“Men resent a woman getting honour in what they consider is essentially their field.”
The early 20th century emancipation of the arts in the British West Indies was driven by a handful of visionary women, who knew how to navigate within the political and administrative systems of their time. They were persistent, and courageous revolutionaries, firstly, by choosing Tertiary Educations in the Arts, and secondly, for sharing their knowledge and skills across the existing race and class barriers.
The parallel communities of rulers and subjects developed norms of engagement beyond the rule of law throughout the colonial period. Independence meant, that many of those norms were challenged and the rise of the arts in the Caribbean was part of this challenge. The pre-independence upsurge of creativity was, however, harnessed by an uneasy demand for official legitimacy and the women who facilitated and shaped the regional art movements, though central to the process, tend to be seen as the ’ Midwives’, not as the ‘Mothers’ of Caribbean Art.
Edna Manley was the exception to this; as the artists-activist wife of one Prime Minister and the mother of another, her influence on the political will, which fuelled the Jamaican Art movement, cannot be understated. She was a crucial link between the informal, Matriarchal. art organisations and the formal, Patriarchal, administration.
The pioneer work of the ‘Trinidadian Troika’, Sybil Atteck[i], Olive Walke[ii] and Beryl Mac Burnie[iii] covered visual arts, music, drama and dance. Edna Manley[iv] started an Art and Craft school in Kingston and supported emerging Jamaican artists. Golde White[v], who did the same in Barbados, also initiated a network of art organisations in the Southern Caribbean, while Bertha Higgins[vi] pioneered the art movement in Antigua. Higgins and her sisters, (both music teachers), also drilled the ‘Hells Gate Steelband’ in their living room. In the 1940s.[vii]
Golde White studied Art and Design in England, returned home to Barbados via Argentina and Brazil and relocated to British Guiana in the mid 1920s. We can get some idea of the Georgetown art scene, around 1930, from one of her letters, which she began by noting: “There has been no Art Exhibition for some time in this colony, and very little is done to encourage artistic talent”. Yet, she had found that there was enough interest in to mount a successful art exhibition. A number of art groups - beginning with the British Guiana Arts and Crafts Society of 1931 - were formed, art classes were established and a legacy created. Marjorie Broodhagen[viii], Hubert Moshett, Reginald Phang and Edmund Burrowes, were part of this groundswell of Guyanese art. Five years after White’s return to Barbados in 1943, Burrowes formed the ‘Working Peoples Art Classes’ and the Georgetown School of Art was later named after him.[ix]
White joined with other Barbadian Art Graduates, who, having experienced the art scene of early 20th century Europe, sought to move Barbadian art out of the hobby-painting era into the realm of contemporary professionalism.
They formed the ‘Barbados Arts and Crafts Society” in order to: “meet the growing need for the development of the Arts in the Community”.[x]
The early meetings were held upstairs in the Old Icehouse on Broad Street and the BACS was launched as a formal entity in July 1944.
Golde White, Karl Broodhagen and Briggs Clarke, were among the first members, they also became founders of the Barbados Arts Council more than a decade later.
Studio and office space were, in turn, provided by the Welfare Office, the YMCA and the Vestry of St. Michael, which offered the use of the attic at Queen’s House. The Attic became a hub for studio work, workshops and exhibitions. White’s art classes and her publication “Art and how to teach it.” were both funded by the British Council.
Finding suitable exhibition venues was a challenge. The Barbados Museum, the Garrison Drill Hall and the Challenor Stand at the Kensington Oval were all utilized with varying success. Admission was not free – 1 Shilling for adults and 6 pence for children and members of the association was a standard charge. [xi]
The BACS continued to take part in the Barbados Agricultural Society’s Annual Fair, previously the only, regular opportunity for artists to show their work, which, listed as “Fancywork”, competed with Produce and Livestock for attention.
The West Indian Exhibitions 1944-51.
The BACS had established Inter-island connections through personal relationships, but the dream of inter-island exchanges was first fully realized in 1948,when the British Council provided financial and logistic assistance and the UCWI offered support through its Resident Tutor in Barbados,
Golde White reconnected with her friends in the newly established Guyana Art Group and approached both the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago (est. 1943) and the nascent Antigua Art Group with proposals for an annual West Indian Exhibition.
