and dance. That’s how it ought to be; we cannot always praise God in Latin So that’s been one of the major contributions that Sir Dunstan St. Omer has made to the country: raising its consciousness,” Lee said.

In order that St. Omer’s legacy — and that of other icons – is preserved, Lee said young artists who now follow the footsteps of the likes of Sir Dunstan St. Omer, Derek Walcott, Charles Cadet, must be supported.

“We now have an opportunity to not only celebrate the old, but also celebrate and lift up the young,” Lee said.

Musical and dance performances at last Saturday’s church service came from various individuals and groups, including Natannie St. Omer, students from the Marigot Seconday School, Manmay Nou Folk Band, the Claralight Quadrille and Traditional Dance Group and the church choir.

Among the main highlights were Ronald “Boo” Hinkson performing Charles Cadet’s “Chanson Marianne”, Yannick James performing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Anwar Leonty performing Charles Cadet’s “Ode To An Artist” (Pa pléwé ban mwen).

Nobel-prizewinning poet, Walcott, who spearheaded the organization of the memorial service in tandem with the St. Omer family, read “For the Alterpiece of the Roseau Valley Church, St. Lucia”, an extract from the poem, “Sainte Lucie”. Walcott, a childhood friend of Sir Dunstan, fought hard to hold back tears as he read the poem that pays tribute to the late painter.

Giovani St. Omer one of Sir Dunstan’s nine children, told THE VOICE that his father would have been proud of the people of Roseau for welcoming his family, friends and other well-wishers to that community.

“The Roseau Valley is one of the places where he felt at peace and at home. That’s why he chose this church to introduce the black Christ and bringing the community into the church for the first time. That’s why he was adamant about doing this magnificent and world-famous mural for only $300,” St. Omer said.

St. Omer described the proceedings as “very special”, adding that “everybody who wanted to share this day with Sir Dunstan came here.”

“What’s very important is that the Folk Research Centre (FRC) and the rest of the cultural community want to use the opportunity to select areas where he has other murals, such as in the Monchy church, and host an event like this annually. In fact, we want to do a much bigger event next year,” St. Omer explained.

St. Omer said his family also wants to educate people on the illness that claimed the late painter’s life. With the new foundation they’ve started in his name, he said they will not only educate artists and assist them in their development, but also educate them on the illness.

Saturday’s church service was followed by a pre-Jounen Kwéyòl mini-fiesta outside the church.

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

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