A Lesson in Art Appreciation from Sir Dunstan St. Omer By Nadia Alcee-Miller

Artist Sir Dunstan St. Omer Photo by Chris Huxley

Sir Dunstan St. Omer is a St. Lucian born master painter and renowned muralist. He was born in Castries St. Lucia on October 24th, 1927 to Gerald and Louise St. Omer and was raised in a Catholic household.  The second of three children, a young Dunstan attended the St. Aloysius Boys Roman Catholic Primary School and later the St. Mary’s College. His interest in art developed under the tutelage of Harold Simmons, his Art teacher, who taught him to appreciate the beauty of the country, its’ people, landscapes and seascape. St. Omer therefore spent many weekends exploring St. Lucia’s countryside, searching for inspiration.

The Hon. Dunstan St. Omer works on his Prometheus Mural at the Open Campus site in Saint Lucia. The mural features man receiving from God, the gift of fire and light.(Photo Compliments UWI)

Sir St. Omer married young and fathered nine children. He painted at night and sold his art by day. St. Omer would eventually succumb to the pressures of poverty, and turn to alcoholism, but quit the day his son came home upset. The boy’s friends were referring to him as a drunk, so St. Omer gave up drinking and remains sober to this day.

Sir St. Omer later moved to Curacao to work for Dutch Oil and got the opportunity to work with the country’s most prolific painter, Pandelis. Upon return  to St. Lucia, he taught at the Vide Bouteille Secondary School and also managed to teach part time at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College, and the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies. Sir St. Omer studied art for a year in Puerto Rico, worked as editor and sub-editor for a local newspaper, The St. Lucia Voice, and was Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. He became the Art Instructor with the Ministry of Education in 1971 where he remained until his retirement in 2000.

National Flag of St. Lucia designed by Dunstan St. Omer

Sir St. Omer is known as the most religious painter in the Caribbean region. Famous for designing the St. Lucia National Flag, he has also produced several versions of the Black Madonna. He remains interested in the love of mother for children and believes that a man’s only role is to protect a mother and her children. Sir St. Omer has done many murals depicting community life and cultural activities unique to Caribbean culture. He says he was used to the European version of God as an artist, but wanted to explore an image that represented himself and his people. He painted his first Black Jesus mural in a small church in Jacmel on the western coast of St. Lucia. This mural depicts the Holy Family, not just Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, but also several members of the community, including a dancer, a fisherman, an Amerindian woman and child, and a musician, images that mirror the faces of the people who worship there every Sunday. When it came to unveiling the mural for the first time at the dedication of the new church on an Easter Sunday morning, Sir St. Omer admits to experiencing anxiety, he wondered whether the public would embrace his version of God. Not surprisingly, the people were thrilled and felt that Sir St. Omer had given them a church that finally belonged to them.

St. Martin de Torres, the first black saint, Castries Cathedral. Photo: Nancy Atkinson

After this project he was asked to work on the restoration of the Holy Cathedral in the city of Castries in conjunction with Pope John Paul’s Second visit in to the island in 1985. On this project, Mr. St. Omer painted his own interpretations of many religious figures and scenes. He painted yet another portrait of the Holy family; Mary the Queen of Heaven, St. Martin de Torres the First Black Saint, Patron Saints St. Anthony and St. Jude, Archbishop Webster and St. Dominique Founders of Monasteries, The Martyrs of Uganda and a mural of the Last Supper. Pope John Paul commended St. Omer’s ingenious work, and since then, visitors from around the word have come to The Holy Cathedral to pay homage to his work.

St. Omer dedicates all his work to the Virgin Mary, inscribing each of his pieces with the letters PSLV Pour La Sainte Vierge, or, “to The Virgin Mary.” In his view, people gravitate towards Mary because she personifies love. In 1987, St. Omer was approached by the parish of Francois in Martinique to help restore their church, which was destroyed by fire. Within a period of three months he painted his greatest prismatic work, a style of painting that was established by St. Omer and his friend, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, when they studied cubism in the 1950’s. In Martinique, St Omer portrayed the Life of Christ from birth to crucifixion with the final scene depicting Armageddon.

St. Omer's The Holy Family Mural Roseau Church Photo: Nancy Atkinson

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has received several accolades for his work over the years, including the St. Lucian Cross, a papal medal bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church, and has been declared a national hero by the Folk Research Center. In 2009, Sir St. Omer received the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from the University of the West Indies for his outstanding contribution to art in the region and earned knighthood by Queen Elizabeth the Second in April 2010.

