Thirty years and counting for Masterworks

  • Ogden Pleissner, Shinbone Alley 1950
  • Winslow Homer, Inland Water 1901
  • Marsden Hartley, Movement 1917s
  • Dame Jennifer Smith, Waiting to Football
  • Charles Demuth, Architecture, Red House 1917

With an America’s Cup, referred to as “AC35”, behind us and a few days to go before an election, let us remember all the wonderful elements that identify us: our unique heritage made up of Gombeys, fitted dinghy, moongates, architecture, people, and, yes, art.

For me, “AC35” is an Aladdin’s Cave; a treasure trove of the arts that identify us and separate us from anything like it in the world.

Art is a universal language that needs no translation. It may require interpretation but its visuals cross all fronts of language, politics, religion, economics and ages. It unites us or engages us in a meaningful dialogue and discussion.

When Masterworks Foundation started 30 years ago, one of the primary objectives was to ensure that “A” stood for art and that “A” was access to that art and that “A” was for “Awerybody”. To that end, access to an unknown quantity meant we were the original pop-up created by art guerrillas who would occupy any space donated, making visible freely the goals and objectives that heritage was not only once a month on the yearly calendar but a daily diet if so desired throughout the year.

To democratise this “novel idea to Bermuda”, events such as marathons, where 0.5 cents a mile to enlist the support for acquisitions was not uncommon. Fast forward and the biggest risk undertaken was in November 1995 — we were merely eight years old — when needing money to purchase three portraits, a telethon seemed a most appropriate method to test the waters and at the same time appeal to a broader audience.

The risks were huge but the positive feedback even bigger. Bermudians of every stripe and hue phoned to support the acquisition of these works painted in 1922 by Ambrose Webster of black Bermudians out in the open air ... The reason I believe then and still was the unifying factor of identity.

These were treasures of and about us — a mirror. A step in piecing together the past to build a present and inherit a future ... a future of cerebral joy that could be shared, transported and explored.

As we celebrate 30 years of retrieval and repatriation, much joy is to be celebrated and found today covering a broad view from the veranda and insight into the soul and spirit for all blood-proud Bermudians.

Of foremost importance, the establishment of the gallery and collection is to share and offer an insight to Bermudians, residents and visitors — a unique learning experience.

The stronger a culture, the stronger is the individual within that culture. For the visitor, the stronger is the impression and the value of travel and learning.

Gone is the day of sitting on the beach; instead it is about adventure of both the body and mind. We only stop learning if we want to. Hope would be that not be the case.

So on the eve of the election, it’s not about Bermuda first or last, it’s about Bermuda always. Having endeavoured to live by the gospel of museum enjoyment, we have adhered to collection, preservation, interpretation and study. We are in the hospitality, entertainment and education business. And this “small but mighty” — as one reviewer put it — beckons as the beacon of truth, hope, prosperity and enlightenment.

For those who enter a museum, it’s not about one’s level of education, but rather of an open mind and receptors advancing the notion of belonging. There is not enough space to go to great lengths on the global tragedies afflicting the world on all continents at present, but suffice to say the universal motive is to save our artefacts, our heritage, our history, our art, which distinguishes us from any other living specimen.

We set out not with lofty ideas but rather a means for bringing a community together through art. Thirty years on boasting rituals are not us, but more importantly sharing knowledge through the joys of looking and of the many slogans: “See, Learn, Enrich”, “I Have Seen Bermuda”, “Home to Bermuda’s Greatest Treasures”, “Masterworks is in my Art”.

Which suits best? Whichever is the choice all may aptly adapt to the significance of having art in heart and let everything else fall where it may.

Politics, war, hurricanes, “AC35” have an impact for sure, but keep in mind life is short and art is long. So long live art.

Tom Butterfield, MBE, is the founder and creative director at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, which is celebrating 30 years today by hosting an Open House throughout the day