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Exhibition celebrates a life in art

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Al Seymour sketching at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Al Seymour has always been a compulsive sketcher.

As a child, he’d draw on anything within reach; the white pine coffins at Cecil W. Frith Funeral Home proved “irresistible”.

He said: “I started helping out there when I was very little. The workmen there would often have the coffins bottom up while they worked on them.”

Eventually, he got caught. A mourner spotted his cartoon and complained to the funeral director.

Ever mischievous, he began drawing on the inside of coffins instead.

He recalled the story with relish as he celebrated his 85th birthday with an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art on Friday.

Reflections of Life’s Journey includes 30 paintings by the art teacher and journalist.

“My daughter, Lisa, arranged it,” he said. “I didn’t know she was doing that until she told me she had done it, back in October.”

He had to put his job as a community education art teacher on hold for a semester, while he prepared.

“I’ve been teaching for the last 20 years, but I felt I needed some time to work on pieces for the show,” he said.

The show includes some of his older works and also several ink wash paintings illustrating his early life.

They tell of a bygone era in Bermuda: buzzing cicadas; the train; of leaping in puddles at the dump on the way to school.

Several pictures recall beloved teachers at Central School (now Victor Scott Primary) in Pembroke; grammar teacher Edith Crawford was a real disciplinarian.

“She taught me not to take short cuts and jive my way through life,” he said. “We were brought up to behave, but I still got caned.

“I remember once I knew I hadn’t done my homework so I scribbled up something so I could hand my book in. She saw that I didn’t put any thought into it.

“She said, ‘Do you expect for me to accept this rubbish you brought in here?’ I just held my hand out and took what I deserved. Usually, the punishment was three whacks. When you went back to your seat, you knew you’d been dealt with.”

Doris Corbin, who died in 2015 at 103, was a surrogate parent.

“These were the war years and, for whatever reason, sometimes I did not have lunch,” he said.

“Somehow she’d know. At the end of class she’d firmly ask me to stay behind. Then she’d pull out her lunch and share it with me.”

He grew up on Ewing Street, one of four children born to Emma and Stanley Seymour.

The couple were separated. His mother worked as a maid for the Trimingham family.

“It was my mother, mainly, at home,” he said. “She was a quiet, guiding light. Times were very humble, but she always found ways to bring good books into the house.”

Mr Seymour left Howard Academy and became an art teacher, first at Robert Crawford School and then at Sandys Secondary School.

“I’m almost entirely self-taught, although I was able to take a course with the Washington School of Art,” he said.

He enjoys art in all its forms. He and his siblings loved making films back in the 1950s.

“I remember one film called Manhunt,” he said. “We filmed it in the jungle next to Bernard Park.

“I also filmed the beginning of the 1965 riots. I still have one of my old movie cameras. It worked by winding and it still works.”

After teaching for two years, he joined ZFB when the company formed in 1965.

“First, I did broadcasting and then I started doing news,” he said. “I wanted to learn about writing, I just loved it.”

He joined The Royal Gazette in the early 1970s.

“The Editor, Edward Thomas Sayer, saw promise in me,” Mr Seymour said. “He sent me to England for training. He was really terrific.”

One of his most memorable assignments was when the QE2 broke down off Bermuda on April 5, 1974.

The passengers had to be rescued by another cruise ship, Sea Venture, which was docked in Hamilton at the time.

“I’d just got into the office when The New York Times called the duty editor, Gordon Robinson,” Mr Seymour said. “The Editor said the paper already had someone out there but they insisted they wanted their own person. So, he turned to me and said, ‘Well then, I guess that’s you, Al’. I didn’t have a chance to comb my hair or anything. I just picked up my notepad and went.”

He spent about 19 years as a journalist, bouncing between The Royal Gazette and other media.

His comic strip, Codfish and Potatoes, is a regular in The Bermudian magazine. He draws, sketches and paints when he’s in the mood.

Mr Seymour has had three solo art shows, his last was at Masterworks in 2006. He dedicated Reflections of Life’s Journey to his niece, Gina Augustus, who died last week after an illness.

“She was in the hospital and she kept saying she wanted to go to the show even if they had to take her in a wheelchair,” he said.

“She didn’t make it, but I know she was there in spirit.”

Reflections of Life’s Journey will be on exhibit until March 7.

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

Heydon Chapel by Al Seymour (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
A tugboat by Al Seymour (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Al Seymour sketching at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
A sketch Al Seymour did of his old Central School principal Victor Scott (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Al Seymour in front of his painting Spirit of Spittal Pond (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)