Art was always my favourite thing’
Although visually impaired, Katherine Zuill has never let it hold her back.
For a while, she considered architecture as a career; ultimately, she worked as an interior decorator for 52 years. Both were inspired by her love of art.
Her work goes on display at the Bermuda Society of Arts tonight as part of Visual Dynamics, an exhibit that also features Kok Wan Lee and Emma Ingham.
Sales will benefit Vision Bermuda, a charity that aids the island’s visually impaired.
“My family would say I’ve been interested in art since the minute I was born,” Mrs Zuill laughed. “Art was always my favourite thing — since I was in elementary school.”
She entered Rhode Island School of Design with a goal of becoming an architect, but it wasn’t meant to be. At 20, she married and had children.
“I was always dabbling in art, taking courses,” said the 76-year-old, who grew up just outside Boston, Massachusetts.
In the 1950s she became familiar with Bermuda through annual, monthlong summer visits with her parents, William and Polly Kemble.
On his retirement, her painter father moved to the island permanently and became president of the BSoA.
For the most part, Mrs Zuill kept quiet about her own skills, until she married her husband, Cummings, in 1981. “I was in a couple of art shows in the Seventies, just to raise money for something, but it wasn’t until I came to Bermuda that I really started showing my work,” she said.
That love of art runs through the family.
To her delight, several of her exhibits here have been with her daughter, Elise Church.
“My nieces are all artists, my sister was an artist, my grandfather was a movie producer.
“He did The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. My father was in it when he was seven, with Errol Flynn.”
Her artistic style took a turn after a trip to a city in Mexico known for its thriving scene.
“I’ve never been able to really see properly,” said Mrs Zuill. “I was born with very strange eyes — just the whites of my eyes — and I’ve never been able to see really properly. I’ve managed through life, but every year my vision gets a bit worse.
“About five years ago, I went to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and took a couple of wonderful courses.
“I’d never seen mixed media before and I loved the whole thing — that you didn’t have to do everything perfectly. It totally appealed to me. I do painting every so often, but then I go straight back to mixed media.”
The style of art forms the basis of the 40 “relatively small” pieces she’s created for Visual Dynamics.
“The idea for the show grew from [our] desire to promote [our] work and, at the same time, to see [our] latest body of paintings do more than hang in a gallery,” said Ms Ingham, who will be doing her “popular quick sketches” at tonight’s opening. “[We] felt there was a need to support Vision Bermuda, formerly known as Beacon House. A portion from sales will go to support this important service.
“Kok Wan Lee chose to work with a theme of Tom Wadson’s farm.
“His abstract paintings reflect the varied plantings. [He] captures edible plants, colourful vegetables and showy shrubs in paintings which are filled with colour, movement and excitement — together they make a glorious explosion of colour.”
Mrs Zuill describes her colourful collages as “reverse puzzles”.
“I have newspapers, magazines, things I chop up, collect in groups of colours and lay them out. I absolutely love doing it. It satisfies the decorator in me and allows me to keep doing art, which keeps me going.”
Visual Dynamics will be her first show in a while. Frequent stints off the island prevent her from having sufficient pieces to show “at the right time”.
“I was invited by Emma, who is a very dear friend of mine,” she said. “She met Vince Godber [a vision rehabilitation therapist with] Vision Bermuda just before I left in May and said he was a real character; that I would love him.”
From there came the idea of an exhibit to benefit the charity.
“It gave us a push to create,” said Mrs Zuill. “I approached Kok Wan Lee a couple months ago and he said, ‘Sure’. Between the two of us, we will have about 70 pieces.
“I’m vision impaired,” said Ms Zuill. “I’ve been to every specialist in the world and no one can help me; my depth perception is disappearing.
“I can do artwork for an hour and then I struggle. There is an enormous percentage of people in Bermuda, because of all the diabetes, that are vision impaired.
Ms Zuill added: “They need help, that’s for sure. Any little thing I can do to help would be very nice.”
• Visual Dynamics runs through January 7 in Studios A and B of the Bermuda Society of Arts
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