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HomeNewsLocal newsArtist Elisa McKay Brings 40 Years of ‘Joy’ to CMCARTS

Artist Elisa McKay Brings 40 Years of ‘Joy’ to CMCARTS

Elisa McKay at her retrospective exhibition celebrating 40 years of her work. (Image by George W. Cannon III)

Artist Elisa McKay brought 40 years of joy to the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts on Saturday evening. Guests enjoyed an evening celebrating the artist from St. Croix.

The retrospective exhibition is a comprehensive study or evolution of McKay’s work over the past 40 years.

McKay started making cards in 1980 and then, in 1993, started working in a framed format. Her greeting cards represented family, community, culture, and all of what encompasses her life in the Caribbean and on St. Croix.

Guests at exhibition for Elisa McKay. (Image by George W. Cannon III)

McKay would work with silhouettes of fabric and her images are figurative and mostly female. She’d cut her silhouettes out of Canson paper and clothed them in African print fabric. She still does them for several stores on the island but has moved on to larger original pieces since 1993. McKay has done a couple of exhibits on St. Thomas and the mainland.

What may be noticed about McKay’s work is that most of her images do not have hair or features and that’s because it “represents all of us,” said McKay. “I feel like we are all one then we are a blank slate. I want us to be represented as one.”

McKay is the youngest of eight children and her parents are both from St. Croix. They moved to Harlem, New York, in 1925. When her father completed eight years of his stint in the U.S. Navy as a naval musician, he sent for her mother and older brother, who was five years old at the time.

“I was drawn to art as a little girl. In those days it seemed like everyone drew. A lot of things we didn’t have that kids today have,” said McKay.

McKay’s mother was also creative. She drew, made girls’ clothes and embroidered, and McKay and her siblings picked up on that. “I feel like I picked up on my creativity from my mom, even though my father in later life became an artist.”

McKay’s father was a musician at night and a carpenter by day. “When he’d go into his workshop and make a cabinet, I used to draw the dimensions, I used to draw the picture of what he was making for his clients. So, I led toward that kind of drawing, and I was good in math.” McKay later studied in the data processing field for many years and the artistic side just went to the wayside until a friend gave her a starter set of oils and a canvas and she started painting. McKay eventually changed her profession to teaching English and used painting as a means of meditation to take relief from grading papers and essays.

McKay then started cutting fabric and making the cards. She began by sending them to family and friends and then as gifts. Then, a friend convinced her to sell to various stores on the island and they were a success.

For the pieces at her retrospective exhibition, McKay was able to contact the patrons who bought her work and borrowed it for the show. The majority of the work on display was from those patrons, some her daughter brought and some of her recent work.

Some art pieces by Elisa McKay. (Image by George W. Cannon III)

“Some of the work that I have done recently comes from my dad. He became a very prolific artist at age 90 and he did one-man shows. What I did several years ago and back in 2017 was I photographed some pieces of his work, and I embellished it with some of the images that I do. Some of those works is on display,” said McKay, who also writes for the Source.

McKay wants people who view her work to feel joy. “Joy in my heart. My love of life, my gratitude for my longevity, for my family, for my community, for my culture. It is really an honor,” said McKay.

Group shot at Elisa McKay’s exhibit. (Image by George W. Cannon III)

“There’s a song, ‘God’s goodness is running after me,’ and I feel like God’s goodness is running after me. I don’t take life for granted; I attempt to live in the moment and that is something I have been blessed with my parents as kids,” McKay said.

“I have to see the good in life and that is what I want to represent.”

If you are interested in seeing McKay’s retrospective exhibition, you can visit the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts now through Nov. 25.

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