Conserved and restored by CNCF for future generations
A 4th generation Caymanian, Gladwyn K. "Lassie" Bush began painting at the age of 62, after what she describes as a visionary experience. Strong Christian themes run through her work, which she painted not only on canvas, but also on the walls, windows and furnishings of her home. Mrs. Bush was awarded a national honour, Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1997 and received the award during the Queen’s Birthday celebrations in Grand Cayman on June 15, 1998. She was also a recipient of the Cayman National Cultural Foundation's Heritage Award. Her work is documented in the 156-page art book, My Markings - the Art of Gladwyn K. Bush, published by the Cultural Foundation. Examples of her work formed part of the travelling exhibition of contemporary Caribbean art, 'Carib Art', and she is one of the artists profiled in books on intuitive art worldwide: Raw Creation (Phaidon Press), Caribbean Art (Thames and Hudson) and Fantasy Worlds (Benedikt Taschen Verlag). Her work is in private collections in England, the United States, Jamaica, South Africa, Germany and the Cayman Islands, and in the collection of the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Miss Lassie passed away on Monday, November 24, 2003 at the age of 89.
CNCF now offers guided tours at Mind's Eye - The Visionary World of Miss Lassie. Guided tours will be scheduled from 10 to 11am on the second and fourth Saturday of each month and will be by appointment only. Admission is free. Please note that tours will accommodate groups of up to eight (8) persons. Visitors are able to view the inside of the wattle and daub house, where the walls and ceilings are covered in Miss Lassie’s paintings and the house will be set up to replicate what it would have looked like when Miss Lassie and her family lived there. The Mind's Eye tour scheduled for May 25th is cancelled.
CURATOR’S EXHIBITION OVERVIEW – MISS LASSIE
“… as soon as a man tries to escape every risk and prefers to experience life only in his head, in the form of ideas and fantasies, as soon as he surrenders to opinions of ‘how it ought to be’ and, in order not to make a false step, imitates others whenever possible, he forfeits the chance of his own independent development.” - Yolande Jacobi – “The Way Of Individuation
Miss Lassie’s deceptively simple paintings contradict her genius - her blessing lies, perhaps, in the fact that she was never taught to paint. Her work, therefore, is not artifice but creative truth distilled to its embryonic form with the innocence and freedom of a child.
The great body of her work, from which the 25 paintings in this exhibition have been selected, tells the story of her particular Caymanian life experiences mirrored in the life of Jesus Christ; experiences of immense joy, pain and suffering, misunderstanding, humiliation, faith and prayer, epiphany, forgiveness and generosity. It represents aremarkable cultural and artistic gift of identity to the people of the Cayman Islands.
CNCF thanks the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands for their partnership in presenting this exhibition. The timing could not have been better; a second issue of postage stamps bearing images from Miss Lassie’s Christmas paintings are now in circulation and her South Sound home, “Mind’s Eye” has been conserved and restored, and is now open to the public. Enjoy.
Henry Muttoo - Artistic Director, Cayman National Cultural Foundation
• When and how did you meet Miss Gladwyn "Lassie" Bush and at what point did you realize that Miss Lassie needed to be recognized as a cultural treasure?
I first met Miss Lassie in 1992. I had seen and marvelled at her tiny decorated house several times as I traversed South Sound. The urge to meet the person, who had been awarded this gift of child-like innocence and freedom the sstructures of naturalistic visual response to be able to essentialise her visions with such freedom, was getting stronger. I mentioned this fascination of Leslie Bigleman - a CNCF board member at the time. Lesile offered to introduce me to Miss Lassie and off we went to the house. As soon as I met her I knew this was a rare human being - the kind of individual fortunate to have been belssed. Time and her passing have only strengthened that conviction. I know that her visions had to become known, first to the people of the Cayman Islands and after that to the world.
• What has been done so far to ensure that this national treasure is preserved?
CNCF, through staff, board and volunteer efforts have:
1) Employed Architectural Conservators to conduct a thorough inspection of the property, and report on their findings.
2) Stabilised the physical building and repaired all areas which needed repairs. These repairs have been carried out by trained and experienced workers, with full attention to international conservation standards.
3) Stabilised all paintings inside the main house (Miss Lassie's wattle & daub cottage with the attached wooden area). This work was carried out by art conservators, Greg Howarth and his wife Sasha.
4) Removed all windows and doors and arrested the deteriorating images on them.
5) Built exact replicas of all windows and doors.
6) Commissioned an artist (Sue Howe) to copy anew, the image on each window and door. In this process, missing areas of any image were checked against archival photographs. Where there were no references, the artist completed the image by studying and interpreting the style, brushwork, coloration, etc., of Miss Lassie. The new windows will be put onto the building and the originals stored and exhibited in a climate-controlled space in the Mind's Eye duplex.
7) Repainted exterior of the main house and cisterns including the roof.
8) Cleaned, recorded and stored all items taken from the house.
9) Continued work on recording all papers taken from the house.
10) Advertised the importance of the property in terms of Caymanian history, heritage, art and culture.
11) With assistance from Dr. Isabel Rigol and Patricia Green, the Mind's Eye property placed on the World Monuments Fund 2012 Watchlist of endangered world heritage sites.
12) Elicited a pledge from Government for major funding over the next four years.
• Can you explain the significance of the name 'Mind's Eye' as the title for the cultural centre and also tell us what you envision for Mind's Eye?
That name is actually the exact words of Miss Lassie. She would always say, "I see it in my Mind's Eye." The vision is quite simple, really: "To conserve the house and its contents with a view to having it mythologised as a testament to the Caymanian spirit, creativity, art, culture, heritage and the process of individuation.
• Has having Mind's Eye placed on the World Monument Watch List had a significant impact on the movement to restore the cultural site?
