Familiar faces: A family has donated portraits of black Bermudians from the 1970s to the Bermuda Historical Society. Pictured is Dame Jennifer Smith. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Familiar faces: A family has donated portraits of black Bermudians from the 1970s to the Bermuda Historical Society. Pictured is Dame Jennifer Smith. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1: A family has donated a fascinating collection of portraits of black Bermudians from the 1970s to the Bermuda Historical Society (BHS).

The 50-plus portraits of black Bermudians include a young Afro-haired (Dame) Jennifer Smith, dressed in Seventies multi-coloured maxi dress, and other notable figures such as entrepreneur James ‘Dick’ Richards and trade unionist Dr Edgar F. Gordon.

Alfred Augustus and daughter Bonnie Claggett presented the first 10 pieces of the collection to the BHS Museum on Friday.

An initial four pieces will be displayed, while the Bermuda National Library has also offered to exhibit some of the portraits.

Additional storage

Once the museum secures additional storage it intends to take delivery of the remaining 40 or so works of art.

Little is known about artist Esther Dai, but the couple responsible for the commission were Mr Augustus and his late wife, June.

In 1976 the couple met Ms Dai, a Korean student, in a shop in New York City.

Mr Augustus told the Bermuda Sun: “My wife was looking for some artwork and Ms Dai was working at the store we visited. They got talking and my wife invited her to Bermuda.

“June was quite an enterprising woman and just clicked with Ms Dai.

“We brought her down to Bermuda and she stayed with us for about a week.

“I don’t know how much she was paid — that was between her and my wife — but she did the portraits within a week, mainly from photographs.”

The result was more than 50 chalk portraits of some of the most prominent and notable black Bermudians of the mid-1970s.

Mr Augustus, 88, said his late wife “loved art”.

“She was a very creative person,” he said.

In the mid-1970s the couple turned part of their home in Bailey’s Bay into a museum of Bermuda
history.

Although it was not included on the Government’s list of tourist attractions, several taxi drivers used to bring visitors and locals to the Augustus home.

Mr Augustus said: “My wife was trying to get something different for visitors to see, and I believe what she did was very important.

“At the time, word got round and the portraits were very well received.”

His personal favourites are the portraits of Earle Edward Seaton, Monty Egbert Sheppard and Dr. Gordon.

But he believes all the portraits “will serve to further enrich our community by their depiction of black Bermudians and their contributions to our country”.

Mrs Claggett said the collection depicts the everyday life of black Bermudians in the 1970s.

“Some of those pictured are notable figures but some just document everyday life. For example, black Bermudian culture is shown with the tea and hat shows, and the sporting figures such as cricketer Alma ‘Champ’ Hunt.

“My favourite is a wide portrait of a group of Gombey dancers, I really love it.”

She added: “Our concern was that the collection was just at our house and hadn’t been seen by the public since the museum closed, so this was an opportunity to get it back into the wider community, so everyone could benefit from its historic value.

“I’m happy on my father’s behalf and that of his wife, to assist them in leaving this legacy to Bermuda.

“I’m grateful the (Bermuda) Historical Society has accepted the collection, so that all of Bermuda can enjoy it.”

The portraits have been permanently loaned to the society, with the likelihood of a future bequest.

Andrew Bermingham, BHS president, said: “We are very proud to have this wonderful collection, because it has always been our mission to promote Bermuda art and artefacts.

Honoured

“But more importantly, over the last two years we’ve tried to broaden our base to include more of the black Bermudian experience. This wonderful collection of pictures will add to that experience, so we are honoured to have it, and will take good care of it.

“Our ultimate goal is to have our entire collection on display at the National Museum of Bermuda, that is our hope.”

John Cox, BHS secretary and vice president, added: “It is wonderful to have a collection of prominent black Bermudians featured at the museum.

“And I was thrilled to see Dame Jennifer in Seventies-mode, as a young firestarter, before she was sitting in Parliament and became Premier.”

At the presentation — which was also attended by executive society member Dr Martin Brewer —  Mr Augustus and Mrs Claggett were given a gift, of the Lefroy Memorials of the Bermudas and historical books by Mr Cox.

The initial portraits to go on display are: Ruth Thomas; James ‘Dick’ Richards; Lancelot Hayward; Ruth Seaton James; Montague Egbert Sheppard; Dr Edgar F Gordon; Earle Edward Seaton; Dame Jennifer Smith; Russell Levi Pearman; and Edward Trenton Richards. 

The Bermuda Historical Society Museum is based at 13 Queen Street, Hamilton. It is open 10am to 2pm daily in the summer (to 1pm in the winter), excluding weekends and public holidays. For more information telephone 295-2847.