Higgins and White exchanged friendly and frequent letters. The BACS also encouraged the formation of art groups in St Vincent, St Lucia, Grenada and Dominica through the Colonial Education Departments and the British Council.
The initial response from these departments was, that there was ‘no art, nor any interest in art’ in any of these territories, but White challenged this and the officials eventually agreed to enquire about local artists, facilitate the formation of art groups and assist with the shipping of works for inter-island exhibitions.
The BACS mounted five Annual West Indian Exhibitions at Queen’s House between 1944-51.
The British Council also facilitated the shipping and mounting of several exchange exhibitions in Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and British Guiana.[xii]
The path from an embryonic state of existing talent to the birth of a new Caribbean art-movement is mapped in formal correspondence signed ‘I remain, Madam, your obedient servant’ from the colonial officials, frequent exchanges of ideas between White and Higgins and letters from the other groups, which invariably began: “Apologies for not responding sooner…”.
The determined search for talent and the official support for cultural development led to the recognition of a Non-Academic Pan-Caribbean aesthetic, an authentic and legitimate ‘Visual Dialect’.
Bertha Higgins wrote:
“Mrs. White had asked if I have discovered any ‘Primitive Artist’s. The work of Cecil Adams is decidedly his own effort. He was never taught and the piece he has sent was on yellow cotton with house paints. There are two or 3 other boys of our group who do similar work.” [xiii]
One of these ‘boys’ was 19-year-old Arnold Prince from St Kitts, who held his first solo show at Queen’s House in 1949, the first step on the path to becoming an Associate Professor at the Rhode Island School of Art and Design. [xiv] Young Dunstan St.Omer, of St.Lucia, also held his first inter-island solo show at Queen’s House the same year.[xv]
A total of 152 works, Oils, Watercolours, Drawings and Sculptures from Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad and Antigua were exhibited at Queen’s House in March,1948.
Sybil Atteck, M.P. Alladin, Henri Telfer and Geoffrey Holder[xvi] represented Trinidad and Tobago.[xvii]
The selection process caused some controversy: R. S. Anton-Haynes, whose work had been refused by the TAS, wrote: “I am posting some of my work today so that the general public will see some of my Art and the kind of work that were refused by those who are supposed to know Art and good Art too. I know that it will be late for entry but I am hoping you will do the best you can to raise the standard of your Exhibition”.
The networking of Southern Caribbean artists created new opportunities in a growing market, but seven years of intense activity depleted the resolve of the volunteer-based and poorly funded organisation. In 1951 it merged with the newly founded Art Department of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.
[i] Sybil Atteck. 1911-1975. School of Fine Art, University of Washington. Escuela des Belles Artes, Lima. Expressionist painter, founding member of the Trinidad and Tobago Art Society (1943).
[ii] Olive Walke. 1911-1969. Royal Academy of Music. Founder of ‘La Petite Musicale’. Her collection of “Folk Songs of Trinidad and Tobago” were published posthumously in 1970.
[iii] Beryl Mc Burnie. 1913-2000.Columbia University. Danced with Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham. Established the ‘Little Carib Theatre’.
[iv] Edna Manley. 1900-1987.Sculptor, painter, educator. Founder of Jamaica School of Art and Craft. 1950.
[v] Golde White. 1890-1977. Painter, Educator. Founder or of BACS and BAC.
[vi] Dame Bertha Higgins. 1889-1966. Artist, teacher, musician. Founder of the Antigua Art Group in the 1940’s. Senator in the Parliament of the Federal Government, 1958.
Awarded the M.B.E, 1960.
[vii] The ‘Hells Gate Steel Orchestra’ preceded TASPO at the Festival of Britain in 1951.
[viii] Marjorie Broodhagen. 1912-2000.Columbia University. Artists and Educator. Founding member of the Guyana Art Group (1946) and Guyana Women Artists Association. 1987.
[ix] Don Locke, Stanley Greaves, Aubrey Williams and Errol Brewster are among the WPAC and Burrowes‘ School of Art graduates.
[x] Letter to The Editor, The Advocate Co.Ltd. Broad Street. Barbados. March 12th. 1951.
[xi] The standard price of a painting was $20 and the total sales from most shows averaged $200-300.
