Some artists are poignantly clear about their artistic journey. Sometimes it takes a specific experience for clarity to appear. It is most empowering when this experience speaks to the heart and offers compassion. This past June I met a painter who shared her story with me.
My mother and I went to the LaFate Gallery located in Wilmington, Delaware to see a friend’s photographic exhibition. While we were there we met the gallery owner, Eunice LaFate. She was preparing to paint but she stopped her preparation and began telling us about herself. Her sharing unfolded partially because she noticed my mother’s accent. She inquired where she was from and my mother responded, “Jamaica.” Eunice then shared she was also from Jamaica. She is from St. Ann, the largest parish on the island’s north coast. She came to the United States in 1983. She explained that she was a teacher in Jamaica. During the summer time she would travel to New York to visit family. However, one summer she visited a classmate who lived in Wilmington. She spent a week there. Days before leaving, Eunice’s hostess had a going-away dinner for her. She had invited a few guests, and one of the guests ultimately became her husband, Robert LaFate. They were married for 31 years. Towards the end of his life he suffered from prostate cancer. She explained that he fought the disease to the very end. She talked of him being active and having a healthy diet prior to the last four months. In the hospital she sat next to his bedside and received a vision to paint. She created a series that spoke to this painful journey.
Eunice talked about the night her husband died in her arms. “The night he passed, the CNA was off…He was struggling and coughing and I gave him water. I saw his eyes bulge, and then he looked at me and I looked at him. And I said, Don’t Go, Dear. Don’t Go. Then he said, Oh My God. And he took his last breath.” She painted a picture called Piercing Heart as a way of representing exactly how she felt when he died.
The LaFate Gallery was born out of grief. Her son called it a “Vision Center.” She explained, “When my husband passed away, instead of putting my work in storage I had a vision to open a gallery.” Today she facilitates and teaches workshops in the gallery. She offers various classes that help others to develop compassion and love. One of the classes she teaches is titled, The Heart of Caregiving: Rebounding from Grief to Growth. Another class she teaches helps foster a stronger relationship between parents and children. Her classes are meant to support, heal and love.
Eunice has won numerous awards for her art. She has also gifted General Colin Powell one of her original paintings when he spoke in Wilmington in 1993.
What I learned most about this artist is how she channeled the grief she was experiencing from the loss of her husband. She created a sacred artistic space for others to grieve, grow and give back to the community, and ss she gives back to the community she simultaneously honors her beloved husband.
In recent months I am learning to channel emotions through various forms of artistry (i.e. painting, knitting and writing). Merging the various art forms and allowing myself to feel, on and off paper, is another form of letting go and acknowledging the power of artistic expression, especially during volatile times. When I am free in my expression, I provide a space for others to also be free and expressive. How vitally important this is in my teaching profession. Thank you, Eunice LaFate.
About the Contributor:
Traci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential. “The Phoenix Rising Collective is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts. You can learn more about Traci’s work in creative arts HERE.