Kimme Museum Memories with the Late Luise Kimme

Are you not a journalist?

These terse words were among the first that Luise Kimme shared with me when I visited her wonderfully eclectic museum/home/workshop known as The Castle, in the hills above Mount Irvine, Tobago. She shared them plainly, flatly with the dismissive tone of someone without time nor patience for small talk. I was interested in discussing what to her were the banalities of her life. How had she arrived in Tobago, what inspired her work, and other such fluff. It was hot, we had arrived late, and she had trod that ground too many times before.

Kimme was in a hurry. Her friend required a mate…

Luise Kimme at work
Kimme at work | Photo by Steve Bennett

Luise Kimme Backstory

Luise Kimme was born in Germany in 1939. She died peacefully at the Castle this on April 19, 2013, two months after my visit. In the intervening 74 years, she built one of the more formidable and celebrated artistic legacies the Caribbean has ever known.

She first arrived in Tobago in 1979. Her Caribbean relocation followed years of study, teaching, creating, and winning acclaim in Berlin, London, Rhode Island, New York and California. In Tobago, though, she truly blossomed. It was there that she developed her signature one-of-a-kind life-sized (or larger) sculptures. Sculptures inspired by Tobago’s culture, folklore, and characters, as well as African Orisha art traditions reflecting manifestations of Yoruba deities.

Greeters at the entrance to the Kimme Museum
Greeters at the entrance to the Kimme Museum | Photo by Steve Bennett

Tobago Culture Come to Life

Some are bronze, though most are made of wood – oak, cedar cypress, and lime. Kimme carved them all by hand. Chainsaws, chisels, carving knifes, her own amazing hands… She used them all to work full tree trunks into magical forms.

Soucouyant by Luise Kimme
Soucouyant by Luise Kimme (1987) | Photo by Steve Bennett

You can always know a Kimme piece by their animated, life-like expressions, poses and gestures. These are not statues in the colloquial sense of the word. Kimme’s figures actually appear to move. They espouse a tangibly whimsical and uniquely Afro-Caribbean sense of joy everywhere you see them.

Luise Kimme at Work

I think you need to read something.

This is how Kimme dismissed me to the cozy museum section of the Castle. There, she instructed me to read a stack of pamphlets with answers to my boring questions. She was, however, smiling slightly by then; content to have me out of her hair so she could get back to work.

Luise Kimme makes a mate
Luise Kimme makes a mate | Photo by Steve Bennett

When I returned she was even happier. You’d expect this from such a prolific artist with tools in-hand working away at another masterpiece. I helped her turn over the piece above so she could chisel and sand more detail into the face. She smiled as she explained this latest work was being crafted to pair with another figure standing nearby. That lonely figure, she explained, needed a mate, like the dancing couples in the background.

I could see on her face the deep yearning she had to bring these two together. Amid the many other works in progress scattered about her workshop, it was the joining of this couple that drove her work that day. They were real to her: born of her passion, given life by her hands.

Kimme Museum If You Go

The Kimme Museum is located just above the Mount Irvine Golf Course in Tobago. It’s open on Sundays from 10am to 2pm. Private visits, though, can be arranged. Entry fee is US$7, or TT$40 per-person.

For more info on the museum and Luise Kimme, visit the Kimme Museum website.

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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