Preparing for Christmas of Yesteryears

Mind’s Eye restoration continues

The Cayman National Cultural Foundation, as the leading organisation in preserving Caymanian culture and heritage continues the work of the restoration and maintenance of Mind’s Eye, previously known as Miss Lassie’s. The site is where the intuitive artist, and recognised genius, Gladwyn “Lassie” Bush lived and worked her entire life. Extensive work has been undertaken to restore and preserve both the buildings and the paintings.

On Saturday morning, 11 December, foundation staff led by Managing Director Marcia Muttoo was joined by volunteers, including teachers, parents and students of the George Town Primary School who have ‘adopted’ this project as part of their community outreach and education outside the confines of the classroom. According to Principal Marie Martin, the morning’s activities included educational elements of re-enacting many of the cultural components that made up the preparation for Christmas of the Yesteryears in the Cayman Islands.

The work teams were divided into age appropriate groups with a team leader, who explained each process along the way. Important elements of the customs and traditions were re-lived, including the mixing of white lime to dress the house in a fresh new coat for the holidays. Native South Sounder, Capt. Paul Hurlston, who is also a cousin of the late Miss Lassie, instructed on the proper procedure of mixing the white lime and how bits of the cactus plant Scotchineel had to be added in the mixture to avoid yellowing. Paul, a walking encyclopedia on things Caymanian, especially things relating to the small enclave of old South Sound, eagerly shared poems with the group with his usual enthusiasm. With a sparkle in his eyes and a chuckle, he explained to the group how, “In those days there was not much in the way of entertainment, so we wrote poems about everything!”

Wall preservation

The morning’s exercise also coincided with the continuing work on the building’s interior, where conservator, Greg Howarth, is carrying out the painstaking cleaning and preservation of the walls, which are covered in Miss Lassie’s paintings. Mr. Howarth exhibited great interest in the stories that were being told and eagerly participated in the work around the grounds.

‘Backing’ of sand in traditional Cayman style thatch baskets, arranging the neat piles of sand and then subsequently spreading and brushing with rosemary brooms were all joyfully done by the youngsters.

Weeds were pulled, brush clipped back and by the end of the morning, the house and yard proclaimed a message of being prepared for Christmas of the Yesteryears, which incidentally is the subject of one of Miss Lassie’s paintings.

The property has recently been selected as one of 67 sites for the biennial Watch List of the World Monuments Fund.

Henry Muttoo, artistic director of the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, said, “The 2012 designation brings the local cultural heritage site to the attention of all other agencies internationally that do similar things, and gives the local foundation leverage in seeking and obtaining funding”.

The listing was announced recently by the World Monuments Fund and a local press conference was held at the site on Wednesday, 12 October, at which time the Minister for Culture announced the Government’s ongoing support to the tune of $500,000, over a four year period.

The Fund’s president, Bonnie Burnham confirmed, “Since 1996, the biennial Watch has drawn international attention to cultural-heritage sites in need of assistance, helping to save some of the world’s most treasured places.

“The 67 sites vividly illustrate the ever-more pressing need to create a balance between heritage concerns and the social, economic, and environmental interests of communities around the world.”

Moreover, in addition to promoting community cohesion and pride, heritage preservation can have an especially positive impact on local populations in times of economic distress, for example, through employment and the development of well-managed tourism.

Watch Listing provides an opportunity for sites and their nominators to raise public awareness, foster local participation, advance innovation and collaboration, and demonstrate effective solutions, the press release stated.

Miss Lassie, a fourth-generation Caymanian, began painting at the age of 62. It was only when she began to have religious visions that she picked up a paintbrush. From then until her death in 2003, she became fecund and creative with any kind of paint she could lay her hands on. She painted not only on canvas, but also on the walls, windows and ceilings of her house.

Social artefacts

According to Mrs. Lorna Bush, programmes coordinator and public education officer at the cultural foundation, “Mr. Muttoo’s passion for unearthing and preserving social artefacts and his visionary leadership has helped to save and record so much of our history, which otherwise would have been eroded, forgotten or lost. All of us at the foundation are looking forward to working even harder in the coming year as we continue the essential work of preserving the cultural heritage that tells our Islands’ story”, she said.

National Trust Preservations Officer Denise Bodden, in acknowledging the work of Cayman National Cultural Foundation commented, “Telling our story can come in many forms. Some buildings are significant enough to become small home museums. Preserving the structure and using it maintains an authentic Caymanian ambience for our children and our visitors.”

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