Late sculptor planted the love of art in the hearts of many
By Rita J. Egan
When prolific sculptor and avid motorcycle rider LT Cherokee passed away last year at the age of 58 due to complications from an accident, he left behind his love of art and life. To honor this legacy, the Spirit of Huntington Art Center presents an exhibit titled Seeds starting May 15.
The center, dedicated to working with veterans and special needs children in an artistic environment, is the ideal venue to display the work of the sculptor who for the last few years of his life taught sculpting to the children at the facility. The teaching venture began when, through his uncle who owns L&L Camera in Huntington, Cherokee met Spirit of Huntington founder Erich Preis, according to the center’s director Michael Kitakis.
“LT was amazing. He was just so calm and connected. I guess that was why he worked so well with children with special needs. He had this calm presence, and he just let you really be free and creative. He wasn’t into the sky had to be blue and the grass green. He was let it be what you think it is, and feel and express it, and the children kind of thrived on that. They really got it,” Kitakis said.
The director said the exhibit will include 38 pieces of Cherokee’s that have been on display in galleries and private collections all over the United States and Canada. The sculptor, who first starting working with wood that he collected during his motorcycle rides, later worked with bronze castings. Kitakis is looking forward to the public viewing and interpreting the work, which the director said he himself doesn’t like to label as any one genre.
“When you see it, you just see all the energy and the abstract coming together. I mean that’s really what I think; it was more about that duality. I don’t think it was just abstract or just impressionistic. It’s kind of just both blending in together, and that gave that whole perception of what he was seeing as his human nature and as his life, and what he was seeing when he was exploring the road and life,” the director said.
Kitakis said Cherokee wasn’t the type to be locked in his studio all the time. For inspiration, he would get out in the world to explore, especially on his motorcycle. The director admired the artist not only for his artistic ability but also as a teacher who easily identified with the children with special needs at the center. “That takes a gift. You kind of have it or you don’t, and he really did have it. That was really what was so beautiful about his work, that here he is this sculptor who is getting $30,000 to $40,000 a sculpture and then coming in and hanging out with the kids,” Kitakis said.
After his passing last year, Cherokee’s mother, Tina Ambrosio, said all of those who offered their condolences, and knowing her son’s teachings positively affected his students comforted her. She said the artist, who was single and had no children of his own, “was married to his motorcycle and his art.”
His mother said that Cherokee, whose birth name was Leonard Totoro, picked his art moniker because even though he wasn’t Native American he always had an interest in Native American history. As a youngster, the future artist also would dream of becoming a forest ranger or doing missionary work. “Luxury to my son meant nothing. He was down to earth,” Ambrosio said.
Eventually Cherokee’s main career influence was one of his uncles, a pharmacist who painted and sculpted on the side, according to his mother. Later as a young man, the artist would lend his artistic talents while laying and refinishing floors with his father, who was a carpenter and floor finisher. Ambrosio said whenever a customer would ask for a design to be added to the floor, her son could easily create it.
As Cherokee became more involved with sculpting, his work, with names such as “Reach,” “Contemplation,” “The Gate” and “Eye of the Storm,” began to sell. In addition to his work being displayed in galleries and private collections, larger pieces were featured at places such as John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson as well as the transportation area of the Consulate General of the United States in Montreal, Canada.
Kitakis said some of Cherokee’s students are currently working on a collaborative piece that will replicate the artist’s Consulate General sculpture and will debut at the May 15 opening of the exhibit. The original piece features various heads along a train track, and in the students’ version, each child has his or her own person to sculpt. Other works by Cherokee’s students and apprentices will also be on display at the exhibit.
Kitakis said the title of the show, Seeds, seemed appropriate because of the way Cherokee lived his life. The director said the artist always wanted to give back to people and share his art and saw it as spreading seeds.
“He always believed in spreading ‘seeds’, planting them, getting them going. He did a lot of that,” Kitakis said.
The director hopes that visitors to the exhibit will get a feel of how much Cherokee loved creating and sharing his sculptures. “I’m hoping when people walk away they feel that inspiration as well — to get a little more understanding or love of art and then it kind of spreads on,” Kitakis said.
Besides enjoying Cherokee’s work, exhibit-goers will have the opportunity to purchase many of the pieces on display where a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the center. The Spirit of Huntington Art Center is located at 2 Melville Road North in Huntington Station. The Seeds exhibit will open on May 15 with a reception at 6 p.m. and will run through July 15. For more information, call 631-470-9620 or visit www.spiritofhuntingtonartcenter.com.