Pure joy for the late, world-famous artist Allan Rohan Crite was a metal folding chair set up on Columbus Avenue in the South End.
Watching some more.
The talented painter in his later years often found no greater pleasure, his widow Jackie Cox-Crite said, than to set up his old, metal folding chair every Sunday in the neighborhood he lived in all his life.
Mostly, he just took it all in and it was the basis for many of his famous works.
“He would sit and wave to neighbors and talk to them,” she said. “It’s one thing he truly enjoyed doing, especially as he got older. It was a highlight for him to just sit and watch people go by. He loved to take it in. He loved the neighborhood, loved the people on Sunday mornings, his classmates from high school. That showed in his art work with the faces and the demeanor. They were always delightful people smiling as they lived their lives in the South End, and he captured those things in his paintings.”
Those remarkable paintings hang in the Smithsonian, in the Boston Athenaeum and in museums all around the world – with most all of them based on scenes from the South End.
Those paintings were very important to Cheryl Dickinson, who lived for years a hundred miles from the South End in Connecticut. However, she had discovered Crite’s paintings and used them in reading exercises with troubled youth in Bridgeport. Using the paintings to visualize the story, young people found it easier to read afterward.
And so it was that when Dickinson moved to the South End several years ago, she and her husband were walking through the neighborhood when she noticed Allan Rohan Crite Square at the corner of Columbus Avenue and West Canton Street.
It was quite a revelation to learn that Crite had lived only steps from her current home, but it was disappointing when she saw the condition and poor design of the park dedicated to such a transformational African American artist.
That’s when she began a campaign to raise money for the design of a new park dedicated to Crite. She has spent the past 15 months forming a Committee and looping in Cox-Crite, Frieda Garcia and the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association.
They have grand plans, but they need fundraising.
“We’re increasing the park space by 40 percent and we’re taking down the brick wall and cleaning it up,” she said. “If we’re going to do it, we want to do it right…It’s going to be a notable change when you take out that brick wall and take the park out to the sidewalk.”
In about a week, she said a banner will go up reading, ‘I want to be your park.’ That will be supplemented by booths at neighborhood events all summer long to raise awareness.
“We’re about to start a public campaign,” she said. “We want to get 1,000 signatures so we can get community buy-in and it helps us when we apply for funding grants to show the community supports it.”
To get things started, a landscape architect had given them a proposal that would require $22,500 in start-up funding.
“If we can get the $22,500, we can compete for all the grant money – the CPA, the Browne Fund, and the Henderson,” she said. “To get those you have to be serious about your proposal and raising that figure shows you are serious.”
The Park was dedicated in 1985 to Crite, and Cox-Crite said it was very important to know that her husband never left the South End – living in a 10-block radius for his entire life. The Park was the only park in the City of Boston dedicated to a person still living (he died in 2007).
“I’m very appreciative and very happy the neighbors want to do this because that park is a disaster,” she said. “It was a very special place to him. I think it’s a real mutual admiration society going on here. I’m proud of the square and I’m proud that the neighbors care enough to do this.”