Miss Lassie’s house – a cultural gem

One of the gems in Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s portfolio is Miss Lassie’s house in South Sound.

The site, known as Mind’s Eye, is an icon of Caymanian tradition, culture, heritage and art, which has withstood the test of time including several hurricanes.

The late Gladwyn Klosking Bush, lovingly known as Miss Lassie, was a fourth generation Caymanian who owned and lived in the house built by her father between 1878 and 1881.

Artwork

An intuitive artist, Miss Lassie began painting at the age of 62, after what she described as a visionary experience, marking her visions on the walls of the house.

“Miss Lassie was a spiritual person who read her Bible daily and professed her belief in the absolute power and truth of Christ and his teachings,” said Tracie Watler of CNCF. “Not surprisingly, most of her markings are paintings of the dreams and visions she experienced, founded on biblical text. She also painted events from her past and of historical importance to her life in Cayman, including an interpretation of the 1932 storm and Hurricane Gilbert (in 1988).”
During Miss Lassie’s lifetime, when paint began peeling off the exposed sides of the wooden windows and doors, she would “freshen up” by painting over the first layer.

“Sometimes, because of the nature of the intuitive mind, she would re-vision and reinterpret paintings she had already done – even though they were still in good condition – changing a hand here or an expression, there and so on,” said Ms. Watler. “At other times, she would do a completely different painting over one she became tired of seeing.

“We can’t say if her devout Christian beliefs or her artwork kept the storms at bay (she died in 2003, the year before Ivan), but we do know that we are very fortunate to have such a historically significant piece of living art still standing and open to the public for inspiration.”

Wattle & daub

Mind’s Eye is located on a white sandy shore in South Sound, in an area now rapidly changing with new beachfront developments.

Many homes in this area were devastated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but Miss Lassie’s house stands firm, testament to the building skills of Caymanians and their understanding of the environment.

The only structural damage was to the outdoor kitchen “cookrum” built of wood in 1947, while even the sea grape tree in the yard has been standing for more than 100 years.

As with most traditional Caymanian houses, Miss Lassie’s home was constructed from “wattle and daub.”

The wattle is made from pliable wooden strips from the candlestick trees that grew in the South Sound area.

Over that, a thick paste of limestone, or white lime plaster, was made by mixing limestone powder with sand and the inside gel of pieces of cochineal cactus.
This was daubed onto both sides of the inner wooden wall structure and left to dry for several days.

Then, a thinner mixture of whitewash was painted over the hardened walls. Pieces of the coral rocks from the nearby reef were used to form the limestone powder.

Ironwood, mahogany and wild cabbage trees that grew in the vicinity were used as building materials.

The house was built with a space underneath to let air pass through to keep it cool, a construction feature that also protected it from floods and hurricanes as the waves wash under the building and do not cause damage to the interior.

Restoration

The unique markings on the walls of the house, its fragility and the cultural significance of the site, placed Mind’s Eye on the World Monuments Watch List in 2012.

As a result, CNCF was able to leverage funding for conservation and restoration of the property.

Sadly, the “cookrum” that was damaged during Hurricane Ivan was sold or given away before the cultural foundation took possession of the property.

The paintings in that small building were some of the finest undertaken by Miss Lassie, so CNCF intends to raise funds, rebuild the structure and restore the building with copies of those missing artworks.

Thanks to a sponsorship program from Walkers law firm, CNCF has also been able to take more than 800 students to visit Miss Lassie’s house in the past year, enabling the younger generation to learn about this important part of Cayman’s history and culture.

To book a free tour of Mind’s Eye, contact CNCF at 949-5477 or email [email protected] For more information on Mind’s Eye and Miss Lassie, visit artscayman.org/mind-s-eye.

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