When it comes to finding old things, the saying is true for one collector; one man’s junk is definitely another man’s treasure.
Owner of Powell’s Museum on Boggy Sand Road, Bernard Powell is a collector of things Caymanian. With over 1,000 items in his care ranging from an old wind-up Victrola to a 1940 meat grinder and numerous historical documents; he is also a keen conservationist, retired seaman, farmer and construction worker. Mr. Powell who resides on Powell Smith Drive, West Bay, was recently named a medal of honour member.
The museum opens Monday to Friday from 8am to 2.30pm.
When Mr. Powell is not shaping something new in his workshop he is spending time at the farm enjoying his retirement with friends, planting plantains, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and other produce on his plot of land.
For many years Mr. Powell has been digging up old household items ranging from washboards, tools, sextants, local wood and even a “lightning bolt”, or so his father Prentice Powell claimed some 50 years ago.
What is most commendable about Mr. Powell’s hobby is that he has opened a collector’s museum in his father Prentice Powell’s old shop on Boggy Sand Road to preserve and showcase his collections.
His passion is to give a glimpse of what items were used in yesteryears and how hard it was to work and make a living with these items. “Today we can take a power plane and shave a wood in seconds or a chainsaw and saw down a tree in minutes. But we had to do it by hand,” Mr. Powell said. “Those tools last a life time, not like the stuff made from plastic and run by electricity.
Mr. Powell recalls buying a No. 5 1/2 wood shaving plane in 1967, which is in good condition and used in his workshop today.
“I really like old stuff,” Mr. Powell said, “But what really started my collection was the desire to capture the Pirates Week Heritage Day first place trophy from East Enders. I made the journey to East End with a friend only to discover that East End collection of old Cayman artefacts was huge and it would take some searching to come out on top.”
Mr. Powell went back to West Bay on a mission and that was to source every nook-and-cranny, backyards, grandma’s attics, under floorboards, outhouses, and even some old ship yards. He hit the jackpot; a mother-load of old items including an old record player. He found so many items that when it came time for Heritage Display, West Bay took top honours.
With so many artefacts in his care, Mr. Powell needed someplace to put it all. The idea of a museum came to him, along with the chance to maybe make a couple of dollars. “That is exactly what I made, a couple of dollars; it was no more than that,” Mr. Powell said, not the least disappointed about his venture.
“I opened the museum in 1990 in daddy’s old shop because that too is a collector’s item,” Mr. Powell said.
“In those days daddy would sell dry goods, canned items, thatch rope, paints and mostly some of every little thing that could be had in yesteryears. Salt beef, pig tail, cloth, medicine and around Christmas time, apples. This little shop was the main centre of business in West Bay at the time. It was only fitting that it be turned into a small community museum with Powell family roots.”
When asked about a favourite piece, Mr. Powell loves all. “There is a piece that brings back memories. Daddy called it a thunder bolt. That piece of hard iron, which my father used to sharpen knives, was on the shop counter as a paper weight for as long as I can remember,” he said. “As a little boy I overheard that a seaman had found the odd shaped piece of iron during a turtling trip sometime in 1940.”
Mr. Powell also has numerous items from Grandmother Virginia Powell’s home, too many to list and in good condition. “The old things lasted a lot longer and older folks didn’t have much money to keep buying things so they took good care of whatever they had,” Mr. Powell said. “Today a lot of things are thrown away, but a hundred or fifty years from now some of these things will be considered artefacts so let’s preserve some. Right now I see a lot of our indigenous mango, coco plum, hardwood and other trees being lost. This will only give our children a less chance of finding out the way of life back then.”
Mr. Powell grew up on Powell Smith Drive between his grandmother’s and mother’s house. “We did not have to go out on the road for anything. She had a Poinciana tree in the yard and all the children would gather to play.”
When he was young, Mr. Powell would take bottles of cows’ milk to sell before heading off to school. For every bottle of milk sold at one shilling and three pence, he received three pence from the sale. He also sold eggs for 4 shillings a dozen and received 3 pence in pay. From his earnings Mr. Powell bought his first boat. He was about 14 years old at the time.
“I used the boat for fishing and kept my family supplied with fish. The extra fish was sold to those who could afford it.”