Bermudians have always seen their country through the eyes of others – from its earliest days when seafarers steered clear of the “isle of devils”, to the first settlers who wrote back home to England of the island’s natural beauty and the benefits of its weather, to those who in describing some attraction to another discover their own pride in our history – so when Tom Butterfield set out on a crusade to repatriate works of art inspired by Bermuda and created by internationally famous artists, I looked forward to seeing what he would discover.
As a St. Georgian, born and bred, we were used to people setting up their easels in our neighbourhoods, so I was used to seeing paintings of St. George’s – but Tom Butterfield’s crusade has unearthed a treasure trove of works that focus not just on landscapes and seascapes, but also on the people of this beautiful island.
Someone once said that “…we discover our destinies in the smallest ways…” and this is true of Tom Butterfield and the story of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Who would have thought that a Department of Community and Cultural Affairs exhibition in 1986 would have resulted in a purpose-built, world-class museum offering conservation, storage and classroom facilities?
One man on a mission, gathering support along the way: first from wife Gill, then in from right-hand Elise Outerbridge, then financial supporters, members and volunteer support. Tom’s enthusiasm is infectious and hard to deny and before I knew it, I became volunteer emcee for the regular fund-raising Quiz Nights and then worked as a volunteer in the Front Street office. When we could no longer remain on Front Street, there was the challenge of looking for alternative premises. I along with the rest of the Masterworks family became disappointed that there seemed no hope of obtaining a centrally located facility. Everyone connected with Masterworks had looked and looked. We were disappointed so often that some had given up – but not Tom!
The Gallery’s prime location in the Botanical Gardens, in the former Arrowroot Factory, next to the Premier’s official residence could only have happened by Divine Order. Who could have foreseen that the former volunteer would become the Premier and thus be in a position to answer Tom’s plea for a lease for the Arrowroot Factory?
Tom walked Cabinet Members around the building, sharing his vision and gained an agreement from the Government that support for the Arts is important. In agreeing to grant Masterworks a lease to the building, government agreed to share the space granted to the official residence of Camden.
It is a match that has benefitted both sides leading to joint events and an increased appreciation for the arts among members of Government.
In twenty-five years Masterworks has ingrained itself into the tapestry of Bermuda, celebrating artists both local and foreign, introducing children to the joy of art and challenging those who create to step out of their comfort zones - who knows what wondrous things will be achieved in its next twenty-five years!
Congratulations to Tom, Gill, Elise, the Directors, Honorary Directors, Foundation Members, staff, volunteers and everyone who has helped over the years to make the vision a reality. Thank you for your lasting contribution to Bermuda’s artistic heritage which is helping to ensure that we also have an artistic future.
The Hon. Dame Jennifer Smith, DBE, JP, DHumL, MP, Minister of Education.