The making of Minshall's Land of the Hummingbird

Archived photos of the Land of the Hummingbird costume by Peter Minshall on display at Castle Killarney. - Photo by Faith Ayoung
Archived photos of the Land of the Hummingbird costume by Peter Minshall on display at Castle Killarney. - Photo by Faith Ayoung

The From the Land of the Hummingbird exhibition at Castle Killarney (Stollmeyer’s Castle) is a truly stunning look into the creative process behind the making of the iconic costume.

The Hummingbird was legendary masman Peter Minshall’s first Carnival costume design, done in 1974 for his adopted sister Sherry-Ann Guy, and produced with the assistance of a team.

A panoramic circle holds the preliminary sketches Minshall drew in designing the costume, with his notes and studies of shapes, colours, movement, sketches of actual hummingbirds, anatomical drawings and mergers of the two.

A patron takes a closer look at one of concept drawings of the Land of the Hummingbird on display at Castle Killarney. - Photo by Faith Ayoung

Co-curator Kathryn Chan told Sunday Newsday she chose to display the 65 drawings in this way because it related to the design of the costume.

“It’s the foundation of the work for the Hummingbird, and you can see it in some of the drawings, where he’s using the circle and then he relates it to the wing as a 360-degree circle, and the skirt is a 360-degree skirt.

“The circular display also provides a contemplative space to look at and study the drawings.”

Tucked into a little alcove on the left as one enters the building is a photo of a bat. Chan said it was her special moment in the exhibition.

“I had that photograph in my archive…and Minshall had that photograph in his archive. I can’t remember if I got it from him, but I don’t think so – but it’s one of my favourites, and it’s the counterpoint to the bat he’s talking about, because the bat is the beginning of everything (in Minshall’s work).

“The bat is where the structure is connected to your feet and the periphery of your body. So if you move your arms and you move your feet, you move your costume, and he took that into TanTan and Saga Boy: it’s the same principle.

“Over 30 years he evolved the technology where the costumes are either based on the bat, or the clown, which is a collar, like the serpent, for example.”

Co-curator Austin Fido said his favourite moment was being able to find and display pictures and coverage of The Little Carib, the companion costume to the Hummingbird, which Minshall also designed that year.

“I have a soft spot for The Little Carib, because it’s the costume that history forgot. When we were going through archive photos that Minshall has from 1972 and ‘73, we found Jose Samaroo, who played The Little Carib, in a costume from a previous year, and I just love that image.

“There’s also a column, written by Jean Minshall, Minshall’s mother, about the Hummingbird, in the Talk of Trinidad column in the Guardian, under the pen name ‘Hummingbird,’ and I just love that.”

The walls are lined with drawings and quotes from both Minshall and people who have written about him. A workroom replica shows how Minshall’s workspace would have been set up, and some of the tools he would have used. Magazines and newspaper clippings display coverage of the costume in 1974 and beyond.

One catches snatches of the masman’s voice as he describes his process of building the bat, in a clip from the film Paradise Lost, directed by Christopher Laird. Another video shows Minshall’s instructions to his sister on how to play the costume, imposed on performances of the Hummingbird in motion.

Fido said another treasure is a nine-second clip of the original performance by Guy in 1974, as captured by George Tang.

Newspaper clippings and photos featuring Peter Minshall's Land of the Hummingbird on display at the exhibition. - Photo by Faith Ayoung

“Four people, 50 years, nine seconds. This is a copy of a copy: George Tang’s original footage projected onto a wall and then filmed by someone else and recorded onto VHS; and through the ingenious mind of Timmy Mora and a little additional editing by Christopher Laird, they figured out how to get us to this point.

“And what’s great is, when we started on this process, we didn’t know it existed. But since we’ve started working on the exhibition, people have been offering us artefacts and video.”

Fido said he would be compiling all the memories into a commemorative book to be published later this year.

Miniatures of the Hummingbird are scattered through the space, along with a reproduction in brown cotton created by Zidelle Daniel, Meiling and Alicia Rose.

Daniel spoke to Sunday Newsday about the process, which she said took about three weeks.

“We consulted with Kathryn and Austin, who gave us an insight into Minshall’s methods, all the people who worked on it, the different components, and we did a deep-dive study into his book (Masman, published last month by the Minshall Mas Foundation).

“We spent a lot of time figuring out the circle, how it would fall, how much fabric would be needed to replicate the feathers, because it’s a lot of lost information. We did have precise measurements of the scale as well as of the original model, so we were able to take those and apply it to fabric.

Austin Fido and Kathryn Chan, co-curators of the Island of the Hummingbird exhibition explaining some of the items on display at the exhibition at Castle Killarney on January 24. - Photo by Faith Ayoung

“It was more about recreating the dramatic effect rather than using the same materials, as the original would have been made of silk. It was about figuring out what adhesives would work, how we would get the tonality, different layers and textures to represent the movement of the feathers. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.”

Upstairs, the gift store sells posters, stickers, T-shirt and original copies of Minshall’s 1984 book, Callaloo an de Crab, the story behind his River sequence of bands.

An audiovisual room also holds a poster showing a timeline of Minshall’s work in mas.

Fido said since the exhibition opened on January 23, people have been coming in steady streams and were enjoying the experience.

The exhibition, presented by Baachacs Collective in association with the Minshall Mas Foundation, runs until March 9.

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"The making of Minshall’s Land of the Hummingbird"

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