I was a student at St. Joseph’s Convent Secondary School in St. Lucia when I got an unexpected lesson in Art appreciation from this great artist. My class walked down Cedars Road and through the streets of Castries all the way to the City Town Hall on Peynier Street. We attended an art exhibition organized by Mr. Dunstan St. Omer and his sons in commemoration of St. Lucia’s twelfth Independence Anniversary from Great Britain and viewed art pieces by local students as well as adults. I was surprised to see family portraits by preschoolers on display, and found the pieces amusing. I did not think these drawing deserved to hang next to works by great artists like Dunstan St. Omer and his sons, so I snickered. Mr. St. Omer heard me and quickly chastised me before my peers. He taught me a valuable lesson when he told me that art could not only be found in galleries, but in everyday life, and in all forms. He insisted that, from a child’s simple drawing, to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, paintings, and all art in general, was valuable and needed to be revered and respected as such.  In that instant, Sir St. Omer, my favorite artist, inspired me to embrace all forms of art and appreciate them as masterpieces in their own right.

Self Portrait Photo by Bruce Paddington Founder of Prismism

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has created great art and has a unique style of painting that truly speaks to me. His works portray familiar faces and grace communities and landmarks in my beautiful island country of St. Lucia. Sir Dunstan St. Omer has helped develop my appreciation for art and also helped broaden the artistic views of my fellow St. Lucians. He has made excellent contributions to the development of St. Lucian culture through his work and dedication to his craft. I remain inspired by all he has done, and grateful for that simple yet valuable lesson he taught me on what was just a regular afternoon in Castries.

Note: Biographical information provided by Strabon Caraibes, Caribbean Beat and Visit St. Lucia Anytime.

Nadia Alcee-Miller is a wife and mother of a three-year old daughter. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but hails from the beautiful country of St. Lucia. She is currently pursuing a Nursing degree
at Concordia University, Wisconsin. She is very passionate about people and teaching and would like to be a nurse educator in the future. She enjoys reading, cooking, baking, entertaining and spending quiet time with her family.

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8 Comments

  1. March 22, 2011 at 6:07 AM

    This reminds me of the essay I wrote on Sir Dunstan St. Omer for CXC in ’91, as my high school art teacher he was the most logical choice of a local artist to interview. I am happy to have had the chance to learn from him, his influence, extended through his artisic children, spans generations of St. Lucian art students. I have fond memories of the Sat morn watercolour classes, either in his office downtown or in his studio where the windows were always wide open to let in the wind, the sunlight, the sights & sounds of the island. I’d feel a breeze, hear the swish of leaves, a cock crowing, someone call out a greeting, I’d look up and see the coconut trees just outside, against the blue sky. This is what Sir Dunstan St. Omer passed on to us, to take inspiration from the beauty of our island home, and to celebrate it in vibrant colour. “The land, the light, the people”.

    • AphroditeAres said,

      March 26, 2011 at 12:01 PM

      Wish I could read that interview, Donna.

  2. Keturah said,

    March 25, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    Natalie, thank you for haring this with us. I can confess that the cares of the everyday life here in the U S of A can cause one to become sidetracked. That picture of St. Martin de Torres, …. the memories that flashed in front of me while I sat at my PC… all I can say is thank you.

    • AphroditeAres said,

      March 26, 2011 at 11:55 AM

      Awww…K, it’s a pleasure to share, you know that. Just happy it touched you. Thanks for commenting, I like hearing what people think. Nadia definitely wrote a very nice piece.

  3. susan said,

    December 3, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    Thank you for sharing this information i believe he did an oil painting of me when I was 6 and lived in St Lucia – it is signed D. St. Omer ’71- I am now 46 and still have it hanging – I love it!!!!!

  4. Peter Thomas said,

    May 11, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Very well written and informative piece on one of Saint Lucia’s greatest sons and a renowned artist and muralist. Hope the youth of Saint Lucia read this piece so as to gain a greater appreciation of Sir Dunstan. Good job Nadia. Dad

  5. marla said,

    July 15, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Thanks for the info good write up. I have a painting by Sir Dunstan and would really love to sell it it is a large thing – I downsized no space on my wall any suggestions how to sell it.

  6. shania said,

    September 18, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    thankzz 2 u mister dunstan


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