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New book explores beauty of mural at Commissioner's House

If you've ever admired Graham Foster's amazing 1,000 sq ft mural about Bermuda's history at The Commissioner's House in Dockyard, you can now take it home in the form of a newly released coffee table book.

The mural includes Bermuda's flora and fauna, historic and contemporary personalities, milestone events from Bermuda's past, plus nostalgic flashbacks and folklore.

With the help of local publishing company Brimstone Media, Mr Foster has published 'Hall of History: Bermuda's Story In Art', a large format book that depicts every inch of the giant mural in Pillard Hall at the National Museum of Bermuda.

Production of the book was supported by a gift from the Truland Foundation.

Making the book was no small project for Brimstone Media.

“Photographer Antoine Hunt made scores of high-resolution images of the mural, a small portion at a time, using a Mamiya camera with a phase one P25 digital back,” said Rosemary Jones of Brimstone Media, who wrote the text for the book.

“Mr Hunt had to mount lights and shoot from an hydraulic lift to reach the upper heights and awkward crannies of the mural.

“Pre-press specialist Loris Toppan of ColourLab spent hundreds of hours digitally stitching and correcting Mr Hunt's photo files to recreate five giant images mirroring each of the mural's five panels.

“The resulting files were passed to Brimstone Media creative director, Paul Shapiro, to deconstruct the mural into book form and extract minute details to blow up in spreads and features throughout the chapters.”

The mural was painted on 38 panels, each eight ft by four ft. Mr Foster spent many hours, weeks and months working on them many after they were mounted on the walls at Commissioner's House.

The artwork, funded by Richard and Helen Fraser, was officially unveiled by the Queen during her visit to commemorate Bermuda's 400th anniversary in 2009.

Part of the book describes the artist's creative process to produce the mural. It took Mr Foster three-and-a-half years to complete the mural.

He said he now has a much greater appreciation of what the artist Michelangelo must have gone through when painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

“I think if I hadn't done the mural work for the last three years I probably would have done commissioned work that would have disappeared into people's houses,” said Mr Foster. “This has really helped to get my name out there.

“I always said it would be my first and last mural, but now that I have had a chance to stand back, I am hooked on Bermuda history. I would definitely do another one if another chance came up.”

He often found it a bit of a challenge working on the mural and balancing his family life.

“At the beginning of the mural, it was crazy because we had a little one and we had another baby on the way,” said Mr Foster. “My sons saw every stage of the mural being made.

“Leo's name appears in the mural, carved on a tree, and after Luke was born, I made the signal flags that are painted outside Commissioner's House in the mural say 'Luke has arrived'.

“In the last year I mainly did it directly on the walls because we were in a hurry to finish. I had to put about 50 hours into four days at the end. It got pretty crazy.”

The mural goes right the way through Bermuda's history, from the early days of settlement until modern times, cataloguing many of the issues that we have dealt with from slavery, to civil rights, to environmental issues and the onslaught of progress.

While most of the people who appear in the mural are fictional there are some real people shown, including executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda Dr Edward Harris, slave Sally Bassett, who was burned at the stake as a witch, former Premier Jennifer Smith and 'Wardrobe Tucker' and 'Weatherbird', colourful characters who once wandered the streets of Bermuda.

Often there are touches of rude humour in the mural, such as a dog using the bathroom on Front Street while a solemn parade marches by.

In another panel, motorbikes and cycles from various decades whizz by. One of the riders has a tiny bottle of whisky in his pocket.

Mr Foster said he tried hard to be inclusive.

He felt that in the past similar projects had been overwhelmed by Anglo-Saxon history and had left out black Bermudians and Portuguese-Bermudians, and their role in Bermuda.

“I wanted something that would appeal to the entire Bermudian community,” he said.

Mr Foster said he was thrilled with the quality of the new book, and the way it displays his mural in a totally different way.

It allows the viewer to closely examine parts of the mural that are difficult to see, such as details painted high up on the panels.

“I knew it was going to be a quality production because I had seen other books that Rose and Paul worked on, but I still wasn't expecting something like this,” he said. “This is one of the nicest coffee table books I have seen.”

Ms Jones said that no matter what your background or interest, there is something in the book to enthral.

“I love the part of the mural that has buildings in Hamilton popping out like they are three-dimensional,” she said. “There are things we are all familiar with and images from the distant past. He has beautiful images of cedars throughout and later on a poinciana tree is in bloom, and there are lily fields. It is our natural heritage and our human heritage.

“The mural for Bermudians is a mirror. When we look into it we see reflected images of ourselves, our fellow citizens, and everything we might cherish or deplore about the heavenly, but imperfect little island we call home.

“It is designed to reinforce who we are as Bermudians, together with the myriad journeys that led us here.”

The Foster Mural at the National Museum of Bermuda is rapidly becoming an attraction that draws visitors and locals to Dockyard. Dr Harris said he was pleased with the production of the book.

“The Foster Mural will add much to an abiding sense of place, national identity and a unique culture for generations to come, and we hope this book achieves the same,” he said. “We are very proud this book will carry Graham Foster's artistic ingenuity beyond the museum, and even Bermuda.”

'Hall of History' costs $65 and is available at the National Museum of Bermuda ticket office, by e-mail, director[AT]bmm.bm, and at stores islandwide.

Book-signing events will be held in December at a number of venues.

The cover of a new book about Graham Foster's mural at the Commissioner's House in Dockyard. The text is written by Rosemary Jones and put together by Brimstone Media.

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Published November 16, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 16, 2011 at 7:56 am)

New book explores beauty of mural at Commissioner's House

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