Painting leads Canadian on family journey
hen a family painting landed in her hands, Canadian Patti Enright began a journey that would eventually bring her to Bermuda to discover more about her past.
The beach scene by Bermudian artists Kate and Ethel Tucker was clearly a sentimental piece; it had travelled around Nova Scotia and even escaped the auction block.
It will soon have a new home at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.
“I don't think I had ever noticed the painting wherever it had been in my grandparents' house when I was a child,” Mrs Enright said. “It appeared to me after we sold my parents' home. It was in a box of my grandparents' belongings and landed at my home as the self-appointed family historian.”
Some years passed while Mrs Enright, a business analyst for the Canadian Government, worked on other family history projects.
“The painting was a curiosity because it looked very old, on a yellowed, watermarked mat with a thin shim of wood for the backing of the frame,” she said. “The painting was signed clearly, so I found information on the Tucker sisters thanks to the internet. There was also a Tucker print labelled John Smith's Bay in with the papers I had.”
Mrs Enright's grandfather, the Rev John Marshall Sproule, served three churches in Bermuda between 1935 and 1938 — Wesleyan Centenary, Marsden Memorial and Central Methodist in Shelly Bay.
He and his wife, Erica, and their three sons lived in Flatts Village while they were here. They had two more children before their return to Nova Scotia.
The Tucker painting showed the entrance to their favourite beach, John Smith's Bay. Her grandparents also had a photograph taken of them there in 1972.
It is not known if her grandparents ever met the Tucker sisters, who were well known for their painted postcards of Bermuda, but Mrs Enright imagines they may have attended one of her grandfather's churches.
“My grandfather graduated from Pine Hill Divinity Hall in Nova Scotia and was ordained alone one night in order to sail on the Lady Nelson that was heading to Bermuda around that time,” Mrs Enright said. “He served three churches in Bermuda and felt fortunate for the opportunity because at the time he graduated there was a surplus of ministers.
“My father wrote a few pages about his life [in Bermuda], with lots of beach days, a cistern, no cars, Easter kites, the train, the zoo and the rats who were no match for a paw paw tree and my grandmother's throwing arm.”
The Sproules lived frugally in retirement in Canada but would often winter in the Caribbean or Bermuda, depending on the best deal they could get.
“Their early days in Bermuda were cherished memories that brought them back as often as they could,” Mrs Enright said. “I did know that my grandparents moved every few years to serve small town churches. They lived the longest in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, but there came a time when they had to downsize from there.”
Although two truckloads of belongings went to auction, the painting travelled with the Sproules to a smaller home, in Amherst, Nova Scotia.
In 2000, after their death, it made its way to Mrs Enright's father.
“So the painting revealed itself as a personal souvenir of their beloved Bermuda that stayed with them for their entire lives,” said Mrs Enright. “My grandfather referred to [Bermuda] as a motorless Eden when he lived there and a motorised Eden upon his return visits.”
She contacted Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, eager to let them know about her find. The painting is now being restored and will be on display at the Paget museum once the work is finished.
“I was amazed that the painting had moved 15 times, avoided being auctioned off and, 79 years after my grandparents left Bermuda, was still around,” she said. “I contacted Masterworks and offered to donate it, ensuring a safe place to retire after all of its travels.”
She and her husband visited the island for the first time last month. They delivered the painting to Masterworks and also visited The Methodist Parsonage, where her grandparents and father once lived. “Our visit has helped me understand the connection my grandparents had with Bermuda and imagine their happy days from 1935 to 1938,” she said.
“We should all be so fortunate to experience a taste of my grandfather's Eden.”