Devil fish: Detail from one of Graham Foster’s mural paintings. *Photo supplied
Devil fish: Detail from one of Graham Foster’s mural paintings. *Photo supplied
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THURSDAY, NOV. 3 (UPDATE FRIDAY, NOV. 4): Have you ever wished you could spend an entire day up in scaffolding indulging in the infinite detail of Graham Foster’s epic Hall of History mural?

His upcoming book is perhaps the next best thing. The multi story, multi-faceted painting created by the Bermudian artist at Commissioner’s House, has been carefully photographed and digitally stitched together to produce his hefty coffee table book Hall of History: Bermuda’s History in Art. And with 500 years of densely documented history and heritage wrapped up in one single 14”x14” tome, the coffee table will need strong legs.

Award-winning author Rosemary Jones, editorial director for Brimstone Media which produced the book, has provided an effortless yet evocative narrative to introduce chapters and her captions bring clarity and meaning to the visual representations of the island’s past.

The book allows you to inspect the meticulous detail that you might not pick up on even after repeated visits to the mural itself. What, from a distance, might appear to be a dead leaf on the water shows itself, in the book, to be the flattened image of a submerged diamondback terrapin with detail down to the scales.

Overwhelming

“When people visit the mural, it can be somewhat overwhelming to be confronted by so much imagery, even though it follows a chronological timeline,” said Foster, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from The School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “Quite a lot of the detail is high up and easy to miss if you’re trying to negotiate the steps without breaking your neck!

“With the book, it’s almost like taking the mural home. As I looked through the book I saw some details I’d forgotten I’d painted. I also remember being 20ft up on the scaffolding thinking ‘why am I breaking out this tiny brush and doing this kind of detail when no one without binoculars will be able to see it?’ This book makes all that extra effort worth while.”

The book, published by the National Museum of Bermuda Press, features 99 per cent of the original mural which includes well-known historical events, representations of the island’s history and heritage, a few famous faces and anecdotal folklore, all with a dash of the artist’s own irreverent humour. The book includes all the international nations that make up our melting pot community as well as aspects of culture that are often overlooked.

While the obvious wreck of the Sea Venture that adorns the cover features heavily, so too does the early rat infestation that led to the population lighting great fires. In Foster’s unique style, reality merges with fantasy, sea merges with land, land with sky.

No sugar coating

And the island’s history is far from sugar coated — there is a poignant scene of a child being sold into slavery as her mother cries and screams in the backgound, while another shows a dismembered head upon a stick. Foster said: “Even Bermuda history buffs may not be familiar with some of the more obscure aspects anecdotal and folkloric etc.”

The book begins with a foreword by Dr Edward Harris, executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda. In it he points out that: “fully half of Bermuda’s 400 years of human settlement is without visualization, for the earliest pictorial representation of its scenery dates only as far back as the 1790s”.

Foster writes about how he approached the momentous task of creating one of the most significant works of art in the island’s history while a small section called The Mural By Numbers puts this task into perspective — 7,000 hours, for instance, is the number of hours that the artist spent over 1,277 days to complete the work.

The book then displays the chronology of Bermuda’s history starting from the Spanish and Portuguese castaways whose ships wrecked on our reefs in the 1500s right up to the towering reinsurance buildings standing in Hamilton today.

At the end of the book is a section showing up close some of the tiny details in the book broken up into segments such as fauna and flora, characters and transport.

Brimstone Media’s Rosemary Jones, who wrote the text in the book, is former editor of The Bermudian magazine. She is the author of several history books including Bermuda Five Centuries and winner of the 2008 Bermuda Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

“Most of the projects we do are heritage related so it was a natural type of project for us but a very exciting one,” she explained. “Brimstone had brought him into the mural project so we have been a part of it from the very beginning and initially supplied a wish list of some of the topics to be included in the mural. This was a wonderful way to see the history presented through Graham’s vision — he has such an illustrative style, and such great humour yet often quite poignant.”

The commission of the 1,000-square-foot mural by Dr Harris was made possible in 2005 by the generous sponsorship of American museum members Richard M. and Helen T. Fraser. This 211-page volume was thanks to Bob and Mary Truland and the Truland Foundation.

Her Majesty the Queen opened the hall up at Commissioner’s House on November 25, 2009 during her visit to the island.

While Foster can take the prize by far for most effort and man hours a great team effort was needed to convert every detail of the mural into book form.

Photographer Antione Hunt took scores of pictures of the mural with the help of a hydraulic life, while ColourLab’s Loris Toppan digitally stitched them all together only to be deconstructed again by Brimstone Media’s creative director Paul Shapino. Photographer Scott Stallard also filmed Foster at work for more than two of the three and a half years it took him to create the mural which, it is hoped, will be made into a film. 

Foster has always said that it is his hope this mural will get people excited about Bermuda’s colourful history which has inspired the likes of Shakespeare no less. And with this book, Foster’s audience has just extended to the rest of the world.

Hall of History retails for $65 and is available at the National Museum of Bermuda ticket office, or by emailing Dr Edward Harris (director@bmm.bm), and at stores island wide. Book-signing events will be held in December at Bermuda National Gallery, Bermuda Society of Arts, the Masterworks Foundation and the Arts Centre at Dockyard, among other venues.