Amos Ferguson was born on February 28th, 1920 in Exuma. His parents, Robert and Lavina Ferguson raised their children in the settlement of The Forest where his father, Robert Ferguson, was a preacher for the local Baptist church. Amos was close with his father and spent many days with him in the church studying his Bible and learning to be a carpenter. Amos also spent time on the family farm, helping his mother with the crops.
In 1937, Amos took his carpenter skills to Nassau. Eventually, Amos found work in a furniture factory polishing unfinished wood. Amos worked at the factory till 1943, after which he left The Bahamas to go to the United States. During this time many Bahamians, both men and women, were hired by the United States as ‘contract workers’ to work the land due to a labor shortage as a result of World War II.
After spending several years working in the United States, Amos returned to Nassau where he quickly settled as a private contractor painting houses for wealthy families. Later, Amos’ nephew, George Bastian, approached him about a dream he had, where God spoke that a member of their family was wasting their artistic talent. Quickly realizing that his nephew’s dream spoke of his own talent, Amos started keeping pencils and paper in his pockets for inspirational moments.
When Amos was in his 50’s he quit the house painting business and devoted all of his time to making art. Initially, Ferguson painted on cheap pieces of paper, conch shells and plastic cups; however, he quickly graduated to painting on large pieces cardboard and boxes. Amos set up a space on Bay Street where he sold his art to tourists. During his time there he met his wife, Bloneva “Bea” Ferguson. Bea was an instrumental force in Amos’ life; she was a devoted wife and pushed him to sell his artwork, eventually hanging his paintings in her straw market stall which gave him more exposure. He also painted pictures on her straw bags and hats.
The late 1970s saw a sharp rise in Amos’ popularity, when a tourist named Dr. Miller bought one of his pieces from Bea’s stall to take home with her. Dr. Miller quickly became obsessed with Amos’ work and returned to The Bahamas to meet him. Eventually she was taken to Amos’ home, a space that he had converted into a gallery. His front wall bore a painting of Adam and Eve and the words Mr. Amos Ferguson Gallery- Match Me If You Can. Later, Dr. Miller showed Amos’ work to Mr. Steibech, a curator of Caribbean Art in the United States. Mr. Steibech was interested in Amos’ paintings and contacted the Wadsworth Atheneum, a large art museum in Hartford, Connecticut.
On March 31st, 1985, Amos had his first international exhibition entitled Paint Like Amos Ferguson at the Wadsworth Atheneum, thus cementing his status as a celebrated Bahamian artist. His show went on to travel to over 10 cities and museums in the United States. With his new celebrity status, Amos was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 and was one of the many Bahamian representatives at the 1994 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Amos continued to paint, completing one painting every day till his death at the age of 89 in 2009. He is considered one of the pioneers of Bahamian art and was one of the first artists to put The Bahamas on the map.
Amos Ferguson: Bahamian Outsider is on display at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas till October 28th, 2012. The exhibition catalogue for Amos Ferguson: Bahamian Outsider will be released in October, 2012. To see an excerpt from the catalogue, click Here.