Four weeks of practice, a lifetime of community spirit

A couple of weeks ago, visitors and locals alike were surprised on a late afternoon when a group of over 100 Grand Bahamians broke into spontaneous dance in Port Lucaya Square.  Timed to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, the square was filled with parents and children dressed in green; participants weighing their fish from a local tournament and college students enjoying their spring break. In other words, the square was hopping. Music was pulsating through the sound system as young children ran around and hopped to the beat.  Suddenly out of the crowd a young and beautiful girl skipped into the square and began to dance. The children didn’t pay much attention although one or two began to watch. She was alive with the music – energetic and graceful.  As she continued to move, more people stopped whatever they were doing to watch.  A group of  women skipped into the square to join in. Now they were dancing in time with our young lady. What was this?  The crowd began paying attention and reached for their cameras and cell phones.  Suddenly a third group ran into the square, picked up the beat and before we knew it, there were over 30 people dancing  to the Calypso song, HOT,HOT,HOT ( by Montserrat socca artist Alphonsus Cassell). The air began to fill with whistles and shouts. As if on cue, men, women and children of all ages skipped into the square-put their hands over their heads- and danced.  The energy was nothing short of electric.  All of Port Lucaya Square sashayed and shimmied together.  Never had so many people danced to one beat on the island.

Within three minutes the music ended. People sauntered off the square as if nothing had happened. Grand Bahama had witnessed its first  flash mob.

And yes, the flash mob was my idea. I wanted to bring a smile to the faces of Grand Bahamians who have had their share of economic difficulties. I wanted a “feel good” moment.  But I couldn’t have created it without the goodwill and commitment of our participants and volunteers. They’re the real story! My Co-Organizer Prudence Gallagher,owner of the beautiful clothing store Bandolera; Choreographer Jullion Collie of the Bahamas Dance Theatre; Camera direction by Dave Mackey of Mackey Media; Stage direction by Jackie Dack;  Photography filming by Lyndah Wells, Mark Winder, Rico Thompson, Lisa Davis, Nicole Leblanc, Frankie Ladéyo, Catherine Macleay, Karen Clarke, Marcus Bethel, David Mackey and Nicholas Rolle….and of course, our participants  numbering over 100 children and adults who devoted themselves to meeting twice a week for a month to practice our dance moves. Thank you all!!

Below are two links for your viewing pleasure. They are the “official” and “unofficial” videos of the moment. Both are a delight and I invite you to watch them. They’ll be sure to put a smile on your face.

Posted in Film, Grand Bahama, Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Artists of the Bahamas

Back in January of 2009,The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the Freeport Film Society, premiered a documentary film called “Artists of the Bahamas”. It was a  Sunday afternoon and the Regency Theatre was filled with an enthusiastic audience. Thanks to the vision of the husband and wife filmmaking team,  Karen Arthur and Tom Newirth,the Bahamian public was able to view a collection of artwork by the country’s top artists.  Up to now, these works remained in private collections and were unavailable for public viewing.

Recommended by the country’s foremost art collector, the late Vincent D’Aguilar, the filmmakers traveled to Nassau from 2006-2008 to research, interview and film the artists and their work. As Karen commented, “This wasn’t Paris or London or New York, we were astounded by the skill, diversity and eloquence of these extraordinary Bahamian artists, and felt honored to preserve them and their art on film.”

The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation, intent on celebrating Bahamian cultural heritage,  invited the artists and filmmakers to join us in a screening. Jackson Burnside, Antonius Roberts, Therese Taylor, wife of Maxwell Taylor attended.

“Artists of the Bahamas” covers the careers of 11 visual artists who were influential in creating the Bahamian Art movement. The film is introduced by our Bahamian icon, Sir Sydney Poitier, who discusses the importance and value of Art within our Bahamian heritage. These artists are Antonius Roberts and Jackson Burnside, Amos Ferguson, Kendal Hanna, Maxwell Taylor, Brent Malone, Dave Smith, Eddie Minnis, Stan Burnside, John Beadle and John Cox.

