By Lindsey Turnbull
For one week only, art and culture lovers can get a rare peek into the mind of probably the most iconic of all Caymanian artists, Gladwyn K Bush, otherwise known as Miss Lassie, as the Cayman National Cultural Foundation is putting on a retrospective of the artist’s work: Miss Lassie: My Art Is My Life. The exhibition takes place from 5 to 13 November at the Mind’s Eye Education Centre, Miss Lassie’s former duplex home, located at the intersection of Walkers Road and South Sound.
A fourth generation Caymanian, Miss Lassie began painting at the age of 62, after what she described as a visionary experience. Strong Christian themes run through her work, which she painted not only on canvas, but also on the walls, windows and furnishings of her home. She was awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1997 and was also a recipient of the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s Heritage Award. Miss Lassie passed away on Monday, 24 November 2003 at the age of 89.
Marcia Muttoo, the CNCF’s Managing Director, said that Miss Lassie’s work was “utterly unique”.
“It’s an interesting combination, in that it’s both very unique and very representative of Cayman in that she has taken a lot of the images, stories, history, heritage, and, through inspiration that came to her in dreams, brought those onto the canvas. And not just the canvas, on the ceiling, on cushions, on windshields, on fridges,” she said.
Miss Lassie was an elemental artist in that she was driven to do her art and nothing - whether she had resources or whether other people thought it was good or not - was going to stop her from doing it, Mrs Muttoo stated.
She had always had dreams throughout her life, and some of those dreams seemed to be predictive of things that were happening in her life, for example she dreamt about her brother just before he went to sea and died. Somewhere around age 62 she had a religious vision and this compelled her to put it on a surface, Mrs Muttoo explained. Thanks to encouragement by local people such as Debbie van der Bol who gave her canvases, she began paint in earnest, painting more than 250 pieces between the age of 62 and 89 when she died.
The location is called Mind’s Eye because Miss Lassie often said she got her inspiration from seeing visions in her “mind’s eye”.
“So, this place is a lovely moment within South Sound, within Grand Cayman and the Cayman Islands in general because it holds on to a lovely past that we don’t see all the time, and yet it is forward thinking, as it is encouraging and perhaps inspiring people to realise that there are no age limits to be inspired or to be creative,” Mrs Muttoo furthered. “There should be nothing that prevents you because you didn’t get formal training from pursing you passion.”
The house itself was built 142 years ago, a fantastic example of Caymanian architecture and is the location where Caymanian ship-building took place, so it has incredible history behind it, she said.
“When the property was transferred to the CNCF in 2009, we took that very seriously because were holding it on behalf of the Cayman Islands,” Mrs Muttoo said.
A recent donation back to the CNCF of three paintings by an overseas collector spurred this latest exhibition. There are currently 40 paintings on exhibition at this duplex location, although the CNCF has between 120 and 130. All 130 or so used to be in the main cottage where Miss Lassie lived and Miss Lassie would stack them everywhere. To recreate that, visitors can peek into her home and see some reproductions of her artwork stacked.
Culture Minister Bernie Bush and Chief Officer Teresa Echenique were thrilled to see the paintings come back and were at the uncrating and asked the CNCF if they could do an exhibition, Mrs Muttoo explained. They had planned to do a full exhibition in 2020 but that was cancelled due to Covid. The full exhibition of the CNCF’s collection will be exhibited in 2022 at the Harquail Theatre.
“It worked out well, starting off with this smaller retrospective at her home, the place where she received all her inspiration, where she lived her entire life. It’s a bit like her looking down on us,” Mrs Muttoo said.
After the retrospective, the CNCF intends to take the reproductions on tour around the districts and to Cayman Brac.
Henry Muttoo, the CNCF’s Artistic Director, said he saw a connection between things that happened in her life and the themes she expressed in her work: fear, the tragedy on the waters and so on. There are quotations from the bible that directly relate, as well as historical themes.
“She’s really captured this span in the Cayman Islands history in her paintings, which come from her heart, from her subconscious and which, to the CNCF, are precious and ought to be kept for generations to come,” Mrs Muttoo said. “We hope people will come and be inspired to follow their passions, whatever they may be.”