It’s been hard to maintain connections with family and friends at home; far less those colleagues and schoolmates flung far across decades and generations. Since the beginning of 2020 we have been grateful for online platforms and memories of times when we were not masked. Members of the arts and entertainment community have mounted valiant forays, learned to manoeuvre digital streaming in place of live shows.
In this time, Bishop Anstey High School (BAHS) is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a call out to the thousands of women known as Hilarians. The Call to Arts is the collection that is now at Castle Killarney and includes work from Nina Squires to Nneka Jones, from the decade of the fifties to now.
Jones graduated from BAHS in 2016 with a scholarship that took her to the bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Tampa. She describes herself as an activist artist using a variety of media to communicate. Her embroidered version of the American flag used on the cover of Time magazine (August 31-September 7, 2020) was intended to activate conversations around the issues of brown and black people in the US.
Squires is best known for her depictions of Caribbean still life. When you have seen her Coconuts, Plantains, Pineapples, they imprint a distinctive colour palette and iconography that becomes a way of seeing tropical light. She was a friend of Sybil Atteck and certainly guided by the older woman. For a brief period (1961-1963) she opened Nina’s Art Gallery. Squires continued to paint alongside her full time job at the US Information Service/US Embassy in Trinidad. Corbeaux by Squires was painted in 1960; perhaps one of the earliest works in the collection, it is one of the most striking.
Not only paintings, ceramics and jewellery are represented. The work of three outstanding jewellers may be seen: Janice Derrick, Gillian Bishop and Patricia Byer.
Derrick has been producing unique contemporary art jewellery for about 20 years. She started at Bishop Anstey Junior School at four and graduated from the high school in 1988. She holds a BA (Honours) in silversmithing, jewellery and allied crafts from Sir John Cass faculty at London Guildhall University. She makes jewellery that is comfortable and easy, and intended to give the wearer an extra glow.
Bishop melds her training as a scientist with a designer’s eye, an instinct for Carnival and the flair for fashion (inherited from her mother) into her practice as craftsman-jeweller. Through her company Signature Collection, she has created specialty gifts and jewellery for heads of state and royalty. Her pieces are sumptuous and bold, combining precious metals and gemstones with organic materials like abalone and ebony.
Byer (1938-2005) was a Caribbean artist, conservator and art educator. At Edinburgh College of Art and Design, pursuing studies in architecture, she learned silversmithing, sculpture and mural design. In the 1960s her work with metal was commissioned by heads of states in Jamaica and Barbados. From 1979, she lived and worked in Barbados. In the late 1990s she continued to make invaluable contributions to Barbadian society with her execution of national commissions to create the ten Barbados National Heroes Medallions in 1998 and also the 100 Barbados Centennial Honours (BCH) medallions.
In addition to her artistic practice, Byer was the only trained conservator in Barbados, and assisted in restoration of many works throughout the Caribbean. Byer was a passionate advocate for Caribbean art and design. Her love for steel pan music and friendship with Pat Bishop brought her to Panorama year after year.
Pat Bishop, Byer’s contemporary at BAHS, was another renaissance woman, talented in music and art; though her greatest contribution may well be in community-building. Pat was a welcome collaborator in panyards, mas camps and many rural communities; and created the memorable anti-litter campaign, Chase Charlie Away. From the early 1990s until her sudden death in 2011, Pat painted prolifically, an annual themed collection. You will see here one of her earliest works, Girl; as well as her later innovations in bas relief (raised forms on canvas), Rosewater and A Pink and Gilded Poui. Her artwork is held in many private collections, including the Central Bank of TT.
The ceramic artists are represented by Victoria Kramer-Aguiton, Bunty O’Connor and Amina Curvan; and Bunty’s apprentice Safiya Hoyte. Search out their work in the rooms of Killarney.
No doubt, Hilarians will find much to reflect on and enjoy in this exhibition; you will think of other Hilarian artists who should be represented here but for covid. Memories will come back, recalled by a name, a painting, features peeping out like Tessa Alexander’s Garden Musings. Layers and textures bring Gatacre Street in the mixed media work of one of the current BAHS art teachers Leona Fabien. And we are right up to date with Sabrina Charran’s Year of the Nurse, a sisterhood in the pandemic.
You’ll know at least two generations of painters, like Angelica Barrow and daughter Marielle Barrow-Maignan, each with her own eye and skill. Indeed, all the generations of artists in this show represent one family, Hilarians from BAHS, given the freedom of independent thought and practice, contributing to the civilisation of TT.
The BAHS centenary exhibition Call to Arts is on at Castle Killarney. It is a worthwhile outing to a well-restored and utilised centre for the arts. While you are there, remember to look at the castle itself built for the Stollmeyer family in 1904, patterned after an English castle and named for Killarney (Ireland). The interior woodwork has been lovingly restored. But be sure to look at the stonework on the outside walls, carefully cut blue Laventille (Northern Range) stone and warm yellow bricks from England.