[xii] When the British Guianese Art Group invited BACS members to be part of their annual exhibition in 1947, the British Council offered to ship the art at its expense .
(letter signed by A.W. Steward 07-06-1947).
[xiii] The idea that ‘primitive art’ is the only genuine expression of Caribbean art is still haunting us.
[xiv] Artist and author Arnold Prince. 1925-2014 Associate Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and the North Adams State College in Massachusetts. Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Rhode Island.
[xv] Dunstan G. R. St. Omer KCMG 1927-2015.
Saint Lucian painter, muralist and educator. Designed the national flag of Saint Lucia. KCMG 2010.
[xvi] Geoffrey Holder.1930-2914 made his name as a dancer, choreographer, painter, actor and stage designer in New York.
[xvii] Letter from Trinidad Art Society 2/3/1948 offers apologies for not getting in touch sooner, sending 20 paintings, facilitated by F.D. Gray of the British Council.
5. The Time Has Come To Tell The Story Of The Barbados Arts Council.
The Barbados Arts Council was established on December 6th 1957 as a Non-Governmental organization with a mandate to promote, support and develop all the Arts of Barbados.
The early years saw an emphasis on the performing arts, but the visual and literary arts were also actively developed in a number of sub-committees.
Today, the BAC functions mainly as a Visual arts organization centered in the BAC Gallery at The Pelican Craft Village in Bridgetown.
The BAC Gallery has an ‘open door policy’, which welcomes established artists and new talent alike, and so it has remained a vital force in the development of the arts in Barbados for the past 60 years.
The BAC also serves as consulting body for art-policy and –administration, while looking after the interests of art and artists in legislative matters.
The BAC mission has been documented in minutes, correspondence, newspaper articles, sketches and notes, most of which were, thankfully, kept as the BAC headquarters moved from Wakefield to Queen’s House, then to Pelican Village, and, recently, to two different locations in the Pelican Craft Centre. But our tropical climate (with the added punch of ‘Sea blast’) is not kind to archived documents and the records of decades of dedicated work were only just salvageable.
These primary sources form the core my research.
My first task was to sort, sanitize and scan everything, even the smallest scrap or scribble. These are being saved, physically in plastic containers and. digitally, in an external drive, which will be presented to the BAC on completion of research and publication of findings.
My second task was a Timeline and the third is to publish the findings both as an E-book and printed version during this 60th Anniversary Year.
The Barbados Arts Council Inaugural Meeting. Wakefield. British Council. 06-12-1957
Mr. Julian Marryshow (in the chair), Mr. Hugh Springer,
Dr. and Mrs. Rawle Farley, Mrs. B.B. Ward, Mr. Aubrey Douglas-Smith, Mr A. Briggs Clarke, Mr. Clyde Gollop, Miss. P. Brown, Mr. L.A. Harrison, Mr. Lyndon Clough, Miss. Rosemary Skinner, Miss Nell Hall,
Rev. O.C. Haynes, Miss Cicely Parkinson, Mr. G.O. Bell, Miss Enid Archer, Mr. Walter Thompson, Mr. Oliver Chandler, Mr. Collis Bayley, Mr. Lionel Gittens, Mr. Curtis Nurse, Mr. Bob Taylor.
The Chairman outlined the need for an Arts Council and how the idea had evolved. The Draft of the rules and regulations were discussed and amendments suggested before the election of officers. It was agreed that the UCWI and the British Council should be invited to nominate one member each to the Central Committee.
FIRST ELECTED OFFICERS.
President: Mr. Hugh Springer.
Vice Presidents: Mr. Julian Marryshow and Mr. G.O. Bell.
Hon. Treasurer: Mrs. Rawle Farley.
Hon. Secretary: Mr. Bob Taylor.
Assistant Hon Secretary: Mr. G.O. Bell.
P.R.O: Mr. Oliver Chandler.
Central Committee: Mrs. B.B. Ward, Mr. Lyndon Clough,
Mr. Aubrey Douglas-Smith, Mr. Clyde Gollop, Rev. O.C.Haynes.
There were plans to incorporate the Council.
Hugh Springer called for the establishment of a National Gallery and for a permanent home of the Arts Council in the form of a Cultural Centre with facilities for all the Arts.
