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Final show for Butterfield as he ‘graduates’ from Masterworks

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Tom Butterfield’s photography goes on display today as part of his “graduation” from the role of director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. He is pictured with Carole Reed, who curated the exhibit
Tom Butterfield’s photography goes on display today as part of his “graduation” from the role of director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. He is pictured with Carole Reed, who curated the exhibit

Tom Butterfield put his photography aside to fulfil his vision of a purpose-built, world-class museum that celebrated Bermuda art.

Roughly two years ago he picked up his camera and began shooting again. Those images go on display today as part of his “graduation” from Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, the gallery he founded 39 years ago.

Risa Hunter is now at its helm; Mr Butterfield sits on the board of directors championing the way forward.

“I am so grateful for what has been done. I cannot tell you how grateful I am,” he said. “It’s been built by a team of people over time and Risa has shown such incredible confidence [since joining nine months ago] I do think it’s time to move on. It has been a wonderful, rewarding journey but it’s time for younger blood to do it.”

The opening receptions of Once Upon an Ocean and Bermuda In Another World: A Photographer’s View take place tonight under the patronage of Rena Lalgie, the governor.

It will be the first time in nearly four decades that Mr Butterfield has publicly shown his work.

As posted on Masterworks’ site: “I am grateful for the 39 years of absence to focus in on something far greater than I will ever achieve and that is the visual, artistic, aesthetic and historic legacy left by Masterworks. It has in fact helped me to see and fully understand the world around me that has been forgotten, neglected, destroyed or ignored. The work shown here is a very small sampling of the current body of imagery that I am working on. I hope it will give you pause and a sense to nurture our time while we are present.”

A “late bloomer” who was born into “a very competitive family”, Mr Butterfield struggled for quite some time to find his way.

“I was looking for something I could do that was about me. My older brother George was doing well – he started a business in Toronto, he was a Rhodes Scholar – my sister Debbie, who sadly died of pancreatic cancer some years ago, was the intellect of the family; my older sister Peggy was the jock. She was very athletic. And Jim, of course, was who he is, another athlete. I was less athletic.

“I went to Europe and took one of those little Instamatic cameras. Of course, I didn’t see any results until I got back. I looked at one of my first pictures, which was taken in Madrid. It was very early morning, full of atmosphere, light coming around this street: wow!

“So then I bought a Pentax for, I think it was $100 – a 35mm, everything was in black and white then. I started dabbling and then it was one step after another step after another step. And then it became very intense.”

He started business school and quickly realised it was not where he was meant to be. At Toronto’s Ryerson University his talent as a photographer was confirmed.

“Having been told that you’re not too smart, to have finished with the highest honours in photographic medium and media studies was, to me, sort of proof in the pudding that it really is in what you find.

“When you find your passion nothing really gets in your way. They just become obstacles that you have to go around.”

In the mid-1970s he received his Canadian citizenship; in 1977 he received a Canada Council for the Arts grant in photography.

Mr Butterfield followed the honour with “a lot of shows”, maybe “two or three exhibitions a month” between 1977 and 1980.

“That culminated with a touring show that the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia put on. They just took the body of work and said: ‘All right, you give us the work. We’re going to tour it through the Maritimes; that will be our responsibility.’ I thought, ‘This is great. I don’t have any work to do. They put it up, take it down, put it up, take it down. Great.’”

In 1980 he returned to Bermuda with a dream of “being a printmaker and an artist and a photographer and living off that”.

“I was thinking I could do what I had been doing in Toronto and I got that seriously, seriously wrong. I realised that my electricity bill here in Bermuda was greater than my mortgage, hydro and food bill in Toronto. That’s how expensive Bermuda was then and it still is like that today.”

Mr Butterfield switched to “the wine business” but was “delighted” when Ann Francis, who was then with the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, called asking for help with Heritage Month preparations.

“The following year I was able to borrow a Wyeth work and so my personal journey of photography was way off down the back.”

With Masterworks well established in the old arrowroot factory at the Botanical Gardens, he began photographing bits of Bermuda that were “forgotten, neglected, destroyed, or ignored”.

Carole Reed, an art consultant in New York City now living here as a digital nomad, encouraged him to do a show and “think large”. Among the 20 images taken by Mr Butterfield and printed by Loris Toppan of Colourlab Bermuda, are some measuring 3ft by 4ft.

Said Ms Reed, who served as curator for the exhibit: “There's something sad about abandoned places. Even when they're empty, you almost feel like you're trespassing no matter how long it's been since they left. These are places people once cared about. People lived here. Or worked here. They swept the floors. They shared their meals together here, and slept here. Maybe babies were born here. Maybe someone died here. People probably prayed here, and made love here, and had arguments here. Now it's empty, dilapidated, dishonoured, vandalised, collapsing … But these are still places of beauty.”

Mr Butterfield said he wished more could be done to preserve buildings that would otherwise waste away.

“Isn’t it sad that these beautiful Bermuda homes that are very labour-intensive to make …. to see so many of them falling apart for one reason or another. Some of it is probably economic; some of it is probably family who have offspring, four or five children, and they can’t decide who’s going to get it so it just sits there idly and it’s just tragic – in my mind – to see this happening. I would love to think we could rectify that somehow.”

As for the immediate future, his plan is to have “a great big long sleep”.

“As I get closer to the reality of stepping away the fatigue is really starting to settle in of just how much talking one has done, how much cajoling, how much humour you’ve had to use to get somebody to [donate],” Mr Butterfield said.

“Risa has got a wonderful team around her. We were lucky to find her [and so the transition] will be smooth. I say that on the surface but underneath I struggle like hell. I have good days, I have bad days. And the bad days are feeling really sad about having to step away because I have enjoyed the journey, I’ve enjoyed the challenges and I love the research and I love the hunter-gatherer in me. If something comes up – I’ve got to get it, try to gather in the money to make it happen.

“I doubt that I will get on the floor and play Tiddlywinks. [But] I haven’t sorted it out. I have been consumed by it and it has in turn been consumed by me. I know it’s going to hit me hard. I’m kidding myself [when I say] I wake up one day and I’m out [that day] and Risa’s in the next. I’m kidding myself.”

Bermuda In Another World: A Photographer’s View opens to the public tomorrow in the Rick Faries Gallery and runs until March 2. Once Upon an Ocean also opens tomorrow and will remain on exhibit until September. Covid-19 regulations will be in place at an opening reception tonight

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Published February 05, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 05, 2021 at 1:31 pm)

Final show for Butterfield as he ‘graduates’ from Masterworks

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