Leaving an impression: Grand Bahama’s schools get supplementary art materials, lessons

A week’s worth of school outreach, exhibition installation and art education by the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) left an impression on the people of Grand Bahama last week. Abby Smith, NAGB community outreach officer, and Natalie Willis, NAGB curatorial assistant, traveled to Grand Bahama in anticipation of the planned satellite gallery’s opening on Grand Bahama. The planned satellite NAGB will be part of the projected Museum of Grand Bahama at the grounds of the former Shannon Country Club.

It has been in the works for the past three years, as the NAGB board and Director Amanda Coulson have sought to bring it to fruition. From March 14–18, NAGB Community Outreach Officer Abby Smith and Curatorial Assistant Natalie Willis installed a pop-up exhibition at the Sir Charles Hayward Library, networked with the Grand Bahama American Women’s Club, hosted a workshop and talk and led school outreach initiatives. The trip followed and expanded on an earlier outreach initiative led by Education Officer Corinne Lampkin in February 2015 and talks given by Coulson at the Rand Nature Center in January 2013 and at the Sir Jack Hayward Library in October 2014.

The exhibition, titled Max/Amos, features 18 works by the celebrated artists Max Taylor and Amos Ferguson and stands at the Sir Charles Hayward Library. To help students engage with the works, Smith and Willis hosted a ‘Paint like Amos’ workshop. Ferguson is remembered as an intuitive artist (one who paints from imagination) whose works appear childlike at first glance. He often responded to works by trained fine artists like Paul Gauguin’s “Yellow Christ” and Francisco de Goya’s “Clothed Maja”, creating his own versions. His paintings were completed in house paint on cardboard, poster board or hardboard. He used simple tools like nails to create uniform dots and detailing. Giving 11th and 12th graders the option of painting a yellow elder, conch shell, flamingo or fish, Willis and Smith equipped them with nails, cardboard and house paint to help them learn firsthand the genius behind Ferguson’s work.

“The workshop went really well,” said Willis. “The kids were really engaged and they were really listening when we spoke about the NAGB and Amos’ work. We got them all started on painting and you could tell some of them were really struggling because the actual look of Amos’ work belies the fact that it’s really difficult to do properly. We could tell some of them were getting a bit discouraged.” The motivation came after Willis and Smith told them the best pieces would be selected to be exhibited at the NAGB in the spring. “Instantly they were 10 times more motivated than before.

All the art teachers were saying we’ve never seen them work this hard. So when they’ve got enough motivation to really try and feel it’s going to go somewhere, they can put in a good effort,” Willis recalled. The workshop was followed by an evening talk attended by the Grand Bahama Artists Association and other members of the community. For Willis, an artist who was born and raised on Grand Bahama, it was telling of the community’s keenness for more creative influence and arts education. “They all seemed really engaged at the talk and they really enjoyed it,” she said. “We ended up staying an extra 30 to 45 minutes and it became an impromptu discussion on what Grand Bahama needs for art.” For Smith, though, the best part of the trip was the school outreach trips.

Smith and Willis took more than 20 catalogues to each school when they stopped to present on the National Collection. The pair traveled to 13 schools, where most of the students they met had never received a comprehensive education in Bahamian art history or seen art by Bahamian artists in person. “It was really an eye-opening experience. At Freeport primary they’ve never seen artwork up close, so we showed them images in the books,” explained Smith. “They couldn’t believe how realistic Brent Malone’s pieces are, and when they looked at Amos Ferguson’s works, which look like they were made by a child, they still enjoyed it and kept touching the books. The students couldn’t figure out how these guys could be famous but they didn’t know about them.” The students weren’t the only ones who were excited about the outreach visits.

The teachers, too, were glad to supplement their lessons with the NAGB’s visit and learning resources. For one art teacher, the catalogues were the first learning materials he’d received for the art department in over a decade. His struggle for adequate supplies and supplementary materials was not the only one. After the Paint like Amos workshop, Smith and Willis donated remaining supplies to the attending art teachers, who were also in real need of basic materials like paint, cardboard and brushes. Returning their eagerness, Smith hoped that she and Willis were able to instill in each student an appreciation for the country’s fine artists. “Sometimes we get so caught up in studying famous artists around the world and we want to emulate them so much that we forget our own people and our own culture.

We just want student to gain a greater appreciation for our artists and National Collection and what the NAGB is trying to do for the country,” she said. Max/Amos will be on display at the Sir Charles Hayward Library until May 15. For information on resources and supplementary materials the NAGB can provide your school with, contact the NAGB’s education department at 328-5800.