Preparing to set sail

The second exhibition at the new National Gallery of the Cayman Islands will open in early June and will pay homage to Cayman’s seafaring history. 

Following on from a successful inaugural exhibition with Bendel Hyde’s Circumnavigating the Globe, the new National Gallery will open a group show titled Founded Upon the Seas in early June.  

Slated as an ‘ode to our maritime heritage’ by curator Natalie Urquhart, the collection features a series of works by well-known artists along with first-hand accounts of life at sea by some of Cayman’s most beloved seafarers.  

“The story of our maritime heritage lies at the very heart of our identity,” says Urquhart, “From the first permanent settlers harvesting turtles and salvaging shipwrecks, to our merchant mariners who travelled the globe, and more recently with the advent of tourism, Caymanians have looked to the sea for a livelihood. It is story of courage, hardship and heroism, of loneliness, incredible determination and deep faith. This exhibition is a celebration of this heritage and of the men and vessels at the heart of it.” 

The initial concept for a maritime-inspired art exhibition grew out of conversations that Urquhart had with the late Linton Tibbetts after first visiting the Little Cayman Maritime Museum. The tiny museum houses a remarkable collection of images, objects and archival material carefully collected by Tibbetts and his family over many years.  

“The LC Museum and the Maritime Museum are two of Cayman’s cultural gems,” says Urquhart. “There are literally hundreds of stories displayed within its walls, each one inspiring in its own right. Some of these stories have become firmly fixed in our cultural memory while others are at risk of being lost. So we talked about how to bring them back to centre stage.” 

Jump ahead two years and the final touches are being placed on the exhibition. The show, which has been generously supported by Butterfield Bank (Cayman) Ltd, features paintings by artists Miguel Powery, Bendel Hydes, Gordon Solomon, Guy Harvey, John Broad, Randy Chollette, Conroy Ebanks and Christel Ibsen. The works have been gathered from the artists themselves as well as from public and private collections across the Islands, many kindly loaned by the Cayman Islands National Museum. These will be flanked by quotations provided from the National Archives’ oral history collections.  

Public programming has also been developed in association with the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association, the Cayman Catboat Club, the Cayman Islands National Archive and the Cayman Islands National Museum. “Founded Upon the Seas brings together several of the organisations charged with preserving the story of our maritime heritage and we are delighted to be working alongside them,” says Urquhart. “The actual art exhibition in the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands lower gallery serves as an anchor for a much wider education programme that includes lectures, special events and screenings. Visitors and students will be able to learn from education guides that accompany a visit to the gallery or attend a lecture and listen to these stories first hand from people like Captain Paul Hurlston and John Douglas,” Urquhart said.  

In addition, a photography exhibition drawn from the Cayman Islands National Archive photographic collections will be on display in the Dart Auditorium. There will also be brochures that list the many resources available at these institutions with contact information and directions.  

“Ultimately we want to encourage the community to make the most of these resources, not just for the duration of the three-month exhibition, but well into the future”, she said. “We don’t need to look beyond our shores to find inspiring roles models for our young people. Our forefathers undertook remarkable acts of courage and strength, sometimes in the most trying of situations; others travelled the world and took part in global events. They participated in history first hand.” 

Gordon Solomon working

Artist Gordon Solomon works on a new piece for the Founded Upon the Seas exhibition inspired by an image from the National Archive Collections.

Catboat race Miguel Powery

Catboat Race by Miguel Powery, 2008, from the collection of Truman Bodden.