During the holidays, many in the Baltimore arts community gathered at Nancy’s restaurant in the Station North Arts District for a jazz event and fundraiser for local arts supporter and artist Roy Crosse. Crosse’s group, the roycrosse Quintet, served up the entertainment. People ate and talked. There was lots of laughter.
Crosse was in his element, friends who were there that night said, performing before his friends. He was ailing, but the smile on his face and the music he played belied his suffering. For many Baltimoreans, it was the last time they would see Crosse alive. When he died of cancer at age 69 on Feb. 20, he was planning his next performance and so many other things.
According to Nancy’s owner Kevin Brown, Crosse’s close friend, he played his last gig on December 28 against his doctors’ orders.
“He left hospice care to come and perform,” Brown said. “He didn’t want anybody to know, but he wanted to perform. I said ‘Roy, you’re too sick!’ And he said ‘Kevin, I’ve got to do this.’ He came to the dance floor and said ‘I’m back from the dead!’”
Crosse had been diagnosed with cancer almost 10 years ago, but never let that stop him from doing what he loved. While he underwent treatment and searched for alternate methods to cure his cancer, he continued pursuing art and surrounding himself with artistic and art-loving people with positive energy, acquaintances said.
He chronicled his battle with cancer in his “crosseworks blog.” In an entry dated Nov. 10, 2013, entitled, “Lesser of Evils,” Crosse talked about his pain and how it left him unable to do the things that gave him joy.
“…I want to do so many things but I do nothing. Intellectual paralysis sets. I think I cannot think I am energized but I have no energy. The light of day fades into darkness and nothing gets done. I stand up and I want to lay down…”
Loved ones and friends remembered him this week as a staunch supporter of the Baltimore arts community, an avid supporter and board member for Station North. He was also a sculptor and a painter, a lecturer and a writer, a cook and a gardener whose back yard is considered a work of art in itself a collection of spectacular plants and a koi pond that served as the backdrop for outdoor performances that were favorite summer gatherings for his friends.
“I think it was incredibly validating for us here in Baltimore for such a distinguished artist to settle on North Avenue and make his art part of bringing this community back,” said Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and a member of the Station North board with Crosse and Brown.
“To see his work exhibited in the medians and on the street in Station North, knowing that he was there creating work, the events that he organized in his home—all these things contributed enormously to the revitalization of that community,” she said.
Crosse was born in the Port of Spain in Trinidad in 1945. In his late teens, he left Trinidad to pursue education opportunities in Toronto. Though he was interested in the arts from an early age, he initially pursued an interest in radio electronics, later changing to the visual arts—especially painting, printing and sculpting—while studying at Toronto Central Technical School and the Ryerson Polytechnic Institute. He worked as an exhibition artist, as well as a teacher. To satisfy his interest in music and dance, he designed and created stage sets for theatre groups, according to published reports.
In 1979, he returned to the West Indies to teach painting at the Jamaica School of Art while on a fellowship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Over his long career, Crosse lived in many places, including Boston, New York, Newark and most recently, Baltimore, where he was embraced by the local arts community because of his obvious love for things creative. He was also one of the original members of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District’s Board of Directors.
“Roy was one of those people who looked after people with ideas,” said Brown, 53, owner of Station North Arts Café and Nancy’s and Crosse’s business partner. “He was a creative force, who brought together people of all walks of life under the common theme of art and community.”
Crosse won many awards and has been honored numerous times for being active in the community. He is a recipient of the Ontario Arts Council Award and the New York Foundation for the Arts Award . He was a former artist-in-residence at the Newark Museum Arts Workshop and an artist-in-residence of the art department of Northeastern University in Boston. He was also honored for a 34-foot tall sculpture that he made for the Seton Hall School of Law in Newark.
Family members, friends and admirers will gather for an open house, 3 to 7 p.m., March 1 at Westnorth Studio, 106 W. North Ave. in Baltimore. In honor of Roy’s dietary preference, guests are asked to bring a vegetarian dish or drink to share. Limited parking is available in the MICA lot across from the studio. Respond to Helen Elliott at heelliott@gmail. com or 443-622-0233.