By Natalie Willis
The Caribbean is in many ways a place of and for the nomadic. There is an irony then in the way that American artist Peggy Hering found herself referencing Claude Monet’s water lilies with her own “Lilies” (1984), which were painted at his home for the last 30 years of his practice. The jarring difference between those seemingly shifting, moving art makers, and those who stand stock-still devoting time to the exact opposite which is the enduring, is all presented to be considered in Hering’s dreamy landscape. Some may be familiar with her work gifted to us from the FINCO commissions of scenes Over-the-Hill, but Hering and her work are a little elusive for those of us who weren’t around in Nassau in the 70s and 80s when Hering lived here. This gem in the Dawn Davies Collection is a good departure point for probing into the life of this expatriate artist.
Born in 1943 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Peggy Hering was one of a family of artists. “She earned a BS in Art Education at Pennsylvania State University in 1965 and taught art in the public school system for several years before turning full time to painting and illustration. Hering came to The Bahamas in 1976 and worked briefly for the island-wide Mademoiselle Stores as advertising manager, then devoted ten years as a graphic designer and illustrator for The Nassau Guardian. During this time, she continued with her painting, being inspired by the beauty and vibrancy of The Bahamas, and was perhaps best known for her paintings of flora and figurative work, notably mothers with children.”
“June Knight organized a solo exhibition of her work at Brent Malone’s studio, The Temple, in 1984. Her work was reproduced in her own 1979 limited edition, “Images of The Bahamas”, the 1984 FINCO Grantstown Limited Edition Collection, and compiled as a portfolio of scenes for Resorts International. She moved to Florida in 1985 where she continued her artistic career in the studios of Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami. As a member of the Woman’s Caucus for Art she co-produced and co-hosted a 24-part educational TV series, “Way of the Woman Artist”, interviewing South Florida female artists. Since returning to the US her work has focused on personal exploration and commissions, while island influence is still seen in her nature-inspired canvases.” (excerpt taken from “Love & Responsibility: The Dawn Davies Collection”, 2012).
Hering’s lilies could be seen as her own way of rooting and finding home, inspired by the iconic Impressionist that was Monet. Having spent at least 20 years here herself, there’s a certain synchronicity despite the seemingly differing practices. Her nod toward Monet’s practice is an exercise in learning, rather than being rooted in the notion of “stealing someone’s idea” that we so commonly hear whispered around our art community. It is common practice for artists to test out the archetypal style or oeuvre of a famous artist. We’ve seen it time and time again in Brent Malone’s work – from impressionist to surreal – as he was perhaps the perpetual student of Bahamian art history. We’ve also seen it in Kendal Hanna’s abstractions, or in the work of UB Art graduates trying their hand at European and Caribbean art canons alike. As Hering was trained as an Art Educator, I’m sure this wasn’t missed on her.
Perhaps it is sentimental to say, but in much of Hering’s work there is a simultaneous joy of making and joy of being in the landscape. It may prove problematic for our history to see outsiders coming in under the allure of the edenic Caribbean picturesque, but to truly spend time here and to truly invest in this place shows (or is noticeably absent) in expatriate work. The outsider becomes a transplant through their investment, and this could – among a myriad of other reasons – be why Hering’s work resonates so much with visitors and Bahamians alike. Some work is more about pleasing the eye than stirring the cogs of our mind, and there’s a place for it all, respectively and respectfully done.
See this work by Hering, and more, in the current re-hang of the Permanent Exhibition, “TimeLines: 1950-2007” curated by Richardo Barrett. The NAGB is free for locals from now until the end of the year.