Watch Day 2012 gave the public a chance to tour one of Cayman’s true national treasures, the home of the late artist Gladwyn K. “Miss Lassie” Bush known as Mind’s Eye.
In what was an ideal opportunity for the public, especially those interested in preserving the historic treasure of the late Gladwyn K. “Miss Lassie” Bush’s legacy, to visit the Caymanian artist’s home and observe first-hand how the restoration process was coming along, the Cayman National Cultural Foundation hosted “Watch Day 2012” on 21 September.
“Mind’s Eye” is the name given to the 19th Century traditional wattle-and-daub home of the Miss Lassie, which earlier this year was designated by the National Trust as a site of National Historic Interest, one of only six in the Cayman Islands.
Miss Lassie, a visionary artist, will always be known for her mark on the cultural history of the Cayman Islands. A fourth generation Caymanian, Miss Lassie began painting at the age of 62, after what she described as a visionary experience.
Miss Lassie adorned the windows and interior of her house, as well as the outdoor kitchen, with vivid artistic abstracts, which she referred to as “my markings”, and produced literally hundreds of paintings with Biblical scenes on canvas, glass and other surfaces.
Her work is in private collections in England, the United States, South Africa, Germany, the Cayman Islands and in the collection of the American Visionary Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. Most of the original Miss Lassie easel paintings that remain are in the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s collection, with some of them to be featured at the National Gallery at the end of the year in an exhibition titled Prayer Canvases.
In preparation for the formal opening of the house for regular tours as of mid-December, local artist Sue Howe is faithfully copying the paintings from the original doors and windows. They were taken down from the house in 2009 and placed in safekeeping due to their fragile state.
“It’s been a wonderful experience working on the replicas of Miss Lassie’s work,” Howe said. “Challenging at times, more so than I would have thought really. Often pieces that looked the simplest have been the hardest to emulate, due to the freedom of her brush strokes, the colour layers and trying to match the colours. I learned a lot from the experience.”
Howe thinks Miss Lassie painted with assertiveness.
“I think if something was on her mind to paint, that’s just what she did,” she said. “In a lot of her pieces, you can see that she didn’t necessarily wait for layers to dry, she just went ahead and kept painting what was in her to paint. That’s why it has been hard in some of the pieces to try and read the colours as they would often meld together. I like that she went ahead like that, without sitting around waiting for a certain stage to dry. It shows great acting on impulse, painting with abandonment and certainty.”
Howe said she would have loved to have seen Miss Lassie paint.
“Looking at some of her strokes, I wondered if she was left handed; I don’t know, perhaps she painted with both,” she said. “I imagine she was a lady of great determination, with very definite views in life.”
Cultural Foundation Chairman Marytn Bould spoke about the significance of Miss Lassie’s work.
“To think the Cayman Islands has a cultural treasure that shares the company of amazing sites such as the Great Wall of China, Quetzalcoatl Temple, Taj Mahal and Valley of the Kings, is truly inspiring,” he said.
The Watch Day was supported by a grant from the World Monument Fund with the aim of increasing local awareness and inspiring Caymanians to make donations to assist in the ongoing conservation work.
Miss Lassie’s house has been included in the 2012 World Monuments Watch List. The World Monuments Watch calls attention to heritage sites around the globe in need of help. Such sites are important buildings, archaeological sites, ancient structures, modern architecture, cemeteries, historic cities and cultural landscapes.
On Watch Day 2012, primary school students were taken during the daytime on tours of the building and encouraged to use their imagination to create their own artwork from their ‘mind’s eye’. The evening’s open house was led by Cultural Foundation Artistic Director Henry Muttoo, who explained how Miss Lassie‘s creative works were depictions of her dreams and he also let visitors in on some of the plans for the site.
“The vision is quite simple really: To conserve the house and its contents… as a testament to the Caymanian spirit, creativity, art, culture, heritage and the process of individuation,” he said.
Muttoo said having the house put on the International Watch List has brought positive international attention to the Cayman Islands in the areas of culture and identity.
“At home, it has not had the impact we had hoped for,” he said. “For the most part, people still have not tuned in to the importance of something that is so reflective of them.”
With a grant from the Cayman Islands Government, the cultural heritage site will open to the public on 15 December and preventive conservation measures will continue to be implemented to ensure the long-term preservation of the paintings and the building, which is owned and maintained by the Cultural Foundation.