Following our screening, we had a lively and passionate discussion about the evolution of Bahamian art since 1973 when the country gained its independence.  As Jackson Burnside commented,”I was truly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reaction to the quality of the film and to our work”. The reaction to the film by our Grand Bahama audience was one of pride, passion and hope for the future of Bahamian culture.

Fast forward to 2010: A group of collectors, Saskia D’Aguilar, Dawn Davies and Pam Burnside decide to plan a public art show based on the film. “The Bahamas has an enormously rich artistic heritage and it is important that collectors preserve these treasures for future generations. This film was a major undertaking and we also commend the filmmakers for their foresight in preserving this important part of the country’s fine art history.”…”The Bahamas is entering a very exciting phase in its artistic development. We can see definite progress in the Fine Arts with collaborations between the artists which allows a continual interchange of ideas and events to take place. When you witness the success of the annual Transforming Spaces Art Bus Tour, the theatre festival Shakespeare in Paradise, and the recent CariFringe events, for example, you can see the enormous potential for promoting the country as a destination for art, culture and heritage which will attract more visitors to our shores.”

In addition, The Heritage Foundation recently learned that the film has also come to the attention of the curators from the Waterloo Centre for the Arts in Iowa.  Karen Arthur told me that she was contacted about the possibility of mounting an exhibition and symposium based on the film for October – December 2011. The Waterloo Center for the Arts holds the largest collection of Haitian art in the United States as well as a significant collection of art from other Caribbean countries, including a large number of works by the late Amos Ferguson. Cammie Scully and Kent Shankle, Curators at The Waterloo Center for the Arts were quoted as saying, “The Artists of the Bahamas Exhibition and Symposium will expose the U.S. to the thriving culture of the Bahamas and their talented artists and plans are also in the making to arrange a tour of the exhibition throughout the USA. By exposing the country’s art to a global audience, interest in traveling to this country will most likely increase as will the visibility and profile of the artistic and cultural heritage of The Bahamas.”

The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation salutes Karen and Tom’s vision and its influence in highlighting our cultural richness to the world beyond our shores.

Posted in Art, Exhibitions, Film, Grand Bahama, History, Paintings, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Question of Faith: The Journey of Freetown

The Heritage Foundation has been involved in a number of projects over the years.  One which we are especially proud of was completed last year and called, A QUESTION OF FAITH: THE JOURNEY OF FREETOWN.

This video, produced by Mackey Media,  provides a glimpse into the creation of this program and documents some of our explorations related to collecting the stories from the Freetown residents. From Infant View Cemetary, named for the baby that was its first inhabitant,  to Sweetings Cay where we interviewed 104 year old Firstina Baillou; to Water Cay, where we interviewed Hiriam Hield, I invite you to watch it and  to join us in our voyage…You’ll also meet fiber artist Lauren Austin, myself and Chantal Bethel,  Marion Bethel, Bahamian poet and attorney, Mrs. Robin Symonette – wife of Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette, Genius Cooper, Freetown patriarch and other Freetown residents who participated in our workshops. 

 A QUESTION OF FAITH: THE JOURNEY OF FREETOWN told the story of the first freed slave settlement on Grand Bahama. Our Artist in Residence, Lauren Austin, a fiber artist now living in China, led our group of multi-generational participants in monthly workshops designing memory quilts. As part of the project, articles of historical/personal interest were brought in to be discussed and documented. The project ended in a well received public exhibition, where the original artwork, historical photographs and Bahamian music were displayed. 

