Christine Watlington (1952-2022): Her love of Bermuda’s small wildernesses was ‘total’
An artist and nature lover who captured Bermuda’s landscape and flora in a landmark book will be remembered with a special exhibition of her work today.
Christine Watlington, a painter and botanical illustrator, poured years of research into her 1996 classic Bermuda's Botanical Wonderland: A Field Guide.
Ms Watlington, whose love of nature sprang from her childhood in Devon, England, said she “compiled it to fill a void in literature” so that anyone could quickly look up a plant in Bermuda’s landscape.
Her daughter, Victoria, said her mother also left behind “collections of art all over the world”.
Paintings, folders of pictures and an uncompleted guide to medicinal and edible plants show Ms Watlington’s drive to tell the stories of plants and flowers into her final days.
But her daughter said her “modest” mother seldom spoke of the awards she won as a schoolgirl, preferring to focus on the work.
“I think she was quite self-taught, and it began with spending every single weekend out in the country with her father, having picnics and exploring.”
Her first husband, Barry Phillips, said she began painting for England’s legendary Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the early 1970s.
Both of them trained there and Ms Watlington worked on botanical illustrations.
The couple moved to Bermuda in 1977, with both involved in botanical work on the island.
A keen gardener and landscape designer, Ms Watlington also painted watercolours and worked on posters and educational art.
She quickly became involved in local conservation projects, working closely alongside then government conservation officer David Wingate and joining groups such as the Bermuda Botanical Society.
Mr Wingate said her interest in Bermuda’s botany was “extraordinary”.
She also threw her energy into volunteering for restoration projects on Nonsuch Island and Paget Marsh.
“She was highly industrious in putting together the material to make a wonderful book,” Mr Wingate said.
“It’s a masterpiece in terms of her impressionistic painting. I wrote a forward to her book and it was a great honour to be asked.”
The book’s paintings and drawings were backed by meticulous research.
In it, Ms Watlington wrote: “The love I have for the small areas of wilderness still surviving is so total that the images of Bermuda’s beauty will stay with me for ever.”
The environmentalist, who delivered lectures on Bermuda’s ecology, told The Royal Gazette in 1997: “I believe that all of us have to understand the preservation of Bermuda's unique beauty is vital to the economic future of the Island.
“It seems ironic that as we are systematically destroying so much of what made people want to come here in the first place, other countries who are our tourist competitors are pushing cultural and eco-tourism for all they're worth.”
Ms Watlington was married a second time in Bermuda to Tom Watlington.
Her daughter called her “magical, mysterious and marvellous”.
Her family described her as “a gentle soul, loved and adored by all who knew her”.
A show of her work opens today at the Masterworks Museum of Art in Paget, and will run until June 14.
Mr Wingate said there could be “no better way to honour her memory than to exhibit all of her art”.
· Christine Maple Watlington, a conservationist and professional botanical illustrator, was born on December 19, 1952. She died in May 2022, aged 69.