These calls have been repeated by most Presidents since, but are yet to be answered.
Committees for Music, Drama, Dance, Literature, Film, Photography and the Literary Arts were established. The BAC organized Concerts, Recitals and Art Exhibitions, produced Plays, Film shows and Radio programs.
It ran Competitions and Workshops, funded Scholarships and hosted visiting Lecturers, Authors, Artists Musicians, Theatre Companies and Orchestras.
There was close co-operation between the BAC, the U.C.W.I., the British Council, the Ministry of Social Services and the Bridgetown City Council.
The Council also retained a number of Affiliated Groups.
The Central Committee met regularly at Wakefield, the British Council Headquarters. The BAC advised on the design and functionality of the Civic Theatre at Queen’s House and was promised office space in the refurbished building.
This was realized in 1960 and the Queen’s House remained the BAC Headquarters until 1967, when essential repairs forced a “Temporary move” to one of the Council’s Galleries at Pelican Village.
When, in 1958, Hugh Springer left to take up the post of Registrar at the UCWI, Jamaica, Bruce Hamilton replaced him as President.
He was followed by Denis Malone in (1959),
Sir Frank Holder (1960-64), Bruce St. John (1965-67),
Sir William Douglas (1968-72).
John Wickham (1973-74), Grantley Prescod (1974-82),
Gordon Parkinson (1983-86), Lilian Nicholson (1986-89),
Ian Walcott (1989-90),Donna Millington (1990),
Ian Walcott (1991-93), Neville Legall (1994—96),
Lilian Nicholson (1997-99),
Presidents since 2000:
Neville Legall, Hugh Corbin, Denzil Manns, Martina Pile, Rasheed Boodho and Sylvester Clarke.
The current President is Neville Legall, whose dedication to the Council has served the Art Community well over several decades.
There is an abundance of well-known actors and unsung heroes in annals of the BAC. Some made brief, but impactful appearances, others kept a low, but steady, profile, yet made invaluable contributions.
Among them were Karl Broodhagen, who inspired generations of artists at home and abroad, Briggs Clarke, Golde White, Basil Jones, and people like Ed Oxley and Keith Blackett, whose calm presence and “institutional memory” was an invaluable asset in trying times. There were many, many others and they will all be remembered and honoured in “Our Very Own. A history of the Barbados Arts Council”.
The book is dedicated to Mrs Anette Warden, who, as Miss Anette Scott, took up the post as Gallery Assistant at the Pelican Gallery on November 20th, 1967. She became the Council’s Administrative Secretary when Miss E.H. Williams retired.
Mrs. Warden’s sense of order, fairness and attention to detail was unsurpassed. She did not tolerate fools or frauds and did not hesitate to speak her mind when the occasion arose.
She often also went beyond the call of duty and spent many hours making sure, that all was well with the Council and its members.
Artist’s organizations are, notoriously, as fragile as the egos of their members, and so they tend to have a limited lifespan.
Mrs. Anette Warden is, in my humble opinion, one of the main reasons why this particular Art Organization has lasted for a full 60 years.
Lilian Sten-Nicholson A.I.C.A.
December 6th 2017
This project was made possible through a grant from the Art and Sports Fund Committee (ASFC).
I am also grateful to BAC Presidents Rasheed Boodho and Neville Legall,who facilitated the use of the BAC archives and to the late Fielding Babb who graciously allowed me access to his Log Books
and historical collection.
6. Missing In Action: Barbados' National Gallery of Art.
The call for a Barbados National Gallery was first made by Golde White in 1937.
20 years later , the call was repeated by Hugh Springer at the 1957 Inaugural meeting of the Barbados Arts Council. Since then many committees have been formed and dissolved, funds have been raised and disbursed.
The National Collection has grown, but there is still no National Gallery.I presented this paper, arguing the case for a National Gallery, at the AICA Conference in Barbados,1998.
Reaffirming Identity: The role of a National Gallery of Art.
By Lilian Sten-Nicholson. AICA.
Barbados owns a National Art Collection of considerable historic, aesthetic and financial value. It contains work from prehistoric times and the days of colonial rule as well as contemporary art.
Yet there is a prevailing misconception, that the Visual Arts are a recent introduction to our culture.
