Tiny but powerful is how artist Charmaine Kelly described the founder of the Women In Art Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (WIAOTT), the late Fraulein Rudder.
Rudder, 91, died on January 27 after a long illness. Her funeral was held on Saturday morning at Clark and Battoo funeral home in Port of Spain.
Rudder was a teacher and an artist who painted in alkyd. She designed the covers of several local textbooks and instituted the WIAOTT biennial art competition for forms five and six students. She also produced and published the coffee table book Women in Art 2000, highlighting 38 local women artists.
WIAOTT member and friend Charmaine Kelly told WMN Rudder was her teacher at St Theresa's Girls' Intermediate RC School, Woodbrook, from standards one to five.
She said Rudder found women artists were not getting enough exposure or chances to show their talent so she, along with Karen Sylvester, created WIAOTT – a space to help women explore, discover and develop their artistic talent – in 1996.
“She was always someone who looked out for and encouraged women artists as well as up-and-coming art students in secondary school by having a biennial art competition.
“She was a mother, friend and confidante. You couldn’t ask for a better, more dedicated leader. She had a library of art books at her home which she encouraged her members to come and view, read and borrow – but bring back...
“She taught well and she generally took care of and cared for us women and her students.”
Kelly said Rudder also played the piano and sang well. She was well-spoken, astute, confident, and was proud of who she was, what she stood for and what she did for women in art, and aspiring artists and students.
Michelle Tappin-Davis, vice president and former president of WIAOTT, echoed that Rudder founded the organisation to promote and support the development and success of women artists in Trinidad and Tobago.
“She recognised there was a need to carve out a space for women artists who, she felt, were being marginalised at the time. Sad to say, this is not a problem that has gone away, and it is not a problem that is unique to Trinidad and Tobago. Very few women artists globally are properly represented and are visible.”
Tappin-Davis said Rudder’s late husband Arnim was one of Rudder’s biggest supporters, and she could not do what she did without the support of her husband and family so she admired that the WIAOTT biennial art competition was open to boys and girls.
“She recognised early o’clock that if you want to change the narrative you cannot leave men or males out of the conversation. So we wanted to help both boys and girls to launch their careers in art and to help them recognise the art industry as a viable one. And that art education is very important.
“The thrust now, away from fossil fuels and towards the creative industries, again supports Fraulein as a visionary.”
Tappin-Davis described Rudder as determined, a strong woman, a family woman who also devoted her life to WIAOTT and led the organisation until she had to retire due to ill health. She was also very charitable and supported several organisations, including the TT Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the TT Cancer Society, and did community service.
As WIAOTT hoped to keep Rudder’s principles alive, it continued all the programmes and traditions she started including, outdoor painting trips, workshops and an annual members art exhibition, as well as instituting new ones.
When she became ill, Rudder retired and stayed at a home for the aged that could address her medical needs. She continued to paint for a while and, even when she stopped, the organisation would still include her work at its events.
In 2018, WIAOTT gave Rudder its first, and so far, only Pioneer Spirit Award.
“I instituted that because Fraulein has done so much for the members of this organisation, for the children and the nation and the country as a whole, and we had never given her anything as an organisation in terms of awards and accolades.”
Neo-pop artist Halcian Pierre said she first met Rudder during the launch of Women in Art 2000. As an aspiring artist at that time, Pierre was very excited to meet her.
“Getting to be that close to Fraulein Rudder, I was thrilled. It was so amazing! At that time she wore her signature low haircut and her dark glasses. I can’t remember ever seeing her eyes. I don’t think she took those glasses off!”
Pierre described her as sweet and soft-spoken and said Rudder was all about promoting and pushing women in art and ensuring they received proper recognition in a male-dominated field.
“For us to have a voice and a space through her meant quite a lot to all of us. It will be difficult going in without her as our founder, but we have memories and we hope, as a group, to keep her flag flying.”
Rudder is survived by her three daughters, Simone, Michelle and Charmaine.