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An artful education

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Bermuda College lecturer Edwin ME Smith was growing increasingly concerned.

Fewer and fewer residents seemed able to identify Bermuda’s artists and their work. Whenever he asked the question — of friends, of his students — he got a handful of names in reply: Sharon Wilson, Desmond Fountain and Graham Foster.

He decided to do something about it.

His book, Imagemaking and the Bermudian Artist, features 21 compositions in charcoal and black and white acrylic. Each image was created combining the work of several artists. Pieces by Charles Lloyd Tucker, Ami Zanders and Manuel Palacio mix in Teacups and Tea Cozies; Hereward Watlington, Antoine Hunt and Frank Chiappa in Guardians. Roughly 60 sources were drawn on to complete the work, which is now on display in the Edinburgh Gallery at Bermuda Society of Arts.

“My emphasis is on the fact that art is made everywhere, but what are local artists focusing on? What are their interests?” said Dr Smith.

“I’ve taken art from approximately 60 local sources. I had a teacher who did a similar project back in the 80s, Greg Constantine at Andrews University in Michigan. His book, Vincent Van Gogh visits New York, and artwork featured modern and Renaissance art and modern drawings and I loved it. It helped me remember a number of artists and I wanted to do something similar for my students who, increasingly, don’t know who Bermudian artists are.

“You need a variety of methodology to communicate as an educator and I thought this was one way that I could reach students. Of course, it went beyond that. I thought, why not the rest of Bermuda, even visitors?”

The book followed on his work as a PhD candidate at Texas Tech University. His 2012 dissertation looked at visual art and social critique in Bermuda, specifically between 1959 and 2009.

“What was interesting for me was in 1959 we had the Theatre Boycott,” Dr Smith said.

“Two artists chose to respond to that through their artwork — Robert Barritt and Charles Lloyd Tucker. They didn’t have to, but they chose to. I loved that they saw their work as a voice and it was interesting, particularly, because they — one being black and the other white — represented the two Bermudas during segregation; they paired themselves. In this project I did the pairing, bringing together the work and issues addressed by different artists. This book contributes to that [earlier] discussion.”

He drew on his extensive knowledge of Bermuda art for the compositions, and gleaned information from The Royal Gazette and the catalogues of Bermuda National Gallery’s Biennial and the Charman Prize.

The artists “overwhelmingly gave their consent” to be included; families spoke for those who had died. He partnered them where he felt they were aesthetically suited or seemed to come together naturally. In other cases shared themes suggested a good fit.

“I enjoyed the whole process,” the 55-year-old said. “I am very happy with what I’ve done. As I stood in the gallery with the work surrounding me. I felt detached, removed. I felt a part of something much bigger than myself. The style is undeniably mine, the choice of media, the way it was done is mine, maybe it was because elements of it came from others.”

Dr Smith decided he wanted to be an artist and a teacher while still in primary school.

“I was inspired by my teacher at Ord Road School, Olga Simons,” he said. “Maybe it was a crush, but that was my favourite class.”

There wasn’t an art teacher on staff during his years at Bermuda Institute. Dr Smith made it his goal to be the first. He didn’t succeed in that respect, but the school did give him the necessary push to forward his education.

“I went to college because my friends did,” he said.

“I went because I was a student at BI and then, and largely to this day, students were expected to go on to university. The school has always had a high percentage of students who immediately continued their education.”

He got his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from West Indies College, now called Northern Caribbean University. He then earned a master’s degree in teaching from Andrews University in Michigan and a masters in fine art from Savannah College of Art and Design in 1991.

“I came home and worked in the private sector for a number of years, all the while teaching art at the Warwick Community School in the evenings. Despite being a graphic designer at Bank of Butterfield and at Island Press, I kept teaching on the side.”

His break came when the Bermuda College posted an ad for a graphic designer and art teacher. He was both, and filled the slots on a part-time basis.

Eventually the opportunity came for him to take up a teaching position full-time. Dr Smith “loved it from the beginning”.

He surprised himself in 2008 when he made the decision to enrol at Texas Tech.

“The PhD wasn’t necessary for my employment but I think professional development is also personal development,” he said. “Interestingly, if you had asked me four years before [if I was considering a PhD], I would have said ‘no way’ but I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend the College Art Association conference yearly and it was at one of these conferences someone told me about a PhD programme in fine arts.

“My response was, ‘Isn’t a master of fine arts terminal? But if you’re considering a job in the US — teaching on the university level — having a PhD gives greater trans-discipline acceptance. Eventually I decided to apply, and was accepted.”

It’s a path anyone here can follow, he said.

“I see Bermuda as no different to any other community,” he said.

“There are individuals with wide-ranging interests. You have to make your interest work for you even if it means you have to relocate. I have former students who have revealed interest in further education in the arts — it worked for me, it can work for anybody. Some door will open for you. Graduates of our art programme at Bermuda College have returned and are working as interior designers, graphic designers, art educators, etc”

•Imagemaking and the Bermudian Artist is available for $35 at Brown & Co, Bermuda Bookstore, DNA Creative Shoppe, BSoA, Bermuda Arts Centre at Dockyard and the Bermuda College. The BSoA exhibit runs until May 3

Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Edwin Smith. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)