Barbados as an independent country is 32 years old; Barbados as a nation goes way back past the first settlers into Arawak times. From the time of the first habitation, the arrival of the first settlers, the labour of the Gaelic and African slaves, the rebellions, the political struggles, the building, the growing, the living in this island, this nation was formed.
And all through that time artists commented on, recorded and interpreted the process.
We have remnants of large Arawak settlements. We have 500 year old houses, still standing, still in use. We have an African Baobab tree, planted in Queen’s Park 1000 years ago and we have families, whose known roots are as ancient as that tree.
And yet we are seen, and see ourselves, as a young, developing nation.
The perception of the Visual Arts and the political entity of the nation as ‘young’, ’recent’, ’developing’, are similar in their ungrateful denial of ‘those who went before’.
But there the similarity ends. With the exception of the Visual Arts the Barbadian heritage is in good hands, The National Conservation Commission looks after trees, parks and beaches. The National Trust cares for buildings of historical interest. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society tells our history through artifacts, books and pictures. The National Archives and the Library service look after the written word in all its forms. The Political establishment celebrates itself in and out of Parliament. In each case there is a central agency, which documents, records, preserves and displays.
But the National Collection of Art has no permanent home. It is scattered through ministries, schools, libraries, hospitals and banks.E
In 1987-88, an Organization of American States ((OAS) sponsored survey of the National Collection was undertaken by the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). A preliminary study by Annalee Davies listed the location, the size and to a small extent, the condition of 141 pieces and 28 murals. A more detailed report by Pat Byer-Dunphy ((in 1988) revealed another 145 pieces, described them in detail and stressed the need for urgent restoration and preservation of the work. Many pieces were found behind filing cabinets, in closets or leaning against walls. Many were rotting, foxing, exposed to the elements or cleaned with solvents.
The OAS grant was also used to mount a Queens Park Exhibition of the National Collection works of Ilaro Court, the official residence of the Prime Minister, and Government House, the residence of the Governor General.
Ninety five works were gathered under the heading “Looking forward-Looking back”. Both collections contain historic and contemporary works of art. The historical pieces were executed by Colonial administrators and visiting Europeans, while the modern works represent a transition period in which the growing number of Barbadian artists, though still influenced by the great international artists of our time, were developing their own traditions. The turning point was in the 1930ies, a time of political turbulence and rising black consciousness.
Art reflects society. It is an expression of the culture of a society. It reflects the power structure, the priorities and concerns of a society, not only in what is expressed, but in what is promoted and preserved, encouraged or ignored.
The lack of indigenous artwork from the colonial period does not mean, that the Barbadian people lacked talent or ability. It means that their cultural expression was to varying degrees ignored, discouraged or banned, while the artistic efforts of the rulers were seen as valid and therefore appreciated and preserved. To demonstrate this the 18th century portrait of Major David Parry (Governor of Barbados, 1784-1794) and Ras Akyem’s “Prediction” faced each other on the cover of the exhibition catalogue and on the walls of the Queens Park Gallery.
While attempting to insure the exhibition “Looking Forward-Looking Back”, we began to get an inkling of the value of the National Collection. The local insurance companies had no evaluation system for art. We had to consult with Lloyds in the UK. The estimated value of the portrait of Major David Perry was 50,000 pounds. The 24 Lionel Fawkes Watercolours were valued at 3000-5000 pounds each. They were badly foxed in 1988, due to exposure to the elements in the Ilaro Court atrium, but, unless they have been unretrievably lost to further foxing, their total market value should now be at least 120.000 pounds.
This means that the minimum current value of these 25 pieces, 1/16th of the National collection, is $600,000.
This may have been a wake-up call. The need for a National Art Gallery was understood. The National Cultural Foundation was given a mandate to establish a Standing Committee with members drawn from ‘key organizations and interested persons’. The purpose of the standing committee was to prepare a comprehensive report on proposals for the establishment of a National Art Gallery. The Barbados Arts Council (BAC) and the Art Collection Foundation (ACF) submitted proposals.
These were summarized and expanded in “Proposals for the setting up of a National Art Gallery (Lois Braithwaite and Ruth White, NCF 1989).
