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Floral Lane is a trip down Island’s memory lane

The new Masterworks show Floral Lane includes Bermuda works by world-famous artists, however a vintage car promises to be the centrepiece.

The Duchess of Gloucester opened the exhibit in November. It runs through next summer.

The display explores Bermuda's transformation from a barren terrain covered in low scrub, screw palms and cedars, to the lush semi-tropical paradise of today.

A 1933 Austin A30 sits in front of that a video in the background makes it seem as if the car is driving down Bermuda's old country roads.

The car was purchased in England and shipped to the Island by Masterworks founder and creative director Tom Butterfield.

“I think after the exhibition, Tom plans to drive it around Bermuda,” said Elise Outerbridge, Masterworks' collection manager. “I'm not really sure. We had to drive it over here and it was like driving a truck. There is no power steering. But it really adds something to the show.”

Floral Lane was named after an old street sign Ms Outerbridge and Mr Butterfield found. It was once posted in St. George's, where it described a stretch from the Dinghy and Sports Club to Buildings Bay.

To create the exhibit Masterworks dug deep into its collection for some of the earliest paintings of Bermuda. Among the works on display from the 1800s are those by esteemed painters Thomas Driver and Thomas William Tucker.

Some of the earlier pieces portray a Bermuda with hillsides devoid of much else except cedar and screw palm. More exotic items feature in the 1850s and by the 1870s Bermuda is positively blooming with more tropical plants such as the oleander, hibiscus, roses and morning glory.

“The emergence of impressionism and plein air painting made Bermuda the perfect venue for painters from both sides of the Atlantic,” said Ms Outerbridge. “The climate was agreeable for outdoor painting all the year round. From the turn of the century, artists flocked to Bermuda to interpret the landscape, including Winslow Homer in 1899 and 1901. The 21 watercolours he produced during these visits were hugely influential on many artists of the time who, as a result, chose Bermuda as a painting destination for years following.”

There are also contemporary artists in the show, such as Janet Fish, a well-known American artist born here.

Ms Outerbridge said one of her favourite artists in the show is E Ambrose Webster. His painting ‘Cactus' is on display. Unfortunately, the actual plant depicted is a century plant (also known as desert agave) which is not a cactus.

“The oils of E Ambrose Webster reflected the gaudy, glaring summer brightness, while others created a completely different effect, softer and more delicate,” she said. “By the 1890s Bermuda was truly an Island paradise. Popular advertising slogans for Bermuda including ‘From Showers to Flowers in 48 Hours' or ‘40 Hours from Frost to Flowers'.”

Ms Outerbridge said one of the ideas behind the exhibit is to show how Bermuda has been the perfect incubator for people to experiment with plants for agricultural or decorative reasons.

“We had all these people here from the British Empire whether it be governors' wives or whoever. In the beginning we had endemics, some ferns and cedars. Then over the years everyone kept on bringing in all sorts of plants and experimenting to see how they would grow in Bermuda. It is amazing how many of them really sprang up.

“The works in the show are all paintings from our collection. We are so pleased and lucky to have this home at the Botanical Gardens. We have all these paintings in storage in the basement and when we choose a theme we can look at our paintings, put together some history about the paintings and put them on show.”

She said that Bermudians were very frugal practical people and often had multiple uses for planting particular plants, flowers and crops.

“They used everything to the absolute maximum. They not only decorated with their plants, but they also used plants for medicine, building and food and whatever else.”

Bermudian visitors to the gallery often stood in front of different paintings for a long time, trying to figure out the location, or even the identities of the people in the picture, she added.

“In one work we have here, we think the location was Somerset,” said Ms Outerbridge. “We think that because of the architecture, which is interesting. At the time of the painting, people were building in Dockyard. They weren't building the Edwardian style of houses they were building in St. George, they were building more square, blocky houses.”

She said one painting that has the potential to annoy Bermudians is Ogden Pleissner's ‘The Mango Tree'.

“This is why the show is so much fun, because Bermudians really do interact with the paintings,” said Ms Outerbridge. “This painting is called ‘The Mango Tree' [and is] circa 1950, but it is clearly a paw paw tree. You can imagine what Bermudians say. We have put ‘sic' in the title so that people know that we at Masterworks do know the difference.”

The painting had another surprise for Masterworks besides the misnamed tree at the centre.

“We brought it in to be re-matted and discovered that there was much more of the artwork that no-one had seen before,” she said. “Pleissner was down here in the 1950s. He was an amazing watercolourist. He did a lot of work with Winslow Homer.”

Ms Outerbridge said that Floral Lane is worth seeing because it evokes another time and another era in Bermuda.

“When you look at the variety of plants Bermuda was able to grow it was quite extraordinary,” she said. “Everything from the decorative to the agricultural to the shrubbery that protects are housing is amazing.”

The show is dedicated to Mr Butterfield's mother, Deborah Butterfield.

“We just knew how much she loved gardening and plants,” said Ms Outerbridge. “She left a legacy to Masterworks, so we created this show in her honour.”

l For more information visit www.masterworksbermuda.com or telephone 236-2950.

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Published December 08, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 10, 2010 at 10:25 am)

Floral Lane is a trip down Island’s memory lane

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