Grenada Feature


Mr. Canute Caliste

Self-taught folk artist Canute Caliste, one of Grenada's national treasures, began painting at nine years of age in a colorful, primitive style that hardly changed for nearly 80 years. His charming, childlike paintings depict island life—boatbuilding, bread baking, wedding festivities, courting, farming, dancing, whaling, children's games, even a mermaid.

Born in Carriacou in 1914, Caliste painted in a tiny studio, a simple wooden shack adjacent to his home in the village of L'Esterre. Surrounded by kids, grandkids, and barnyard animals, the artist—with apparently boundless energy—completed up to 16 paintings per day, always labeling, dating, then signing each one "Mr. Canute Caliste."

A prolific family man, Caliste fathered 23 children and, at his death, had more than 200 grandchildren. Daughter Clemencia Caliste Alexander (his ninth child, with six kids of her own) has worked in the Carriacou Museum, in Hillsborough, since 1978. Her teenage son, incidentally, inherited his grandfather's skill and style.

Over the years, the price of Caliste's works has skyrocketed. In the early 1990s, visitors to his studio could purchase a barely dry painting for $10 to $25. Today, Caliste paintings are available only from private collectors and fetch hundreds—and often thousands—of dollars. His daughter Clemencia owns a number of early paintings, but they are not for sale. Caliste stopped painting at age 87 but continued to play the fiddle in a local quadrille band. He passed away in 2005, at the age of 91.

Frameable prints of Caliste's amusing paintings make delightful mementos of a visit to Grenada and Carriacou. A book called The Mermaid Wakes—a fable co-authored by Caliste and chock-full of prints—is now out of print, but copies are often available on used-book websites, eBay, or Amazon.

Updated: 2014-07-28

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