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Caymanian architecture, past, present and future

Arts and Culture 08 Apr, 2024 Follow News

William Helfrecht in the Learning Lab

Fascinating sketches by John Doak

Gordon Solomon’s poignant Home to parking Lot painting

The Forgotten House by Carlos V Garcia

Raphael Powery’s powerful Mausoleum Burned in the Memory artwork

New AC Unit at Theoline L McCoy Primary School.

Intricate drawings by Ed Oliver

Rare early work by Bendel Hydes

By Lindsey Turnbull

This is the second in our series of articles looking at the new exhibition being held at the National Gallery, entitled Thatch Roofs & Ironwood Posts.

The exhibition begins with digital drawings by architect John Doak and continues in the theme of literal imagery with some detailed pieces by artist Ed Oliver’s. Mr Ed, as he was known, was a well-known artist and art teacher in Cayman and trained as a commercial illustrator and was an accomplished draftsman. His work depicts some of Cayman’s old historic buildings in detail, including the old Police Headquarters and the Spellman Mclaughlin home in Cayman Brac.      

Early Bendel Hydes works from around 1979 include a painting of Cousin Mabel’s house and is quite a change from his more familiar abstract work. Chris Mann’s artwork from 1991 depicts a home which he painted from a photograph. The day after he took the photo, they began demolishing it and he included the red truck involved in that process in his painting.

The exhibition then moves on to recognisable watercolour images from the 1980s and the 1990s by well-known artists such as Janet Walker and Joanne Sibley. Their artwork depicts what some might say was a simpler time in Cayman, when scenes of brightly painted cottages and lush foliage were common sights depicted in a picturesque aesthetic. The Gallery has worked hard to bring new works by these familiar artists.

“We’ve tried to forefront some of the pieces that people won’t have seen because they are new acquisitions,” National Gallery Collections Curator William Helfrecht explained.

The Gallery is working with the National Trust to identify some of the homes depicted and will create QR code labels that will take visitors to a map with pins so they can see exactly where these houses are or where they used to be, thereby enabling self-guided tours. It is anticipated there will also be bus tours with the National Trust and panel discussions talking about the restoration of old homes.

The Learning Lab within the exhibition is integral to the show, in which people can access the National Trust Heritage Register, allowing visitors to get familiar with and use these resources. Visitors can search its database and use this registry to explore homes in each district. The register gives information on family history, location, dates and construction type and material of properties.

A video by John Doak and the National Trust talks about Caymanian house types and there are more educational illustrations looking at construction methods, showing how houses developed from one to the next, such as how a manor house morphed from a one-story house.

The main room in the exhibition houses a more contemporary view of the subject looking at some of the conversations artists are having on the topic, Will explained. Early CE Whitneys look at preservation, for example, whereas most visitors would probably know her more for her glossy seascapes. Raphael Powery has an incredibly powerful piece of work depicting a tiny Caymanian cottage against the backdrop of a towering new development, a vivid depiction of the contrast in old and new construction and development in the Cayman Islands.

In the same vein, Carlos V Garcia has created more of an imagined depiction based upon a house in East End with new office buildings in the background, while Wray Banker’s ‘Paint by Numbers’ is a satirical response to the generation of artists who idealised this romantic image of the Caribbean. Will advised they were having copies of this image made for children to fill in.

Dready’s art also tells the tale of iconic buildings, including the Spellman McLaughlin house in Cayman Brac that Will advised had been lovingly restored with considerable investment.

“That’s something that’s going to be talked about in our panel discussions,” he advised. “We’re going to have the Scott family, along with homeowners that have undertaken similar restoration projects, and those involved in the restoration projects peaking about their journey showing this as a case study of what we can do. It’s one of over the few homes that survived the 1932 hurricane, built in 1928.”

Gordon Solomon’s abstract piece is autobiographical and topical looking at his former family home in George Town and how it has been demolished and replaced with a parking lot. A sentimental response to what’s happening, Will confirmed.

Please visit this important exhibition at the National Gallery and which runs until 12th July. 


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