In Memoriam Gene Hendricks Pearson O.D. (1946-2018)

Gene Pearson – photograph courtesy of Taynia Nethersole

The National Gallery of Jamaica received the sad news of the passing of Master sculptor, ceramist and teacher Gene Hendricks Pearson O.D. on March 15.

Born in 1946 in Wood Hall St Catherine; Pearson was only 15 years old when he was was first introduced to the medium of clay at the Jamaica School of Art now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 1960. He studied under Jamaica’s Master Potter Cecil Baugh with whom he developed a close relationship; Pearson recounted that “…[Baugh] was like a father to me and I was like the son he never have.” He was one of the first two students to graduate from the school with a Diploma in Ceramics in 1965 and subsequently went on to teach at his alma mater for almost eighteen years and also taught drawing and painting at Calabar and Vere Technical High Schools in the early 1970s.

After he stopped teaching at the School of Art he began dividing his time between Jamaica and Northern California working with the Potters Studio in Berkley. He used the facilities there to produce his larger sculptures and his bronze works and also conducted workshops at University of Berkley and participated in exhibitions in California. He was also known to be a keen cultural entrepreneur having opened an eponymous gallery in New Kingston where he sold his ceramic and sculptural works.

While he produced more conventional ceramics, such as vases and bowls, Pearson was best known for his sculptural work, especially his popular heads and masks which celebrated black beauty and dignity. Inspired by the arts of the ancient Nubia and Benin as well as Rastafari culture, the introverted monumentality of his sculptural works made them amongst the most distinctive and recognizable of the artists of his generation.

Gene Pearson – Mother (1992), bronze, Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

“I have always thought that my work speaks for me. I am not a man who does speak much. My work is very spiritual. All my powers come from God and nature and I execute them through clay…”

Gene Pearson Raku Head nd

He worked extensively with local clays with varying properties and colours, sourced from locales such as Castleton, Trench Town and Clarendon. His ceramic work also showed the results of his constant experimentation with the ancient Japanese technique of Raku-style firing, of which he was an acknowledged master. The characteristic crackled surface of his Raku ware was used with great finesse in his sculptural forms and had become part of his signature style.

Pearson boycotted the National Gallery for several years while it was at its Devon House location when it didn’t recognize ceramics as fine art and was successful in his mission of gaining greater local recognition for ceramics and ceramic sculpture.

His work is represented in major Jamaican collections, such as the National Gallery of Jamaica, the Bank of Jamaica and the Hardingham Collection, as well as the private collections of international celebrities such as Stevie Wonder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Diahann Carroll, and Alice Walker. His ceramic works have also served as official Jamaican gifts to Heads of States and other public figures including Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Phan Van Dong of Vietnam, President Lopez Portillo of Mexico, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Roberta Flack, Maya Angelou and President Bill Clinton of the USA.

Gene Pearson – Sculptured Pot (1987), Collection: NGJ, Gift of Ken and Patricia Ramsay

In 2010 the Institute of Jamaica awarded Pearson the Silver Musgrave Medal for outstanding merit for his contribution to the field of art and in 2015, he was awarded the Order of Distinction — Commander Class, for his contribution to the development of the fine arts in Jamaica. This was an upgrade to the Officer Class designation he had received some years prior.

The Board of Directors and the staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Gene Pearson.

Natural Histories: Cecil Baugh, Egyptian Blue (1992)

Cecil Baugh - Egyptian Blue (1992), Earthenware, Collection: NGJ (Gift of Sonia Jones)

Cecil Baugh – Egyptian Blue (1992), Earthenware, Collection: NGJ (Gift of Sonia Jones)

The work of Cecil Baugh, Jamaica’s master potter, holds an important place in the history of Jamaican art. Though there is a long tradition of pottery in Jamaica dating back to the Taino, Baugh was the first to systematically explore pottery as fine art; researching and utilising local clays and forms extensively and developing a number of glazes such as Egyptian Blue shown here. As a young man, Baugh’s work consisted largely of traditional Jamaican pottery- yabbas and monkey jars- used for domestic purposes. He soon began to experiment with developing his own style. In his  book, Baugh: Jamaica’s Master Potter (1986) co-written with Laura Tanna, he writes:

I thought of glazes but the transparent lead glaze was the only one available. So I started off to experiment. None of the other traditional potters were making coloured glazes but I could see the imported pots were coloured and I thought, ‘Well I’m using clay. Why can’t my pots be coloured also?’ I’d never done science in school so I had to learn by trial and error. […] Then by accident one night I discovered the Egyptian Blue. […] So I found the original method that potters in Egypt had developed, without my ever reading a book about it.

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Jamaica’s Art Pioneers – Louisa “Ma Lou” Jones O.D. (1913 – 1992)

Louisa Jones "Ma Lou" - Bowl (n.d.). Collection: Museums of History and Ethnography, Institute of Jamaica

The following post – another in our Jamaica’s Art Pioneers series – was researched and written by Dwayne Lyttle, Curatorial Assistant at the NGJ.

Louisa Jones O.D., popularly known as Ma Lou, has been described as a national treasure and a master practitioner of the African-Jamaican pottery tradition.

At approximately nine years old Ma Lou started learning how to make clay pots, mainly from her mother, an uncle’s wife and three maternal aunts. By the age of thirteen she started to work as a potter full time and from that point on began a career which would span a period of 67 years. She primarily produced yabba pots, cooling jars, coal stoves and flower pots, particularly for household use and domestic applications. Of all the ceramic forms within the African-Jamaican tradition Ma Lou rarely made the water storage vessel known as the Monkey Jars.

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