Artist Luise Kimme, renowned for her larger-than-life wooden sculptures, died on Friday at 74, after a brief illness. German-born Kimme had lived in Tobago since 1979 and established the Sculpture Museum, which was locally known as The Castle, overlooking Mt Irvine Golf Course.
Her work was inspirational to many artists around the world, including German photographer Stefan Falke, her longtime friend, photographer and collaborator. Falke has kindly agreed towrite a short tribute to Kimme and share somephotographs of her workwith the T&T Guardian.
I met Luise Kimme by pure luck in Tobago in 1986, when I was just passing through.Someone in Scarborough told me about a German artist up in Bethel and I went to find her.Luise was sitting on a tree trunk in front of a shed, putting on make-up and applying bright red lipstick without using a mirror.
There were half-finished wooden sculptures all around her. She was not nice or inviting because she was about to work rather than talk to a stranger. I was intrigued.
To make a long story short, we became friends.
Over the years, we kept meeting sporadically in New York (where I live) or in Germany (were we are both from) or in Trinidad (for Carnival) and one day in the mid-90s she said to me, "You are my photographer now."
Soon after, I had a ticket to Tobago in the mail. So I went and our long and fruitful artistic collaboration began. Her house below Bethel was just slowly being built.
Her growing collection of dancing sculptures kept demanding more space. Eight (real) dogs–Luise called them "my family"–were living there too. The Castle kept growing like a village.
Although she always had wonderful helpers, notably her longtime assistant Ryan, it was difficult to understand how one person could handle all the work. Luise could. She worked for 18 hours a day, every day.
What impressed me most about her art was the lifelike movements of her wooden sculptures, as if to just strike a pose for the visitor, only to walk away when nobody was looking.
I remember many nights when I was wandering around the studios in the dark, thinking I am definitely not alone and the sculptures seemed to communicate with each other.
That was one reason why I had a great time photographing her art because they were like working with real characters, people almost. And all of them in a jolly mood!
I persuaded a reluctant Luise that her story could only be told if I included her in the pictures for the catalogues. She was so unique. Seeing her working on a tree trunk with a chainsaw like a painter with a brush was really fascinating.
Besides her enormous physical strength, the first "stroke" with the saw would blow life into the piece of wood. A new character was born, a dancer maybe, or a neighbour, or a dog.
They came to life because of her vision. It could take weeks, months or even years to finish a sculpture, and then they would get a painted dress or costume which would often be changed by her later. I don't know how many times I saw the sculpture Boscoe (Boscoe Holder) in a new "outfit."
Luise introduced me to many great local artists, like Boscoe Holder and Peter Minshall, both of whom don't need an introduction in T&T and whom she admired so much.
Boscoe's brother Geoffrey, who lives in New York, would later write an introduction to my book Moko Jumbies: The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad, which only came into existence because I found Minshall working with the Keylemanjahro Moko Jumbies in 1996 for his In The Beginning Carnival performance.
It is safe to say that my life would have taken another course without having known Luise Kimme. I visited T&T dozens of times and I have been deeply influenced by this nation's people and its vibrant culture. She was the key who opened the door.
I would like to talk more about the many visits with her to the Buccoo Sunday School, swimming in Mount Irvine Bay, J'Ouvert in Port-of-Spain, her salsa dancing, her wonderful wigs, her dogs, her conversations with her dogs, her patience, her impatience, her kindness, her fears, her hopes, her cooking, her ambitions, her entertaining character, her straightforward honesty, her dedication, her living in the Now, her truly amazing and inspiring work.
Another time, maybe.
So many things go through my mind when I think of her. I have never seen anybody starting the day with such energy and clear vision. She made me understand that art is hard work and being talented is only the beginning.
She worked every waking hour of the many days of her life for her art. She always knew that her time on earth was limited and that she could not waste it in order to achieve her goals.
She left us with an amazing amount of sculptures, paintings and the fantastic Kimme's Museum which houses much of her work and is a piece of art in its own right.
Everybody who has met Luise in person has at least one Kimme story to tell. One would not forget her from the moment she opened the gate to the Castle in Tobago and guided the visitor into her very own world, followed by eight dogs, who will undoubtedly miss her as much as we all do.
I am forever grateful to Luise Kimme; she made my life so much richer.
n Stefan Falke is a New York-based German photographer. His work can be seen at his website www.stefanfalke.com or on his Facebook page Stefan Falke Photography Prints.