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Making our homesteads part of our history

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A member of the Rogers family with the family photograph at the National Museum of Bermuda (Photograph by Dion Easton Jr)

There is an exhibit at the National Museum that tells the stories of families and what it means to belong to one in Bermuda.

At its heart is Meredith Andrews’ portraits of ten multigenerational families and their homes. Dion Easton’s recorded reflections from some of the family members on “what home means to them and their favourite memory of the homestead” help bring it to life.

The exhibit opened to praise in November and has attracted interest since. The Smith, Franks, Jones, Kempe, Woolridge, Hayward, Rogers, Swainson, Lightbourne and Madeiros families are all featured.

The idea came from the Bermuda Family Scrapbook, an ongoing project that the National Museum of Bermuda started to get “people to share their stories and add to [its] knowledge”.

“There's history through those kinds of personal connections,” said Deborah Atwood, the museum curator.

“Creating this connection between our community through these family photos and these unheard family stories – or at least unheard of outside the family – offered a great opportunity for us to look at Bermuda history from a very different perspective.

“History has always been taught through the lens of individuals or through wider historical events. And adding those personal stories in our approach to looking at history makes it more relevant to more people and you can really see the daily-lived experiences of these massive historical events.”

The hope was to create connections from within and outside Bermuda. According to Dr Atwood, there has been “a great response” from residents and people who no longer live here.

“A lot of the stories that have been submitted so far are immigration stories of how people got to Bermuda – how people travelled from Caribbean islands, stories about how people moved away from Bermuda to England and then came back. So it really shows, I think, not just connections between our communities but the wider connections between Bermuda and the wider Atlantic world.

Guests admire the Smith family photograph at the National Museum of Bermuda (Photograph by Dion Easton Jr)

“We’ve had quite a few people submit and there is a lot of interest in continuing the submissions, which is why we've kept it open. People can continue to submit throughout this year and possibly into next year as well.”

The project sprang from Tracing Our Roots, a 2021 initiative that included a series of online workshops for people interested in researching their family.

Then came the thought of how sharing similar information could benefit Bermuda. An “artistic” portrayal of Gherdai Hassell’s family history went on display in July.

The museum then reached out to Ms Andrews to see if she was interested “in responding in her own way to the similar concept of family history and what family means”.

The award-winning portrait photographer was “excited and honoured” by the request.

On top of that, she considered it interesting because it was in keeping with the theme of Who Is Anna Andersson?, a book she had written nearly a decade before, about naming conventions in Sweden.

“As primarily a portrait photographer who's interested in identity and heritage and culture, the fact that they asked me to do something under the remit of the scrapbook was quite exciting.

“I'm always looking for different parameters in which to create collections of portraits … In Bermuda we have a really special situation where we have multigenerational families living in a home or there is a home that is the family's heart, the family’s homestead. So this idea of intrinsically linking these people to the place and then the place back to the people was our blast-off point.”

Owen Darrell, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, with Meredith Andrews, photographer, Rena Lalgie, Governor of Bermuda and Elena Strong, executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda (Photograph by Dion Easton Jr)

Most interesting to her was that the story focused on connecting people rather than “constructed divisions that we create between each other”.

Her goal was that it “should be representative of the island but I also wanted it to be representative of the different types of homes that people live in”.

Ms Andrews felt that equal attention had to be given to the nine parishes and that St David’s was also deserving; diversity in people and house colour was also important.

“I didn't want to have ten pink houses or ten white houses,” she laughed. “I just basically called out to people I knew who had either interesting homesteads or interesting families.”

From each person came the same response: “I’m on board with this.”

“The only one that was a little bit challenging was in St David’s, the Smith family. When you look at that picture, you'll see that there's about 45 people in it and actually, only one person lives in the house.

“But it was wonderful how many people showed up and they just kept coming.”

The kindness shown to her at each photoshoot was incredible, Ms Andrews said.

The opening of the show was also “pretty special” because of the effort put in by the family members to attend.

Members of the Madeiros family with their photograph at the National Museum of Bermuda (Photograph by Dion Easton Jr)

“We discovered these connections between the different families. I think the Smiths from St David’s and the Franks from Devonshire – they have mutual cousins. And the Rogers, there was another cousin and the Swainsons. So there were these relationships between [them].

“And then the Kempe family knew the Franks family because their late grandfather worked with the late grandfather of the Kempe family for like 50 years. And also, some of them knew each other's houses – that was pretty great.”

Shooting the portraits was “magical” as it allowed her “into people's spaces and to see the dynamics between all these families”.

“It was really cool.”

Throughout it all, Ms Andrews said, was the awareness that there was “a responsibility” attached to her photos.

“Just by the fact that it is in the National Museum of Bermuda and it's giving it this pride of place and it’s there in memoriam …. I think everyone understood that.”

She was thrilled to hear the pleasure one of the older family members took in seeing their picture “on the wall” on their first ever visit to the museum.

“I got chills because it's wonderful to get people interacting with the museum and their history and their heritage but for him to feel like ‘I'm important enough to be up on the wall’ – which he is – was pretty great.

“A lot of my work involves making this, almost heroic view of everyday people. Whether it be security guards or single mothers, I do have this kind of red thread in my work that I like to take people that aren't normally celebrated and really try and celebrate them just for who they are. And in this case, it was because of these wonderful families.”

Anyone who is living in or has lived in Bermuda is invited to submit family photographs and stories to the National Museum of Bermuda’s Family Scrapbook project. To learn more, visit nmb.bm/bermuda-family-scrapbook.

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Published February 06, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated February 07, 2023 at 8:04 am)

Making our homesteads part of our history

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