Women Who Rock: Eunice LaFate

Eunice LaFate by Joe del Tufo
In September of this year, Eunice LaFate celebrated the fourth anniversary of the opening of LaFate Gallery at 227 N. Market Street. The gallery primarily showcases LaFate’s own art which is a blend of folk and contemporary styles. As she will tell you when describing the difference between folk and fine art, “Folk art is not about perspective and accuracy. It is about life stories. Ask me the story behind this piece.” Which means that there is more to each work of art than meets the eye. The same can be said for LaFate Gallery. Step inside and immediately immerse yourself in Carribean colorscapes and the primitive rhythms of her brushwork, but know that the story of this artist is far more layered and nuanced. Beyond her art credentials, Eunice LaFate, who hails from the island of Jamaica, boasts accomplishments as an educator, banker, human services administrator, writer, story-teller, public speaker, and advocate.

We asked Eunice, what brought you to Wilmington?

Eunice: I came here [from Jamaica] as a professional. I was trained as a teacher, with a teacher’s diploma, and I did my first degree in general arts which took everything. I did some politics, dabbled in sociology, the whole nine yards. But I’ve been here thirty-six years, now. I moved here in December of 1983. I was married to my husband, and he was from Wilmington.

Tell us how this gallery came about.

Eunice: This gallery is a tribute to my dear beloved husband. The gallery is twenty-six years old. For twenty-two years, it was home-based, and I went to events with my art. When my husband passed in May of 2015, I had an option of moving. My siblings said, ‘Girl, pack up and move to New York. Your art will fly off the wall.’ They were right. At the time, I had twenty-two years of inventory. So, I called around to see if I could find storage, but the price was prohibitive. I prayed about what to do next. And I had a vision, a dream actually, that said don’t hide the talent the Lord gave you. So I scrapped the idea of storing my art and moving–and decided to stay and open this gallery.

You have said this is more than a gallery. Can you elaborate on that?

Eunice: I call it a vision center. It is the place from which I am sharing my vision and educating others. It is a joy to come in here every day. I do a lot of programs here, especially for children. I teach classes on parenting called ‘Bonding through Creativity’ and also a class on caregiving, because, as I learned with my husband when he was ill with cancer, we are all either going to have to be a caregiver or be cared for.

How has it been to have the gallery here in Wilmington?

Eunice: I’ll tell you, I want to develop an education and focus about the value of collecting art because we are, in the state [of Delaware] we are lagging behind other states and cities. People in other cities are collecting art as a legacy for their children. We don’t have that kind of mentality here…yet. I always say, it is not a money issue. We are the diamond state. This is old money town. It is a lack of the value and that is the next part of my mission—to do an education program on the value of living with art. Like I said, it isn’t about the money. You can come in this gallery and for five dollars purchase a card with art on it. For $20 you can buy a pack of cards and have four small prints of art signed by the artist and create a wall of art. For $30 you can have a small framed print. You don’t have to spend a lot. It is more about creating a culture of art and valuing its place in our lives.

You hail from Jamaica and many of your paintings, particularly your earlier work, offers stories from the island. How else do you honor your background?

Eunice: For this year I was a trailblazer in establishing Caribbean American Heritage Month [June] which has been in existence for fourteen years but has never been represented in our city. I got corporate sponsorships to have concerts in front of my gallery. And Shoprite supplied all the food for the events which we had throughout the month.

What is your vision in the years ahead for Wilmington?

Eunice: This city is growing tremendously. I want to see a higher level of cohesiveness among businesses. I support local restaurants. I think as businesses we should lift each other up more. Come to events in the neighborhood. It takes a village to build a merchant community, to make us more cohesive, to support one another. That is my primary vision. The next part of my vision is to continue to work with youth in this city. Help them find their entrepreneurial skills and leverage that to their advantage. Lastly, I am trying to get offices of government in our city to promote local art. I go into these city buildings and see what they have on their walls to represent Wilmington. They need to promote art by local artists. I’ve talked to people. Some of it is changing, but we need to demand it, and that is what I hope to work on in the future.

Eunice LaFate’s artwork is on display at LaFate Gallery, 227 N Market Street, Wilmington, DE 1980. It is open 11AM-5PM Tuesday-Saturday as well as for Art Loop on First Fridays.