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One gorgeous island’s sense of place

Bermuda’s Masterworks Collection

3 minute read
Toogood's 'View of Tobacco Bay': Where Philadelphia artists flourish.
Toogood's 'View of Tobacco Bay': Where Philadelphia artists flourish.
Bermuda is no paradise. No place on earth can possibly be. This Atlantic island, a member of the British Commonwealth, has its share of social, economic and political problems.

Yet Bermuda's acres of unspoiled visual beauty have mesmerized visitors for centuries. Pink sand, turquoise waters, cerulean skies and bougainvillea— who can resist? When artists, poets, musicians, or even artistically challenged persons visit Bermuda, they find they want to create. Indeed, they may feel impelled to create.

This artistic activity may in no small part be related to Bermudians' thoroughly British determination to document a "sense of place" for their island. The human animal instinctively yearns for some canon to consult when creating, defining, acquiring or rejecting art. This desire to assert Bermuda's sense of itself, historically and visually, produced the idea to build a Bermuda Masterworks Collection to celebrate art about Bermuda, whether created by Bermudians or by visitors.

From Homer to O'Keeffe

For 20 years after its inception in 1987, the Bermuda Masterworks Collection suffered from low recognition, most likely because it lacked a permanent home. This is surprising, as the collection includes works by such luminaries as Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, Ross Sterling Turner, Ogden Minton Pleissner, Marsden Hartley, Henry Moore and Albert Gliezes, in addition to many superb works by lesser-known artists.

But since 2008 the whole collection— now numbering more than 1,200 works of art— has been ensconced at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens in an attractive restoration of a former arrowroot factory. Here Bermudian schoolchildren benefit by developing a pride of place. Their parents rekindle it. And visitors connect deeply via the visions of artists spanning the centuries.

My husband and I, visiting the Island to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, happened to stumble upon this treasure at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens at the end of a hike on the island's Rail Trail. What a marvelous spot to locate a museum!

Bermuda yes, Philadelphia no

Bermuda's famed beauty and its proximity to America's major East Coast have long stimulated close relationships between the island and American artists. Back in 2000 Philadelphia's Woodmere Museum hosted "Bermuda: Two Centuries of Inspiration," a show featuring works by Philadelphia area artists like Thomas Pollack Anshutz, Charles Demuth, Prosper Senat, Andrew Wyeth and James Toogood. That show attracted little attention, perhaps for lack of sufficient marketing; but this past May, Toogood sold out all of his paintings at a special exhibition at the Bermuda Masterworks Museum.

One can't help wondering: Why must Philadelphia artists go to Bermuda to sell their work?

Toogood's work, like that of all the other artists represented at the Masterworks collection, expresses a deep love of Bermuda's landscape. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Toogood's work sells well in an environment that so thoroughly respects and promotes its own sense of place. ♦


To watch an introduction to the museum's collection by its founding director, Tom Butterfield, click here.

What, When, Where

Bermuda Masterworks Collection: Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Botanical Gardens, 183 South Road, Paget, Bermuda. (441) 236-2950 or www.bermudamasterworks.com.

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