Italian painter moved by exhibition in his honour

The Italian painter and teacher Ernesto Coter has written to his former student thanking him for putting on an exhibition dedicated to him and his graduates at Leulemoega Fou School of Fine Arts. 

Lalovai Peseta, co-founder of the Manamea Art Gallery in Vaigaga got a shock on Saturday morning when he woke up to a heartfelt email from his old teacher thanking him for the ‘Sons and Daughters of Ernesto Coter’ exhibition.

“You cannot imagine the profound emotions I felt (and refelt) after more than 20 years,” Mr. Coter wrote.

“It gave me great satisfaction to see the article on the Samoa [Observer] about the important exhibit that you and the gallery organized and dedicated to me. I have no doubt that it was a beautiful exhibit.”

The exhibition featured 11 alumni taught by the maestro and two students of those alumni which Mr. Peseta called Mr. Coters’ “grandchildren.”

Several are practicing artists, many are teachers and two of the painters made their exhibition debut that week, having just graduated from Leulumoega Fou School of Fine Arts in 2020.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Tuesday, Mr. Peseta was still buzzing from finally hearing from his old teacher, all the way from his country home in Italy on the shores of Lake Como.

He said he spent all of Saturday letting the excitement sink in before finally talking about it with his wife and gallery co-founder.

“To be honest, I was lost.” he said. “I am not the kind of person that jumps up and down when I get a present, I was just trying to let it sink in and think is this really happening? 

“It took me almost a full day, not talking to anybody about it, letting it sink in that we really did something really great.”

Mr. Coter came to Samoa in 1972 with his wife Maria. He was hired by the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa to open the school of fine arts, which he did in 1987, before returning to Italy in 2003. 

The painter, now in his eighties is hardly on social media or online at all. But he came across news of Mr. Peseta’s exhibition via the Samoa Observer and asked his friend to help them connect over email. 

Mr. Peseta, who never expected to hear from Mr. Coter or anyone connected to him anyway, admitted he wasn’t sure whether to believe the woman messaging him, saying she would put the two in touch. 

 “I don’t know her, I don’t know if she is real or trying to play with me or something, so I did it just in case. If this is real, I spoke my truth about the exhibition and what Ernesto did for the Samoan art scene. 

“It’s a big thing. It’s just an email, but deep down it’s really, really big.”

Mr. Peseta wrote to him first, catching him up on the lives of his former students and attached a photo of the portrait he painted of Mr. Coter, surrounded by Samoan motifs and roots, with the man himself wielding two paintbrushes. 

He told his old teacher: “The circle of Samoan tattoo symbols and tapa cloth motifs represents  Samoa, the gold roots that weaves up and under the pattern represent your skills and knowledge of Art is now spreading all over Samoa through your kids and grandkids in Art. The two paintbrushes represent my second chance in life to take on art as a career, now I’m proudly saying that “you gave me that opportunity/second chance in life through art.”

Also attached was a photo of Mr. Peseta and Mr. Coter together at Faleolo Airport the day the maestro and his wife Maria returned to Italy in 1997, and a photo of all the exhibiting artists at the Manamea Gallery.

In his response, shared with the Samoa Observer, Mr. Coter thanked his former student for his efforts.

“The portrait you did of me seems to have turned out well and it is also very meaningful,” he said.

“Your words brought me such a deep feeling of nostalgia when I heard about your life experiences that have led you to become an established and talented artist.

“It fills me with pride to know that some of my other pupils have also had success as artists and art teachers. 

“The fact that art today is widespread in Samoa brings me great joy because it means that my work of 30 years in Samoa was very fruitful and significant. This is also thanks to you, my pupils, who with your talent, hard work, and dedication were able to make the most of my unwavering and tireless guidance.”

Mr. Peseta, who did not take a single commission from works sold from the Sons and Daughters exhibition, said the email was the biggest paycheck he could have asked for.

“The title of my painting is ‘Full Circle’ and this is really the full circle happening.

“When I saw his response that his 30 years working here was fruitful, man it is really fruitful. He did something really great for Samoa when it comes to art.

“[Coter] was the one who taught us, and made it happen for us. It’s massive, I’m really excited.”


The maestro’s full email to his former student is reproduced below with permission:

Talofa lava Lalovai

It gave me great satisfaction to see the article on the Samoa Reporter about the important exhibit that you and the gallery organized and dedicated to me.

I have no doubt that it was a beautiful exhibit, the portrait you did of me seems to have turned out well and it is also very meaningful. Your photo and those of several other of my pupils transported me back to when I was there with you! Francesca, who for some time now has been following my artistic endeavors with much dedication, read me your important and interesting email. I do not often intentionally use the computer so I had her read it out loud to me. You cannot imagine the profound emotions I felt (and refelt) after more than 20 years. Your words brought me such a deep feeling of nostalgia when I heard about your life experiences that have led you to become an established and talented artist. It fills me with pride to know that some of my other pupils have also had success as artists and art teachers. The fact that art today is widespread in Samoa brings me great joy because it means that my work of 30 years in Samoa was very fruitful and significant. This is also thanks to you, my pupils, who with your talent, hard work, and dedication were able to make the most of my unwavering and tireless guidance.

Your letter also said that you married a talented artist who helps you with the gallery and in your studio. I am sure that this is very important for you. I lived for more than 50 years with Maria and her presence was fundamental to my work as well! Unfortunately, she suffered for many years from a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, and because of this, we had to return to Italy. Then came the unexpected on September 1st of 2017, when Maria was only 67, on a gloomy and rainy afternoon, she was struck by a devastating brain hemorrhage that tragically wound up being fatal. Today I am almost 85 years old, I live and work alone in our house (a typical country home) in a lovely antique neighborhood overlooking the famous Lake Como. At least for now, I also have my studio in Bergamo that is about 70 miles from my house on the lake.

I have always held on to the desire to return to Samoa but Maria’s health conditions made it impossible. We loved Samoa as if it were our own homeland and I remember that articles in newspapers, even the Italian ones, always described me as an Italian-Samoan artist.

Ciao Ernesto

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