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Preserving the History of Trinidad and Tobago Through Art - Sonia Alexis

After leaving the banking industry in the early 2000s, Sonia Alexis decided to pursue art as a hobby. She spent some of her retirement years, working with young people and helping them develop communication and leadership skills but kept returning to her love for art.

Sonia is a self-taught artist who dabbles in charcoal but enjoys using acrylics as a medium because of its versatility. She has a keen interest in preserving the history of Trinidad and Tobago through art and has been a member of the Women in Art Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (WIAOTT) for the past nineteen years. She enjoys capturing the character of old buildings and interesting faces. She has painted many buildings some of which are no longer standing, and part of her process is to research the historical background of her subjects as this allows her to establish an emotional connection with them.

For Sonia, art is a process not to be hurried but to be savoured. Her pieces express a lot of love and emotion for the subject matter. She admires local artist Henri Bryden for his eye for detail.

Sonia is a historian in her own right as she seeks to preserve the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago through her vivid artworks.

KIlarney, acrylic painting by artist Sonia Alexis

Kilarney, popularly known as Stollmeyer’s Castle was built in 1904 as a retirement home for Charles Stollmeyer and his wife who never lived in it because Mrs. Stollmeyer found it was too ostentatious for her taste. It was given to their son Conrad who was about to marry. The new “Mrs. Stollmeyer to be” named it “Kilarney” after the place in Ireland where they had hoped to spend their honeymoon.

Striking and elaborate are two words that can be used to describe this architectural masterpiece. Situated on the north of the Queen’s Park Savannah, it is known as one of the “Magnificent Seven” buildings and is a tourist attraction. It was built by Robert Gillies, a Scotsman from the firm Taylor and Gillies and is rumoured to have been patterned after a wing of Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

In 1940 during World War II the US Military used it for its operations and renamed it “Stollmeyer’s Castle. After the war both Mr. and Mrs. Stollmeyer occupied it until their deaths in the 1960’s. It is a National Trust site.

Old Monastery, acrylic painting by the artist Sonia Alexis
The Old Monastery at Mt. St. Benedict

This Benedictine monastery was founded by Abbott Mayeul de Caigny in 1912 to escape religious persecution from his homeland in Bahia, Brazil. Nestled in the lush hills of the northern range in Tunapuna, it became part of the spiritual landscape of Trinidad.

The mission was dedicated to “Our Lady of Exile”, the correct name of the Church. It was chosen by him because he intended this foundation to be a place of refuge in the event of persecution which was threatening Bahia at that time. Inspired by the open spirituality of the rule of St. Benedict, the monastery opened its heart to the diverse people of not only Trinidad and Tobago but the wider Caribbean, those who seek spiritual guidance and assistance, the weary, the hungry, the troubled.

When the monks arrived in Trinidad, they built a small hut in a spot way up in the mountains which they called Mt. Tabor, from the wood that they brought their belongings in. Then they started building this monastery lower down the hill in the vicinity where the current Abbey is located. It was completed in 1918. The walls were plastered with “tapia” a mixture of earth and grass. The orange hue of the building was as a result of the orange coloured dirt from the hillside.

In February 1947, the monastery attained the status of “Abbey” and a new building was erected which has been in use since.

This old monastery was demolished in 2004 because the building was too dilapidated to be restored. The intricate plaiting of the stones that formed the foundation can still be seen in the spot where the monastery occupied.

Holy Name Convent Secondary, acrylic painting by artist Sonia Alexis
Holy Name Convent Secondary Queen’s Park East

Holy Name Convent Secondary was founded by French Dominican nuns in 1902. These nuns arrived in Trinidad in1868 to take charge of the Leper Asylum.

After the eruption of Mt. Pelee in Martinique in 1902, the French nuns began to give private lessons to a young martiniquan girl whose parents had died in the eruption. Following this a few parents who were impressed with the high standard of French tutorship, petitioned the nuns to start a private school.

As the years passed and more pupils were taken in, the school became known as the “Notre Dame School”. The foundation for the present structure was laid by Sr. Jeanne Emmanuel Barriere (Principal from 1938 to 1961) and Sr. Bernadette Robert. As the student population increased, more blocks to accommodate classrooms were added. Always admired for the high standard of education offered, it was accorded the title of “Approved Secondary School” in 1949 and then in 1957, the status of “Government Assisted School”.

It is a landmark in the everchanging Queen’s Park East landscape.

Knowsley, acrylic painting by the artist Sonia Alexis

Situated on Queen’s Park Savannah South, Knowsley was designed and built in 1904 by Taylor and Gillies as the residence for William Gordon, a prominent businessman of the day.

Beautifully constructed, it is composed of imported yellow bricks and limestone from the Laventille quarry. The marble on the veranda which surrounds the ground floor was imported from Italy, while the wood for the magnificent staircase is purple heart from Guyana. This building is crowned by a pagoda like roof.

A National Heritage site, it stands tall and proud and is occupied by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.

All Saints Anglican Church, painting by artist Sonia Alexis
All Saints Anglican Church

A national heritage site, All Saints Church is considered one of the oldest churches in Trinidad and Tobago. Situated at the corner of Marli Street and Queen’s Park West, it was consecrated in 1848 as a Chapel of Ease for the Trinity Parish. It was later enlarged and made an independent church in 1968. It was built in a neo gothic architectural style with stones from the Laventille quarry.

Woodbrook Estate Office painting by the artist Sonia Alexis
Woodbrook Estate Office

Located at the corner of Murray and Baden Powell Streets, Woodbrook this national heritage site was established in 1907. In those days the land known as Woodbrook Estate was owned by the Siegert family. The office was used to collect rent and property taxes. In 1911 the land in Woodbrook was sold by the Siegerts to the Town Council to be developed as a new middle-class district. The office was closed in 1998.

Archbishop's Palace, painting by the artis Sonia Alexis
Archbishop's Palace

Built in 1904 and known as the Archbishop’s Palace, this building is one of the “Magnificent Seven” located at Queen’s Park North. It features a unique style of architecture with rows of arched windows and a castle-like tower. A national heritage site, it serves as the residence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain.

St Chad's Anglican Church, painting by artist Sonia Alexis
St Chad's Anglican Church

Situated in what was once known as the Village of Mt. Pleasant in Tucker Valley, Macqueripe, the church was built in 1875 having replaced a wooden one which was built 18 years before. It served the people of the village who were former slaves who owned small parcels of agricultural lands. In 1941 during World War 2 the United States Army was granted use of Chaguaramas as a military base and soldiers also attended services there. The current ruins are a national heritage site.

Old Police Headquarters, painting by artist Sonia Alexis
Old Police Headquarters

This national heritage site is located at St. Vincent Street opposite the Red House, Port of Spain. Construction began in 1876 and was built in Italian Gothic style using limestone from the Laventille quarry. The northern part of the building on Sackville Street was gutted by fire in the attempted coup of 1990 but has since been restored.

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