Deryck Foster's art is firmly anchored in Bermuda's maritime heritage
In summary, very few people in this world get to live their dream. Deryck wanted to be an artist and he made a great success out of living his dream. While he is gone, his paintings and models live on and grace the halls of many homes, corporations, and museums. He will give many future generations a great deal of pleasure as they look at his well-researched depiction of maritime history and also of the marine scenes of his day. While we will miss him greatly, every time we look at his work, we will remember him with great affection and admiration.Colonel Sumner H. Waters, USA (ret), Obituary for Deryck Foster, 28 October 2011
In the late 1960s, Dorothy K. Trimingham and her late husband deForest (Shorty) Trimingham were taking part in yacht races at the famous maritime centre of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, in the waters of which Royal Reviews of the Fleet sometimes took place, including one in which HMS Malabar the fifth took part prior to its departure to Bermuda to become the Station Ship in 1897. As this story is about paintings, the National Museum has an original copy of a painting of the ship for such a Review off Cowes in the Malabar Room of the stately Commissioner's House, an image obtained, with grateful thanks, from the Vancouver Maritime Museum under the then Director and old Bermuda hand in marine archaeology, Dr James Delgado, and presented to the Museum during the 1994 visit of Her Majesty The Queen.
Back to Cowes in 1968, Shorty found a recently made painting of the boat he was racing and being much impressed with the quality of its execution, he raced off into the hinterlands of the Isle of Wight to find the artist, one Deryck Foster, who was eventually located in a small village. Under encouragement from Trimingham, Foster focused on boating activity at Cowes and expanded his career in the painting of yachts and ships, a path that ended in the making of superb ship models (for the man knew his rigging), the last completed being that of HMS Bermuda, a sailing vessel of the Royal Navy, built here in the first decade of the 1800s: that model was Deryck's final gift to the National Museum of Bermuda.
A few years later in 1972, again at deForest's suggestion, Deryck put his paintings on exhibit in the Front Street display windows of Trimingham Bros, once Bermuda's premier store for visitors, during the Newport-Bermuda Race that year. That showing was such a success that Deryck and Denise (who were married in 1949) came to live on the island for some eight years and their relationship with Bermuda was solidified by the marriage of their daughter Karin to Col Sumner H. Waters, USA, of the Bluck family. Two Bermudian grandchildren emerged from that union, the son, Charles, follows his father's boot steps and is presently serving in Iraq, while Kate is inclined to the more artist tendencies of granddad.
Foster's work caught the attention of the then executive vice president of the Bank of Bermuda (now HSBC), John RH (Jack) Lightbourn, who commissioned a major collection of paintings of the depicting the maritime history of Bermuda of the 1700 and 1800s. Jerome and Betty Hollis took Deryck to various headlands, forts, harbours and channel entrances and they had long talks about ships and historical episodes; Deryck and Denise then researched the ships in various libraries and archives. Harry Cox was also a great inspiration to Deryck, and Jack would suggest the subject matter for the paintings.
That wonderful Collection is now part of the Bank of Bermuda Foundation's possessions, but is on display to the public at the Bacardi Room in the Commissioner's House. On his retirement, the Bank presented Jack with a painting by Foster of the Sea Venture in a full and bye running position and was told by Denise that the representation of the sea in that picture was the best Deryck ever painted. Nearer home, the calm waters in the smaller painting by Foster of a rowboat at a wharf, ‘Early Morning Tranquility', must surely vie for that distinction, but for inland seas.
The paintings of the Collection range widely from vessels built at Bermuda for the Royal Navy, to a number of the famed sloops, which were the fastest ships afloat in the 1700s and early to mid-1800s, such as the Elizabeth and Mary. A significant part of Bermuda's history, but also much connected with the Waters Family, Hezekiah Frith's privateer vessel, Experiment, is painted at anchor off the family home ‘Spithead', on the north coast of Warwick Parish. Then there is the ship, Harvest Queen, much beloved of residents of Hamilton Parish, especially the Bailey's Bay area, as it was constructed there very much as a community effort. Other images take the maritime history of Bermuda into the 19th century with the towing of the Floating Dock ‘Bermuda' to the island via the Azores in 1869, the first such long-distance haul ever made. The 20th Century is also represented with a painting of that classic transporter, Queen of Bermuda, one of the most superbly appointed ships ever built and loved by all Bermudians.
Throughout the Collection there appear, of course, many boats and sloops fitted with versions of the ‘Bermuda Rig', the ‘fore and aft' revolution in sailing technology that was the world's greatest, after the invention of the square rig of the 15th Century. Captured in some of the Foster paintings, the Bermuda Rig, that triangular ‘leg of mutton' sail invented here before 1670, will forever be a fixture of the ocean seas, wherever people use their boats and yachts for a ‘search for speed under sail': it is unlikely ever to be bettered for the propulsion of sailing boats.
Deryck Foster set his last sails on October 19, 2011 and began the unending voyage into another world. Perhaps we both knew during a recent visit that voyage was shortly to begin when they took our favourite dish, “Thai Shrimp Wrap…without the wrap, please' off the menu at the restaurant in Dockyard. Fair winds and a following sea, Deryck, and thanks for your Bermuda paintings, which will always allow us to navigate visually through the island's maritime history, ‘Whither the Fates Lead Us'.
Among the Mexican Pepper jungle of xenophobia and rudeness to the very people that put the food on our tables and gas in our tanks, you might like to spare a moment in grateful, nay, godly thanks for all those outsiders who have done so much for our island home, many of whom have come to love this place as their own and many of whom continue to do so despite hostility from some quarters.
In the case of Deryck Foster, as long as Bermuda is inhabited, it is likely that his love of the island and its people will shine through in the individual works of art that are his legacy to us and future generations. In that, spiritually speaking, he is as Bermudian as the rest of us who so claim, indeed more so than many as he turned his energy and feeling for the archipelago not into negative views, but into vibrant images of Bermuda that can be treasured by all here forever.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director[AT]bmm.bm or 704-5480
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