“Remembrance – A Tribute to Leo Carty” is a living legacy exhibition of the late artist, opening Friday at Cane Roots Art Gallery on Company Street in downtown Christiansted.
Carty’s impressionistic paintings depict the lives of everyday people in the community – families at church, women washing clothes and children at play – the images capturing an idyllic life, a sense of purity, all during the early years of the 20th century.
Carty’s work will preview at the gallery from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday. The exhibit will open Friday from noon to 8 p.m. with the opening reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., accommodating 10 patrons at a time and following the COVID-19 guidelines.
Stefan Carty, the youngest of Leo’s four sons, worked with Sonia Deane, owner of Cane Roots Art Gallery, for two years discussing ideas of bringing the exhibit to life on St. Croix. The interruption of the COVID pandemic postponed the original opening date. Stefan is thankful that they are able to see it through and are making it happen, he said.
Leo S. Carty was born April 17, 1931, in Harlem, New York. His artistic talent was recognized at an early age when he painted a sports mural while attending a summer recreational program. He received a scholarship, at the age of 10, to the Museum of Modern Art for Children.
“My father dedicated his entire life to the visual arts and was an extraordinary talent. He left a thriving career in New York in 1976 when he made St. Croix his home. He spent the last 35 years of his life serving the community throughout the territory and left a body of work deserving to be celebrated,” Stefan said.
Stefan was left with the honor of ensuring that his father’s legacy lives on. It was Carty’s last wish that his son take on the challenge and be the gatekeeper of his legacy.
“So this is a project dear to my heart and one that I do not take lightly,” Stefan said.
Carty wore many hats, teaching at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility and the University of the Virgin Islands, and he was the coordinator of the Adult Educational Senior Art Program. He created an editorial cartoon for the St. Croix Avis newspaper, which appeared weekly during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The cartoons still ring true today; they were recently shown and discussed at length on UVI’s Literary Arts Festival that aired virtually.
Stefan grew up on St. Croix, lived with his father and attended St. Dunstan’s Episcopal School, where Carty taught art to students (including his son) in grades K-12 for 10 years before devoting himself full time to painting in 1989.
Carty’s impressionistic paintings adorn the walls of numerous public buildings throughout the USVI. He completed a federal commission for the Almeric I. Christian Building and Courthouse in Orange Grove, St. Croix, which is a nine-foot by 14-foot three-paneled mural depicting the history of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. Carty became the third African American artist to receive and complete a General Services Administration commission, joining Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.
He received his highest honor in 1996 when he was selected as one of 12 recipients of the Governor’s First Awards for Excellence in the Arts, “in recognition of your accomplishments and exceptional contribution toward the advancement of the Visual Arts in the Virgin Islands.”
He had the distinction of being the only non-native-born honoree.
Stefan founded the Carty Fine Arts Studios in 2020 in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his father’s passing. The studio’s mission is to continue the legacy of illustrating life through vivid images that capture the imagination. The studio features an exclusive collection of Carty’s work.
As she and Stefan discussed the possible exhibition, gallery owner Deane said the decision to exhibit Carty’s paintings was an easy one.
“I have been an avid art collector for many years, and I’ve learned so much about art with my purchases and my visits to museums and galleries through the years,” she said. “I was ecstatic with the thought that the exquisite work of Leo Carty would be celebrated on the walls of my gallery.”
The opening of Cane Roots Art Gallery in December 2020 was a natural progression of Deane’s love of art and the belief in art education as part of the art renaissance in this community, she said. The idea that an art scholarship could be established in an artist’s name and that a part of the legacy could be left here to live on exemplifies the gain in the arts and its strength in the life of this community, Deane added.
The Remembrance exhibit will display an exclusive collection of Carty’s artwork, which will be available for purchase. The proceeds will support the Leo Carty Fine Art Scholarships.
The Carty Fine Art Studio will offer four $500 Leo Carty Fine Art Scholarships to graduating seniors who attend high school in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Scholarships will be awarded to those students who will pursue the visual arts following their high school graduation, and who have demonstrated their commitment to any of the visual arts, including but not limited to drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.
Stefan Carty is a 1988 graduate of St. Dunstan’s, and he has maintained many lifelong friendships. He is welcoming all St. Dunstan’s alumni to join him on Sept. 10, the closing weekend of the exhibit, to celebrate this event honoring his father and his dedication to the community on St. Croix.
“My father was a teacher at heart and loved to inspire and encourage people at any and all stages of life to pursue their artistic talents. Many of his students (myself included) benefited from his instruction and mentorship in pursuit of careers in the arts.”