To a certain extent, internationally, it has made our little island known around the world (certainly in areas where people care about their culture and identity) for more than its beaches or as a major banking centre. At home, it has not had the impact we had hoped for. For the most part people still have not tuned in to the importance of something that is so reflective of them. This may be due in part to our lack of sufficient funds to mount a strong education campaign, especially in our schools... but there other factors at work.
• What work still needs to be done?
The list is long but here are the major works still to be done:
• Raise funds.
• Conduct a throrugh examination of, and conserve the wattle & daub walls.
• Hang all of the new windows and doors.
• Prepare and repaint the interior walls and floor.
• Source furniture and other items that went missing or were not in a condition to be saved.
• Conserve and repair, where necessary, the saved furniture.
• Dress the house (as close as possible) to the way it was in 1993, when Miss Lassie was at the height of her creative powers.
• Make giclee or other prints of the major works for display in the house.
• Re-create Miss Lassie's sand yard & garden.
• Design sponsors' plaques.
• Design and install lighting for the property.
• Design a marketing plan.
• Install a security system.
• Train tour guide(s).
• Design a hanging system for displaying the original windows.
• Design a giftshop.
• Design Miss Lassie's products for sale in the gift shop.
• Design and erect Miss Lassie's and other signs.
• When do you anticipate the centre to be fully functioning and open to the public?
This is difficult to say. It depends on whether, and how quickly we receive promised funding or are able to raise funds. We intend to open the phase 1 of the property as soon as mind December 2012.
• The paintings and images that cover the house are beautiful and truly inspiring. What do you hope the community will gain from making the site more accessible and open to the public?
Inspiration. Not in and of itself but Inspiration that leads to an understanding of who we are and what we are capable of, and of the type that engenders a lasting creative impulse in everyone who experiences them
• Self-taught or ‘outsider art’ has become an increasingly popular topic amongst the international arts community. Cartier Foundation recently published a global survey of self-taught artists and more and more often artists that have developed their talents in uncommon circumstances have been invited to exhibit in contemporary galleries. Are there many visionary artists practicing in the Cayman Islands today?
It is hard to tell. There are certain traits common to all intuitive - they are untrained; they are compelled to do what they do, they are usually either religious, or claim religious-type experiences, they have managed to reach individuation later in life; they are generally unafraid and continue to work despite the systems working against them, and they have managed to retain the innocence and playful instincts of children - where they lose themselves in their work. I haven't met another artist in Cayman who answers to all these general traits - they may be out there but just not known. I would say, though, that Luelan Bodden (Lutz) is an Intuitive Artist and based on the work I have seen from her, Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette comes close.
• What was your experience like replicating the doors and windows that were painted by the intuitive artist Miss Lassie?
It's been a wonderful experience working on the replicas of Miss Lassie's work. Challenging at times, more so than I would have thought really. Often pieces that looked the simplest have been the hardest to emulate, due to the freedom of her brushstrokes, the colour layers and trying to match the colours.
• Did you learn/gain anything from the experience?
Yes, I learned a lot from the experience. I think she painted with assertiveness. I think if something was on her mind to paint, that's just what she did. In a lot of her pieces you can see that she didn't necessarily wait for layers to dry, she just went ahead and kept painting what was in her to paint. That's why it has been hard in some of the pieces to try and read the colours. as they would often meld together.
I like that she went ahead like that, without sitting around waiting for a certain stage to dry. It shows great acting on impulse, painting with abandonment and certainty, I think anyway. I really would have loved to have seen her paint. Looking at some of her strokes, I wondered if she was left handed, I don't know, perhaps she painted with both! I imagine she was a lady of great determination, with very definite views in life.
• What do you think the community will gain from having Miss Lassie's House open to the public?
I think it will be wonderful when the house is ready for the public to enjoy. Her house is fascinating. It must have been difficult for her to get to some of the areas that she has painted in her house, not to mention the hours she must have spent daily painting and repainting images and patterns. There is nothing to compare here, on an art level, to what she has created in that house. It's so unusual and interesting. I think anyone who sees it will come away with a better understanding of who Miss Lassie was, and how she chose to express herself.
It's been an honour to have worked so closely with the work she has left us. I hope I did them justice.
The conservation of Miss Lassie’s paintings is only a part of the programme to preserve the Mind’s Eye site and present it to the public.
The paintings on the walls of two rooms, the painted ceilings of three rooms and the inside and outside of all the doors and window shutters havebeing treated. The conservation treatment interferes as little as possible with the original while cleaning the surface and stabilizing loose flaking paint. The wall paintings on display when the house opens will not be re-creations or “touched up originals.” They will be Miss Lassie’s colours, glazes, and brushwork that contain the spirit of an exceptional visionary painter.
The original doors and windows were taken down in 2009 because they were too fragile and deteriorating rapidly in the aggressive outdoor environment. They have been conserved with no restoration and will be displayed in the new house on the Mind’s Eye site. Reconstructions are being made and will be hung on the old house to give a sense of Miss Lassie’s vision of her home.
Preventative conservation measures are being implemented to ensure the long-term preservation of the paintings and the building.
Report by Gregory Howarth, Accredited Art Conservator, September 1, 2012
The Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) is spearheading a movement to restore Miss Lassie’s house and preserve it as a national treasure for future generations. The CNCF hopes will open the cultural heritage site mid December 2012. To donate to the project contact the CNCF at (345) 949 5477 or write: Cayman National Cultural Foundation, P.O. Box 30201, Grand Cayman KY1- 1201, Cayman Islands.
F.J. Harquail Cultural Centre 17 Harquail Drive
P.O. Box 30201 Grand Cayman KY1-1201 Cayman Islands
Phone: 345 949 5477 Fax 345 949 4519