‘Testing Boundaries’, a family display at BNG
As a young child Christina Hutchings remembers her mother welcoming her into her studio for art lessons.
Nancy Valentine’s work was renowned, highlighted by a 1958 article in National Geographic and featured in House Beautiful. In 1960 the Bermuda Government commissioned her to make a pair of her large decorative screens for Princess Margaret as a wedding gift.
“I was too young to understand and appreciate my mother was so innovative, creative and accomplished. But, I knew I loved looking at her screens and paintings, which were around the house. I definitely had favourites,” said Ms Hutchings of her mother, who died in 2019.
“The process of gathering biographical information about my mother for the show has been a wonderful learning experience for me. It gave me an opportunity and broader perspective to appreciate her work, creativity and accomplishments that I was too young to see in the 1950s.”
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings is now on exhibit at the Bermuda National Gallery.
Both are former Bermuda Biennial artists; the gallery describes each as “a pioneering creative in her own right”.
The joint show came about after their work in Illusion and Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape received notice. Ms Valentine’s Quarry in Warwick and her daughter’s ModernHouse on North Shore were placed side by side in the 2021 BNG exhibit. As described by the gallery the pieces were “united in their distillation of the Bermuda landscape into a study of shape, colour and form”.
“Despite being created over 60 years apart and in very different mediums – the first in oils in 1950 and the latter a mixed media collage created in 2014 – the synergy between the two was evident,” the programme brochure reads.
It led to a request from Eve Godet, BNG’s director of programming and engagement.
“Eve asked me for more information about my mother. I sent Eve a condensed biography highlighting my mother’s early achievements and work with the new material of fibreglass and resin in the mid-1950s, and her long career as an artist, a founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in DC, and a collector of Women Silversmiths,” Ms Hutchings said.
Testing Boundaries has 21 pieces: paintings, a chair, a screen and an installation are divided between the upper mezzanine galleries at the BNG.
“One gallery is designated to my mother’s work and the other gallery has my work in it. In each gallery space, there is one large piece. In the gallery space my mother’s work is in, one of her large fibreglass screens anchors the space. In the gallery space where my work is located, there is a large painting. The connecting balcony has two pieces, a fibreglass chair my mother designed and manufactured in the 1960s, and a version of one of my Biennial installations called Double Take.
"It was something very unexpected, that the National Gallery saw those connections between us. And it was a learning experience for me to research all my mom's history and biography and scrapbooks. It's been a really interesting experience for me and I think she probably would enjoy the show."
Ms Hutchings’s early introduction to art made it difficult to say goodbye when it came time to choose a career. At university she studied fine art and architecture, eventually pursuing both in New York.
“It was important to me to dedicate myself to both architecture and art because of my interest in the ways these two creative disciplines influence each other,” she said. “When I was younger and making career choices, I was not confident that my artwork would provide a way to support myself. As a practical person with the goal of supporting myself, and because I had a natural interest in architecture due to having a relative in the field, I chose to study architecture at graduate school.”
It helped that the two disciplines played off each other.
“It was the artistic side of myself that I brought to the projects I worked on, and which allowed me to expand my skills and understanding while gaining the discipline that informs my work habits to this day,” said Ms Hutchings who, in 2008, returned to Bermuda to focus on her art.
She describes her work as “a synthesis of architecture and painting [which] takes the form of objects, collages, paintings, constructions and installations”.
The pieces in Testing Boundaries were created between 1977 and 2016. Her use of colour and form has often been likened to her mother’s.
“My mother had a major influence on me as an artist. When I was very young and when she was in her studio working she would always welcome me in and teach me how to paint, how to work with resin and fibreglass, plaster, or any medium she was experimenting with,” Ms Hutchings said.
"She is more representational in her work. My work tends towards abstraction, geometry, probably because I was taught that way but that's probably also the architectural education."
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings is on display in the Upper Mezzanine Gallery of the Bermuda National Gallery until June