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Elisa McKay: Beyond the Art

There’s still a chance to catch Elisa McKay’s retrospective art exhibit at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts in Frederiksted. The exhibit focuses attention on the many and varied pieces she has created and it ends on Saturday. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Abstract, 1978, soapstone 5.75” X 9”, Private Collection of Elisa McKay (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

But wait — there’s much more. In addition to being a fine artist, Elisa is an educator, a community activist and a spiritual leader on St. Croix. She has touched the lives of many of all ages throughout the island.

Celebration Time, 2012: mixed media, college on paper 20” X 16” X 5”, From the collection of Helen Englehardt (Source Photo by Linda Morland)



Asked how her artwork has impacted the many other areas of her life and activities on St. Croix, Elisa said, “My art is an extension of who I am and so it shows up in my everyday life. My art is what I live, see, love and believe in. My art surrounds my coming in and my going out in every area of my life. I am always surprised when someone expresses their love of my work. I appreciate that, but I just never know who sees my work and their reaction to it. I do art for myself and feel that I’m channeling a divine expression that resides within me. I am self-taught, yet that also means God-given.”

Eucalyptus in a Crock, 1968: oil on canvas board 16” by 12”, Private Collection of Elisa McKay (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Spiritual Leader

Elisa was president of the board for Unity of St. Croix for five years. During that time, she functioned as a lay minister as the church worked to get a full-time minister.

Flower Chile, 2019: mixed media on paper 7.25” X 5.25”, Courtesy of the Ayanna McKay Collection.
Flower Chile was first created in 1991 for McKay’s daughter, Ayanna, for her 19th birthday when she was in her junior year at Wellesley and studying in Cordoba, Spain. The name Ayanna is East African and means beautiful flower, thus the name Flower Chile. (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Asked how she was drawn to this work and about other opportunities to use the wisdom and compassion she brought to Unity, Elisa replied, “As I lived and grew in my awareness of myself as a spiritual being, I learned so much and it was a joy for me to share the gift and take care of a spiritual community. I loved the camaraderie and the genuine love that emanates from seeing the Christ light within another and truly believing that we are all one. Sometimes life gets in the way and we are not kind, or we judge and hold others accountable and are not forgiving of one another, but at the end of the day, I love what Unity has taught me about myself and my connection to all of life as an individualized expression of God.”

Gratitude, n/d: mixed media on paper 10” X 8”, Courtesy of the Ayanna McKay Collection (Source Photo by Linda Morland)


As an educator, Elisa taught at Central High School and in other venues. To fill out that part of her life, she was asked, as an educator, how did she use that knowledge and her skills?

A Gathering of Women #2, 1994: collage, watercolor on paper 13.5” X 22.75”, From the collection of Emy Thomas (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

“I used my knowledge to draw out the knowledge that was in my students. That’s what it means to teach. It helps one grow and develop. I’ve grown and developed in my tenure as an educator. I’ve learned in the process while my students were learning. I love that I was an educator in this beautiful community because I get to see my students, who were teenagers and are now active adults. They’re parents and grandparents and much more … It is wonderful to still be a part of it all,” she said.

Community Activist

Elisa was asked about her work as a community activist and her many years of work with Interfaith Coalition from 1996 to 2003, then from 2007 to 2012, which was valuable to the seniors of St. Croix as well as other areas in which she was active.

It Might as Well be Spring, 2008: collage, gouache on archival acid free paper 18” X 24” X 1”, From the collection of Martha B. Gotts (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

“I was a caregiver/companion to my aging parents. My father passed 10 years after my mother. It was the following year after his death that I took the position with Interfaith. I learned so much as a caregiver and companion that it was important for me to start that with the participants who eventually did the same with our elder community,” she said. “I continue to visit the one remaining elder from our program who resides in the Herbert Grigg Home. She has become a dear friend as my parents were. Our volunteers developed a loving kindness toward their elders and a lasting friendship that our elders will never forget, nor will our volunteers.”

Shall We Dance?, 2011: collage, acrylic on paper 19” X 12.5” and Just Married, 2016: Mixed media, college 20” X 16”, Private Collection of Elisa McKay (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Favorite Piece of Art

When asked which piece or pieces of art in the current exhibit might be her favorite and to elaborate, she responded, “I’m not sure I have a favorite. Each piece represents a piece of my soul, my life, my family, my island, my God … it’s hard. It’s like having children and picking a favorite. The earliest to the most recent … I love them all. It’s funny that I gasp with delight as I look at each one. I think …and I say aloud … I did that? I am humbled by my art. I wonder … can I do that again? I am thankful for the gift … Right now I feel like the Goodness of God is running after me!”

Steppin’ Out (with my baby), 2012: college, mixed media, on paper 16” X 20”, From the collection of Helen Englehardt (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Finally, Elisa was asked what she thought was her greatest accomplishment. That question was easy to answer.

“My greatest accomplishment in life is my daughter Ayanna Joy McKay. It’s as plain and simple as that!”

Elisa McKay and Ayanna Joy McKay enjoy Elisa’s 80th birthday at the Mike Walsh Studio in 2017. (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Additional Accomplishments  

Elisa has served on the boards of the Interfaith Coalition, St. Croix Environmental Association, The Landmark Society and The Women’s Coalition.

Torso, 1978, alabaster, 16” X 6” X 6”, Courtesy of the Ayanna McKay Collection (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

She taught collage art at Good Shepherd School, the Breast Cancer Survivor Workshop, the Developmental Disabled Youth Summer Program and at Flamboyant Gardens to seniors.

Waiting, 1994: collage, watercolor on paper 32” X 44”, Courtesy of Denise Singleton (Source Photo by Linda Morland)

Elisa took yoga teacher training in 1981 and taught from 1981 to 2021 to include Country Day summer camps, Big Island Adventure summer camps, The Village Substance Abuse Programs, Beeston Hill Health Facility, Department of Parks and Recreation, Island Therapy, Department of Elections Retreat, and at the Department of Education for elementary teachers.

She also has been a reporter for the Virgin Islands Daily News and continues to contribute to the Virgin Islands Source.

Truly a life well lived.

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