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The art of giving

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Shirley Pearman used to get a lot of parking tickets.

The 77-year-old often lingered too long volunteering at the Bermuda National Gallery.

She's a person who likes to get things done, no matter how long it takes.

Eventually she started taking the bus to avoid the traffic warden.

“I have a little red hen mentality,” she said. “I'm a perfectionist.”

Hers was a busy life after she retired from teaching art at Warwick Secondary School in 1997. The time freed her up to volunteer with organisations she had a passion for: the Bermuda Arts Council, the Bermuda National Gallery, the Emancipation Committee and the Historical Society. Eventually, Mrs Pearman had to “retire from her retirement”.

More recently, she has been writing a book: Hands On! The Art of Traditional Craft and Play in Bermuda.

She grew up in Spanish Point, the daughter of school principal Rosalind Robinson, and Chief Education Officer Kenneth E. Robinson.

“I was a quiet child who loved to draw and write pen pal letters,” she said. “Fortunately my parents accommodated me. They appreciated the arts and knew the value.”

She started art lessons at the age of nine.

“When Byllee Lang opened her studio there were four of us girls,” said Mrs Pearman. “I came along in segregated Bermuda, and Byllee's school was open to children who liked to draw and liked art. She did not see colour. She was a strong woman.”

Her parents were friends with many of the island's movers and shakers: actor Earl Cameron, organist Anthony Ferraz and pianist Maude Bascome Cummings Taylor were regulars in the Robinson house.

“Maude went to Julliard in the 1930s,” said Mrs Pearman. “Mr Ferraz was an exceptional organist and taught people. I felt like I had a duty to remember them and give them recognition.”

Her students often didn't have a clue about Bermudians who had made significant contributions.

“The academic curriculum required students to write about Bermudian heroes,” she said. “The students didn't seem to know of anyone else except Dr E.F. Gordon.”

She vowed to try and change that. Once she retired she joined the Bermuda Arts Council and spent the next ten years developing the Founder Award, which recognises pioneers in art.

“You never knew how people were going to react to winning an award,” said Mrs Pearman.

“One year the Bermuda Arts Council honoured Crowther Henry Wilson with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the Gombeys. The day after the ceremony I saw him in his grey suit, sitting on Cedar Avenue with his award. I think it was a case of, that was a public highway. Folks were walking back and forth and he was there and available if anyone wanted to congratulate him.”

She left the Bermuda Arts Council in 2008.

In October, she was surprised when she herself was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I felt humbled and gratified,” she said. “It was nice to be recognised considering I'd done so much with them.”

She started teaching in 1962 at the Prospect Secondary School for Girls. She'd just graduated from Mount Allison University in Canada and wasn't much older than some of her students.

“Just the semester before, while in university, I'd been twisting and dancing,” she said. “Suddenly, I had to sit on a stage as a teacher, prim and proper.”

In 1964 she married Roderic Pearman, an old classmate from her days at the Berkeley Institute.

“At Berkeley I wasn't all that into boys and that sort of stuff,” she said.

“My girlfriends were. I was into my art. I didn't know what I was going to be, but I knew I was going to go further than Bermuda. I knew my folks would facilitate it. Somehow I knew I was going to get out of here.”

She finished high school at Alma College in Canada, and didn't link up with Mr Pearman until after university.

He was deputy principal at Warwick Secondary School and St George's Secondary School before going into insurance.

“After I started teaching my father insisted on me getting my teacher-training qualifications,” she said.

She and her husband moved to New York City where she got her master's degree from New York University.

“I think I was the first Bermudian to get a master's in art education,” she said. “NYU opened my eyes to what an education in and through the arts meant to a child.”

After teaching for a few years in the United States, the Pearmans returned to Bermuda. She taught at Sandys Secondary School and West End Primary, taking some time out to have sons Scott and Michael.

She then taught art at Warwick Secondary from 1974 until retirement.

“My classroom was always a sanctuary for the students,” she said.

“I hardly ever got a lunch hour, because there were always students in the class making art during breaks.”

In her spare time she enjoys stitchery, knitting, yoga and spending time with her granddaughters Robin-Valana, 9, and Anya-Aeleishe, 4. Mrs Pearman will sign copies of her book on Sunday at Somersfield Academy, from 2.30pm until 4.30pm.

•Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior's full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.

A life of service: retired teacher Shirley Pearman with the Lifetime Achievement Award she received from the Bermuda Arts Council (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Efforts rewarded: retired teacher Shirley Pearman with the Lifetime Achievement Award she received from the Bermuda Arts Council. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Well travelled: Shirley and Roderic Pearman visiting China (Photograph supplied)
Passing it on: Shirley Pearman with students at Warwick Secondary (Photograph supplied)

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Published November 22, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated November 22, 2016 at 7:33 am)

The art of giving

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