This exhibit is periodically displayed when an opportunity becomes available.  Maybe one day Grand Bahama will have a museum to display its heritage.  This is the dream of the Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation.  But as long as a building doesn’t exist, we will continue to be a museum without walls, developing fresh ways to explore the island’s heritage.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“The Mood Dictates the Hat”

Sprightly,elegant,feisty,gentle are the ladies who love to wear hats.  Strong in personality,dignified in manner and outspoken on their topic,  Bahamian ladies are as diverse and lovely as  the sea shells gracing our shores.  Strong as conch shells yet colorful as sea fans,  their heads are graced with a millinery appropriate for every occasion-  church, shopping or meeting the Queen of England,Scotland and Wales.  They come from all walks of life,  have lived full, independent lives and have had their share of challenges. Yet without exception, our ladies are beautiful.

They love life,  family and community.  Finding the right hat to finish an outfit is a way for them to celebrate an important event….to pay their respects with dignity…to show the younger generation their role as an elder and spouse—-and to look and feel good.

To me, it is the ladies themselves, their inner beauty and strength, which dictates the hat…. You too will agree when you meet them through Lyndah’s beautiful photography.To date, we’ve interviewed a lively seamstress, a fire dancer, a care-giving older sister, a matron and her daughter. We’ve admired their hat collections, (and yes, they have many)and have listened to their stories.

The hat is evolving into a symbol far more than just a head decoration.

We continue our interviews this week. … And I can’t wait!

Posted in Grand Bahama, Hats, Oral History, Photography, Portraits, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Chantal Bethel, Bahamian Artist and Lyndah Wells, Photographer

Chantal Bethel, Lyndah Wells, Laurie Tuchel

Chantal Bethel and Lyndah Wells are two of the three artists working on our new project HATTITUDES. (I’m the 3rd and yes, the one who will be recording the story of our fashionable island ladies and their love of hats). So, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce both of them to you, even though they are each very well-known and loved here on Grand Bahama.

Chantal Bethel, born in Haiti and educated in Belgium has lived in The Bahamas for over 30 years.  Having studied Business Administration in Belgium, she worked  in that field for almost two decades before her life changed direction when  she began her journey as an artist. As a painter, she trained with master artists  Jeannie Dobie in Belgium, Selina Trieff in the USA and  Antonius Roberts in The Bahamas, who continues as her mentor today. She went on to pursue further studies in painting and drawing at the Haliburton School of the Arts in Canada.  A 2006 encounter with fallen palm fronds while out taking a walk gave birth to a new vision:  transforming the crown shaft of the Royal Palm tree into a sculptural medium.  This  intuitive process  developed into her Royal Collection. Chantal’s paintings and sculptures can be found in many private and public collections in The Bahamas and abroad.  Most recently one of her works was selected  for the permanent collection in the Haitian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Lyndah Wells was born in Nigeria and raised in England before moving to Grand Bahama five years ago.  Always passionate about art, design and beauty, and with a background in graphic design, Lyndah was soon capturing the beauty of The Bahamas and its inhabitants through the lens of her camera.  She quickly developed a devoted following for her original concepts and beautifully shot photographs.  Her interest in high fashion and her innate sensitivity to subject matter, whether it be portraits or magazine fashion shoots, is giving her an increasingly well recognized name both here and abroad.  She has been featured in several international magazines and websites including: Nu Woman Magazine, Stylezine Magazine, Bahamas Investor, Keep the Faith Magazine and Bella Naija’s online blog.  Her love of photography radiates from her images.

And as for me, Laurie Tuchel, my degree in anthropology combined with a passion for exploring the people and culture of my adopted Bahamaland, has led me to delve further into the heritage of Grand Bahama. I moved to Grand Bahama 8 years ago after living in England and the United States for many years with my husband and family.  I am a Co-Founder of the Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation and believe completely in the importance of  exhibiting and preserving the island’s history…. and where little or no artifacts exist, I believe that the use of art to showcase that history can provide a refreshing new way to look at the concept of heritage.  I hope that as you read about our journey HATTITUDES,  you too will enjoy getting to know the  people of Grand Bahama as they share their stories… and hats… with us!

Posted in Art, Books, Exhibitions, Grand Bahama, Hats, History, Oral History, Paintings, Photography, Portraits, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments