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“Leaving a Legacy” – Anselm Richards Exhibit Opens at Cane Roots Art Gallery

‘Leaving a Legacy’ reveals the works of the late artist and educator Anselm Richards at the Cane Roots Art Gallery in downtown Christiansted, opening Thursday, Nov. 10, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The show will tell the story of Richards’ contribution to his students at St. Croix Central High School and his life as an artist in his homeland of St. Croix. The exhibit will close Wednesday, Nov. 30, with a reception from 4 p.m to 7 p.m. 

Anselm Richards
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Juanita Woods)

Richards was prolific as an artist who is best known for his watercolor paintings, yet he is recognized for his work in acrylics, pencil, charcoal, and pen and ink. The late watercolorist Bud Hawes was one of the artists that Richards held in high regard. 

Cane Roots Art Gallery owner Sonia Deane said her vision for the Legacy exhibit is “a sharing with the community of the generational value and the educational value of our late Crucian artist Anselm Richards.”  When patrons view the exhibition, they can see all of that…standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, she said. “We stand on great shoulders.”

Many of our artists of the Caribbean are students who were taught by people like Mr. Richards, she said. He brought such great exposure to them. Without it, [the exposure], they wouldn’t be the men and women and the artists they are today. “He played many roles in their lives, from what has been told to me. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him in person – the stories would all come to me. And it’s through those stories I’ve always felt that he must be honored and not forgotten,” Deane said. 

Anselm Richards giving instructions to CHS art students
(Photo Credit: Submitted photo)

Last year, the retrospective of the late artist Ogese McKay was my impetus to continue every year or every other year to exhibit a retrospective of artists who made a significant impact with their art. 

Deane mused about how great it would be to see an eventual scholarship in Richards’ name. “I see how much of an influence his teaching and mentorship and the impact his art had in the art department at Central HS.” It doesn’t have to be grand,” she said. Even on a small scale, it could work. But of course, that’s my vision, and would be up to his family to create and develop, she added. 

“Last year we had a scholarship winner, Karim Henry, whose success was generated by the Leo Carty Scholarship. There are so many talented students who could benefit from a scholarship fund,” Deane said.

Deane expressed her joy at seeing all the work that has passed through the gallery doors in preparation for the Richards exhibit. Local attorney Lee Rohn supported the efforts of Ricards’ art students in their travel to New York City for an annual event. Six of the works of his students were purchased by Rohn and are on loan for the exhibit. 

Suenita Banwaree, Danica David and Niarus Walker were all art students of Anselm Richards at CHS. Each of them has gone on to excel as artists and educators on St. Croix. Banwaree teaches art at the Good Hope Country Day School; David is the art department chairperson at the St. Croix Educational Complex High School and an art educator at the University of the Virgin Islands; Walker is the art department chairperson at CHS and has taught art at UVI.

St. Croix Art Teachers Exhibit & CMCArts founder Candia Atwater
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gail Widmer)

The Source caught up with Banwaree [One of her works as a CHS art student of Richards will be shown at the exhibit.], who spoke of Richards when he was her art teacher and what she gained from his mentorship. 

“I knew Mr. Richards when he was my big brother’s art teacher. I met him personally in my 11th grade at CHS. He was challenging. It was a hard class to be in because some of the best art students were in the class…an honors class. I never thought that my art was in that range, because I was always looking at the art of my two brothers,” Banwaree said.

In Richards’ class, Banwaree was able to develop the fashion design art that held her interest because he made sure she did a lot of figure drawing and fashion illustration, she said. “When he helped me build my portfolio, he made sure I did a range of things.”

“It was an exciting class and it was the best experience for me in high school.”

Historical Great house by Suenita Banwaree – Anselm Richards art student
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lee Rohn)

Banwaree looked back with pleasure at the times she and her classmates hosted fundraisers that would help them to travel and gain access to MOMA and the MET museums. He [Richards] drilled us as we prepared for those trips. “You’re not going into those museum spaces as the Black children who don’t know art,” he said. He did slideshows on weekends and spent so much time with us, Banwaree said. “It was something very special that we experienced with him.”

Banwaree was one of 10 art students from Richards’ class who attended Columbus School of Art and Design in Columbus, OH, in 2004, with different levels of undergrad classes.

“We were our own little Crucian family that stemmed from Mr. Richards’ art class.”

Richards’ longtime friend and CHS colleague Gail Widmer shared some of the highlights of her “BFF” relationship with the late artist and teacher. They began teaching the same year at CHS and shared the same classroom until Richards was promoted to Art Coordinator, she said. Until he fell in love and got married, we even spent most of our time together outside of school, Widmer added. Their closeness caused colleagues to say they were “joined at the hip” and she said,  “he played a central role in most of my adult life.”

Rasta Woman by Anselm Richards
(Photo Credit: Submitted photo)

Widmer said Richards was an amazing teacher and termed his teaching acumen as funny, animated, and literally riveting. “He shared stories and acted them out to the sheer delight of his students. He didn’t just teach, he performed his lessons in such a way that they were unforgettable.”

“Every year, Anselm took a group of students to Parsons School of Design in NYC for an annual event where students were able to show their work and visit with counselors, admissions team members, and faculty from art and design schools for a portfolio review before applying to colleges and universities,” Widmer said. “This was one of Anselm’s amazing accomplishments and a potential life-altering opportunity for the participating students.”

Widmer alluded to Richards’ perfectionism as he pushed his students to produce artwork on a level beyond what most high school students turn out. As a result, she said, several of his students had the distinct honor of winning the Congressional Art Competition, that each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the nation and in each congressional district. The winning students are invited to Washington, D.C. for a ceremony and their artwork hangs in the Cannon Tunnel for one year.

Christiansted Town by Alexander Tonge – Anselm Richards art student (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lee Rohn)

Widmer shared last moments with her “BFF’ when the two were together after an afternoon walk. “He was just staring blankly into space, unable to speak at that point, slipping further and further away…when suddenly he looked at me with full recognition and a broad smile that gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. It only lasted a brief moment but for that brief moment our old selves, our souls connected. That was the last time I saw him. Anselm Richards was a one-off and I will hold him in my heart forever.”

President Obama portrait by Anselm Richards (Photo Credit: Submitted photo)

‘Leaving a Legacy’ – the exhibit will be entwined with the legacy of Anselm Richards’ work and his life, said Deane. 

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