The committee agreed on the following objectives:
- The National Art Gallery will display, research, restore and document the National Collection.
- It will expand the collection using a stated acquisition policy.
- It will provide temporary and permanent exhibition space and create incentives for Barbadian artists at home and abroad.
- It will have space for the permanent exhibition of the National Collection, for temporary, current, topical and special exhibitions as well as a Caribbean Collection.
- It was further recommended that a lecture theatre, an art department with a studio space, a library, a workshop for restoration, conservation and framing, storage space, a conference room administrative office and parking facilities were provided It was agreed that the building should be centrally located to provide easy access for walk-in patrons. There were differences in opinions about the proposed locations, advantages and disadvantages were explored. The parties also differed about the organizational structure: on the one hand a private foundation subsidized by government funds, on the other: a Government body assisted by private fundraising. Added to that was a demarcation of interests. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society wished to continue to be responsible for historical collections, while the ACF (now the Barbados Gallery of Art) wished to have sole responsibility for all 20th century works. The NCF and the BAC insisted, that a National Art Gallery must have a comprehensive collection of historical as well as modern works. The NCF report, however, only makes recommendations for a Contemporary collection
It is now August 1998. It is ten years later and we are losing our National Collection to dust, termites and indifference.
Successive governments have either looked over the project and dismissed it, or just overlooked it. It cannot be because of lack of funds, for the funds allotted to the re-situation of statues, commemorative structures and special events could have been used to finance and run a splendid National Gallery.
Neither were the disagreements within the standing committee strong enough to cause a dismissal of the project.
What prevents the establishment of a National Gallery is not the lack of funds, nor the lack of ideas, but the prevailing attitudes towards art and artists, the divisions among artists themselves and the contradictions inherent in the system.
We are fortunate, in that we have an amazing number of talented artists for such a small population. We are fortunate in that we have at least 7 organizations looking after the interests of art and artists (NCF/BAC/BIDC/BCC/BMHS/BGA/ICOM).
We are also fortunate, in that we have a transient population in the form of long-stay visitors and tourists, who will buy art. The international market comes to us.
Barbados, though small and outwardly portraying itself with a common identity, does in fact consist of many small units, which do not connect easily with each other. Because of this, efforts are often duplicated
The scattered and neglected National Collection is symptomatic of a culture in which the indigenous is loved, but not respected.
We do not lack talent, we do not lack infrastructure, we do not lack buyers. We lack focus!
A National Gallery provides focus.
The transient art market is seasonal, and although it is profitable, we lose some of our best work. Work, which will have to be bought back, when we wake up to its true value.
The way to deal with this issue is not by banning exports, but by instituting a sensible acquisition policy for the National Collection.
A sensible acquisition policy is one that values all manners of art.
Artists are born to all classes, colours and creeds, always have been, always will be. Theirs is the vision, it is their job to interpret, record and enhance the living culture.
But, whereas artists are born, careers are made.
When we select works for the National Collection, we need to remember the lesson of the former colonial masters: to preserve that which defines, records and enhances our own systems.
And to value it.
This means that we have to go beyond the conventional ‘Gallery Art’ and document ‘Street Art’, the paintings on mini-buses, push- carts and shops, murals and mini-parks. All these constitute a wealth of truly indigenous work, a focus on the elusive ‘identity’.
The main visual stimulus of today is that of the fleeting images of the TV screen. News, views and circumstances pour into our homes through many channels. Truths, half-truths and lies ‘bounce off our heads’ at an alarming rate.
The steady presence of a painting, to reflect on, to interact with, to love or to hate, creates some balance in how we see ourselves.
“Where there is no vision, the people will perish”. Marcus Garvey said so, King Solomon said so too. It was true then, it is true now. So, presumably, “when there is vision” the people will not perish. But only when vision is followed by action will the people flourish.
The peoples of the Caribbean are gifted and will excel in anything they set their mind to do. The unprecedented flowering of the Jamaican arts in the 1970-80s was not accidental. It was the result of political will, development of a cultural infrastructure and the recognition of the value of indigenous culture.
The further development of local and regional cultural infrastructure is necessary, only then will the rich talents of our people continue to flourish.
A National Gallery of Art is more than a showcase of national treasures, it is essential to the development of the arts and the society they represent.