Head for heights: The mural has been a formidable challenge for the artist, both mentally and physically. *Photos by Tim Hall
Head for heights: The mural has been a formidable challenge for the artist, both mentally and physically. *Photos by Tim Hall
Cedar trees haunt Graham Foster's dreams and he counts balustrades in his sleep. "I will leave a piece of my sanity in this room," he says.

Mr. Foster is nearing completion of what is almost certainly the most ambitious artistic project ever undertaken in Bermuda. He has spent the past three years, working up to 14 hours a day, painting a mural onto 1,000 feet of bare wall.

The mural depicts all 400 years of the country's history: from the Sea Venture wreck on the Isle of Devils, to the great rat plague, to William Beebe, to the Theatre Boycott, to Hurricane Emily and beyond.

The accuracy is staggering, with every house, boat and plane drawn with minute attention to historical detail. When Mr. Foster was first commissioned to paint the mural, he estimated he would be finished by Christmas, 2006. Almost two years later he is still going - his anonymous benefactors happy to see the work finished.

"If I had done it more sketchy I could have been finished in a year and a half," Mr. Foster told the Bermuda Sun.

"But I figured, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I'm going to put everything I have into this. When I started I got a little masochistic with the level of detail.

"What I hadn't thought about was what would happen as the centuries moved on: everything gets so much more complicated in the 19th and 20th centuries: the different boats, clothes, cars, bikes."

1,000- square feet of bare wall

The mural is painted on four walls - one for each century - in the Pillared Hall, inside the Commissioner's House at Bermuda Maritime Museum in Dockyard.

Mr. Foster says: "When I first came in this room, 1,000 square feet of bare white wall was staring back at me.

"Ed Harris [director of the museum] said: 'paint the history of Bermuda.' That was pretty daunting; I didn't know if I could do it. But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I was never going to say no."

Mr. Foster, whose preferred discipline is sculpture, insists he has never contemplated giving up; but at times has asked himself how he would go on. Pointing to the halfway point, he says: "That point, there: I had done so much, spent so much of my life in this room, and here was the biggest wall staring back at me: the third wall is 350 square feet alone. The prospect of starting on that space was pretty scary."

Mr. Foster, who has two young children, says his wife has been "an art widow".

He says: "I get here around 8am, leave between 8pm and 10pm. Fourteen hours is about my limit: after that my back aches, my knees start to go weak if I'm standing.

"And it's mentally demanding, especially when I'm doing the finer detail. If I'm painting balustrades I go into a kind of meditation."

Mr. Foster is now on the final panel of the final wall, and estimates he will be finished in January, ahead of a grand unveiling of the mural in May.

"What I'm looking forward to now is that final brushstroke. Signing my signature. It will be a surreal feeling - the kind of sensation I'm unlikely to have again in my life.

"I will celebrate pretty hard that night, I tell you. When I'm finished I'm going to walk away. I don't want to come back here. I might come to show it to the boys, when they're older. But I don't want to come back for years.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to some normalcy: spending more time with my family.

"This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which I'm so thankful for, but the best moment will be that final brushstroke."