Lifestyle

The Gardner Family: generations of artists

  • North Hamilton view: Angle Street by Susan Stan, Vivienne Gardner’s daughter (Photograph by Nzingha Ming)

It is not unusual for certain abilities to run in families, and the visual arts are no exception.

In the history of art, such artistic families abound. I think of the Breughels — that notable 16th-century Flemish family — or, fast forward to more recent centuries, the Peale dynasty, who were active in the American revolutionary and post-Revolutionary period.

They are most famous for their portraits of the early American leadership, especially George Washington.

Then, there is the Calder family. Alexander Calder is the best known of this family and is most famous for his mobiles, but his father and grandfather were also professional sculptors.

There is also the Wyeth family. Beginning with N.C. Wyeth, there are at least three generations of highly successful artists among this family, Andrew Wyeth being the best known.

And in Bermuda, there is the Gardner family. This notable artistic dynasty exhibited as a family in Studios A and B at the Bermuda Society of Arts this month. The title of the exhibition was Apples From the Tree.

Vivienne Gardner is the matriarch of the Bermuda branch of this international art family. Her children and grandchildren are also involved in making art in varying forms and levels.

It began, it seems, with her great-great-grandfather, then her great-grandfather, followed by her great-uncle and then her grandfather, grandmother and uncle.

All were artists, most being highly trained in such institutions as the Royal Academy, St John’s Wood Art School and the Academie Julian in Paris. All were represented in this unusual exhibition.

What I found especially impressive with this now Bermuda artistic dynasty, was their creativity and versatility.

Vivienne Gardner is known for her stained-glass windows that grace many Bermuda churches. She is also an accomplished sculptor, as well as a painter and more.

One of her many creations in the exhibition was sculpted from Bermuda cedar, a small but impressive Daphne. You might recall that in Greek mythology, Daphne, when pursued by Apollo, turned into a laurel tree, thus foiling him.

John Gardner, Vivienne’s son, is primarily an architect, but that is only one side to his artistic abilities.

I recall his installation on the theme of the Bermuda triangle, written about in The New York Times. That is just one example of his creativity and versatility. In a recent BSoA show he exhibited pages from his sketchbook that demonstrated his incredible talent as a draughtsman.

For this recent exhibition, he included a watercolour of people viewing a gigantic wave.

Although the watercolour technique is notably difficult, he handled it with considerable skill. Its title: Hurricane at John Smith’s Bay 1999.

Susan Stan, Vivienne Gardner’s daughter, utilised coloured bits of plastic flotsam that doubtless washed up on our beaches.

The mosaic-like works were the best examples that I have seen of what is sometimes called “trash art”.

You might be aware of the saying, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Well, if Susan uses stuff that is considered trash or the proverbial “sow’s ear”, she has certainly transformed it into a “silk purse”.

Of Vivienne Gardner’s grandchildren, I was especially drawn to Madeline Gardner’s Seagull 2004.

This is a detailed graphite drawing of a decayed seagull, it being a depiction of bones and feathers.

Samuel Stan’s Skyscraper is a coloured pencil drawing that reminded me of some of the paintings of Paul Klee.

This was a large exhibition, consisting of at least 74 works. It was also a unique show as I do not recall such a family exhibition at all, ever, in Bermuda.

• Apples From the Tree ended its run at the Bermuda Society of Arts on Monday