“The Queen Staircase” is easily one of Bahamian Domestic’s most
“It looks like it was done by a child” is the response given by most
tour groups who stop in front of the Amos Ferguson work. Many of them, however,
know the artist by name. This is for good reason; Ferguson is considered one of
the country’s foremost intuitive artists.
Born on Exuma to a sharecropping family, religion played a key role in
Ferguson’s childhood. His father, Robert, was a preacher, and a young Amos
would spend evenings in Bible study with him. This influence would later take
on great significance as the catalyst for Ferguson’s painting career.
Ferguson moved to Nassau in his young adulthood to acquire a trade. He
spent some time in the southern States as a contractual farmhand before moving
back to New Providence, where he began making a living as a house and sign
He was one day inspired by a relative’s dream of divine intervention and
began making art part-time. In his 50s, Ferguson quit his work as a house
painter and devoted himself to art full-time.
Working with what he knew and had on-hand, Ferguson used house paints
and cardboard or plywood to create. He utilized everyday materials, including
nails, sticks and paint can lids to achieve uniform dots and circles. Many of
his works are notable for their glossy appearance, resulting from his use of
house enamel. Early on in his career, Ferguson would also varnish his works to
enhance their sheen. The paintings were sold on Bay Street, in the straw
market, where his wife, Bloneva King, worked.
His faith in the divine was evident in his works, which were heavily
influenced by his religious beliefs – imagery of church choirs, a crucified
Christ and biblical scenes was common.
Painting by invention – that is by inventing his own point of view of
the world – the late artist’s works are products of his imagination.
“The Queen Staircase” represents the historic landmark, known as the
Queen’s Staircase, located in Downtown Nassau. In the work are images of “cartoon-like”
men and women at the iconic site. The actual staircase features 67 steps, all
carved by hand from slaves, leading up to Fort Fincastle. There are 72 steps in
Ferguson’s painting, and on them are five women clad in similar dress, four of
whom bear identical facial expressions. Ferguson’s signature uniformed dots
(flowers) can be found in the painting’s shrubbery, and alongside them are
In 1978, a visitor from New York purchased an Amos Ferguson work from a
Bay Street vendor. Developing an affinity for it over time, she returned and
added more to her collection, which she showed to Ute Stebich, a curator of
Caribbean art. Through his connection, Ferguson held his first exhibition,
Paint By Mr. Amos Ferguson – after his key signature – in 1985 in Hartford,
Connecticut. Since that show’s traveling to 10 other U.S. cities, the name Amos
Ferguson has taken on significance as one of The Bahamas’ most celebrated
see “The Queen Staircase” and other works by Bahamian artists, visit the
National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ permanent exhibition, Bahamian Domestic.
The NAGB is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, and 12 noon to 4
p.m. on Sundays. The NAGB offers free admission to locals every Sunday.