Miss Lassie's House gets a festive sprucing up

One of Cayman‘s treasures recently got a traditional Caymanian sprucing up and festive makeover. 

The “Christmas of Yesteryear” production held on Dec. 11 was part of the National Cultural Foundation’s efforts to keep Caymanian heritage alive. 

Volunteers spent the day re-enacting the days of old, tidying up the home and yard of the late visionary artist Gladwyn K. “Lassie” Bush, better known as “Miss Lassie.” 

Miss Lassie began her rise to prominence as an artist in her later years when, at 62, she began to create art inspired by Christian visions and Caymanian seafaring culture on the doors, windows, walls and furnishings of her home. 

Miss Lassie’s house, a traditional 19th-century dwelling built by Miss Lassie’s father and grandfather, was declared a site of national historic interest after she passed away in 2003. 

As with most traditional Caymanian houses, Miss Lassie’s home, located on a white sandy shore in South Sound, 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 paste was daubed onto both sides of the inner wooden wall structure and left to dry for several days. 

Lime plaster was made by Caymanians years ago but is no longer available. The whitewash mixture used on Miss Lassie’s house was imported from Jamaica. 

“The tidying up was typical of old Caymanian culture,” said the foundation’s cultural heritage programs manager Lorna Bush. 

“It’s part of our mission at CNCF to make sure that our traditions are not forgotten, and to make sure they are passed on to the youngsters in particular,” she said. “‘Christmas of Yesteryear’ was all about the preparation, but always with the intent of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.” 

Long ago, Caymanians made preparations well in advance of the Christmas holidays. Preparing for Christmas was hard work but good fun, something with which everyone lent a helping hand. 

From harvesting the crops to cooking and cleaning the house, each member of the household had his or her allotted tasks to do. The children would collect white sand and conch shells to decorate the yards, and women would prepare cuts of seasoned fresh beef and pork in a big cast iron pot blackened by use. The men made sure the produce was brought out from the land, the house whitewashed and the meats ordered for purchase. 

Hard at work, CNCF volunteers assisted with backing sand in thatch baskets, pulled bush, swept the yard with rosemary brooms and arranged conch shells to make the yard pretty. 

Volunteer worker Deborah Zureigat said Miss Lassie was a good friend of her mother, Maizie Powery, and she recalled many days visiting the old house.  

“It feels good helping to preserve some of Caymanian history,” she said. 

Volunteers spruce up the back of Miss Lassie’s house. – Photos: Jewel Levy
Volunteers spruce up the back of Miss Lassie’s house. – Photos: Jewel Levy