New painting by Padu Lampe uncovered

It is appropriate for me to speak about the late Padu Lampe today, because his commemorative bronze bust was just yanked off its pedestal, at UNOCA, our cultural headquarters in Oranjestad.

The pedestal also hosts two other greats, the co-writers of Aruba’s National Anthem, Aruba Dushi Tera: Rufo Wever, and Hubert Booi. They have been keeping the Father of our Culture Juan Chabaya (Padu) Lampe company, sharing the monument.

No more. The act of vandalism is inexplicable. Especially in view of our upcoming national holiday, March 18th, Dia di Hymno & Bandera. The effort or rage it took to pull the bolted down heavy sculpture off its concrete platform must have been enormous. Fueled by what?

We hope the Men in Blue are especially motivated to solve this crime, restoring Padu Lampe’s bust to its rightful place, celebrating a great painter, musician, intellectual giant and philosopher.

He was a unique cultural treasure, April 26, 1920 – November 28, 2019.

I wrote about Padu a great number of times. He was such a prolific composer, and islanders love his music. But some say he was a painter first. His first known painting is dated 1936, and my neighbor, his younger cousin, a nonagenarian, reports she remembers Padu painting at a very young age, and he kept it up throughout his life, experimenting with subject matters and techniques, though he loved the naïve genre most, painting idyllic, pastoral, innocent Aruban landscapes, cunucu homes, sunsets, cacti fences, donkeys, with vibrant, primary color. He also did some flat, enigmatic portraits, and toyed with colorful abstracts. He documented Aruba of yesteryears, in the yesteryears; he knew it would be lost, and wanted to leave the memory behind.

Local artist Stan Kuiperi wrote and published a book, the complete works of Juan Chabaya (Padu) Lampe in which he tracked all his known works down, and placed them on a timeline. The book was beautifully designed and co-researched/curated by Dutch-born artist Steffen Maas. It is available at the Plaza Bookstore.

One of my friends, an American, an airline pilot with a house on the island, is a Padu fan. He visited Padu at his home, introduced himself to all family members, and familiarized himself with many existing paintings in private collections here. He also asked an acquaintance, in the art world, to keep an eye on upcoming public auctions, who knows, the name Juan Chabaya (Padu) Lampe might pop up, emerging from oblivion heading to the auction block.

He did not believe his ears when he recently heard from the dealer that a beautiful, monochrome painting surfaced, it was for sale, and my friend did not think twice. He just wrote that check, and waited giddily for the box with his purchase, to arrive.

A few weeks ago he brought the painting back to Aruba. A very meaningful achievement, the return of cultural patrimony to its country of origin.

It is not the first time that a painting is repatriated. Kuiperi travelled to New York to repatriate a canvas, and is always on the lookout for more.

Works had the opportunity to travel, as Padu had a number of exhibitions in New York, in 1932 and in 1939. He also exhibited in Aruba, in collective shows, some at the Caribbean, nowadays the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino. So visitors saw his work, and paintings were purchased and exported.

From conversations with my pilot friend and other Padu experts we can safely assume the canvas was painted in the late 50s, or early 60s. It is signed Padu Lampe which is unusual. Padu regularly used his initials, J.C. Lampe, not his nickname, Padu, but who knows perhaps the painting was purchased by an acquaintance, who understood what the Padu endearment stood for.

The painting is executed in bluish and purplish hues, a standout in his body of work, with delicate brush strokes on tree foliage framing the tableau, almost like a Japanese painting. The space is neatly organized with the Hooiberg at the far focal point and a cunucu house in the forefront, an iconic cactus fence, a divi tree, and boulders, in proper perspective, all recurring themes in Padu’s work. The canvas is neatly framed in the muted tones of the 60s, with pass-partout around, and brown construction paper backing. It isn’t dated, but it is in very good shape, otherwise.

Note what we don’t see, no asphalt, no antennas, no electric wires, no poles, immortalizing Aruba the way it was, without any people, at the beginning of the last century.

In Aruba, the Padu Lampe Foundation works to digitalize, organize and preserve the body of work created by Padu. It commemorated his 100th birthday, in 2020, and continues to market his amazing music.

This is a link to our favorite:

Abo So

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March 15, 2022
Rona Coster