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Belmont RC church art auction goes well

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The art auction to raise funds for continuing restoration of the St Francis of Assisi RC church, Belmont, has raised more than $200,000.

There were 95 art pieces from professional and amateur artists on display October 10–14 at Mille Fleurs, Port of Spain. The artwork ranged from acrylic, watercolour, graphite on paper, and oil. They captured nature, portraits, social scenes/issues. There were a few portrayals of the St Francis of Assisi church.

Also on show was a glass painting of St Francis, ceramic plant holders and an ancient stool used by the royal family of Malaysia from the personal collection of Colombian Ambassador Her Excellency Martha Cecilia Pinilla-Perdomo.

The exhibit/auction aimed to raise awareness about Belmont’s importance as a heritage district and money for the restoration.

The auction “generally went well” said Jose Nivet, the Chairman of the church’s fundraising committee on Monday, October 17. “We did not know quite what to expect. There was a fair amount of online activity, we had good support from the media. We got a lot of news coverage pre-event which I am sure would have helped.”

The exhibit had sponsorship from Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi, Fine Art Caribbean Ltd, Horizons Art Gallery and Guardian Media Ltd. He was thankful to the artists who donated from their collections.

The Chancery of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain “helped in a number of ways” and the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago supported.

Phase One of the restoration will be completed this year. Nivet said additional work was being done as part of the original TT$5.7 million tender. Phase Two is initially projected to cost TT$6 million. The scope of work is being prepared.

Another fundraiser earlier this year, the ‘Gala Belmont Heritage Benefit’ April 10, Palm Sunday at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) Port of Spain raised $640,000.

Nivet said there have been ongoing fundraisers by the parish and the committee will also continue working hard for Phase Two. He added, “it will be good if we get some benefactors.”

There was a closing ceremony for the auction on Friday, October 14. St Francis of Assisi Parish Priest Fr Thomas Lawson OP said the support from patrons was because they were lovers of art and creative imagination of the artists. “We are here to dwell on the creative imagination of these artists; we should cherish it, embrace it.”

Among the guests was new Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Santiago De Wit Guzmán accompanied by Fr Luciano Labanca – Nunciature Secretary, Chargé d’Affaires.

It was Archbishop De Wit Guzmán’s first official engagement, and he thanked the people of Trinidad and Tobago for the warm welcome. They delivered a prayer, consisting of the St Francis of Assisi Prayer interwoven with words of Pope Francis.

Chair of the National Trust Margaret McDowall said the St Francis of Assisi church was nationally recognised as a building of significance. She said the church bore the toolmarks of the artisans and it showed the love and pride in their workmanship. “This is what we recognise, the skill of our artisans.”

In an interview with the Catholic News, McDowall was asked about the cost to preserve ancient structures when some people think money could be better spent on something new.

She said, “You can never build back these buildings. These buildings were not built by machines, they were built by people and for that reason they themselves are a work of art…we can look at that building and see how they built it, what they used, what ingenuity and their own creativity came to this building.”

Commenting on the estimated TT$6 million cost for the second phase of restoration, McDowall said it seems like a lot of money, but the cost of modern buildings can reach as high as TT$200 million.

“It might seem like a lot of money but when you see what it is worth, it is not a lot of money and … we are celebrating the artisanry of our forefathers,” she said.

Bidders kept watch for any new bids online for the piece they chose as the auction was to end 8.30 p.m. Upper VI students from St Mary’s College were in attendance to assist patrons with the online bidding process.