The National Gallery of Jamaica has received the sad news of the passing renowned painter, sculptor and art educator Valerie Bloomfield-Ambrose on Tuesday January 9, 2018. Born in Glasgow Scotland in 1934, she attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1953 to 1957 and later the Jordanhill Teacher Training College also in Glasgow. In 1980, she received her Master of Fine Arts Degree from the American University. In 2012 she was conferred with a honourary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) Degree by the University of the West Indies.
She made Jamaica her home in 1959 and taught at several schools including Jamaica College, Wolmer’s Girls School and The Priory School. At Wolmer’s Girls School in particular, she is remembered as an inspiring teacher who motivated a generation of young women to pursue art as a career rather than a mere pastime. Bloomfield-Ambrose also taught anatomy, life-drawing and painting at the Jamaica School of Art from 1970 – 1979 where she nurtured and honed the skills of many of Jamaica’s renowned artists, such as Hope Brooks, Carol Crichton and Philip Supersad, among others. She also lectured at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. and Baltimore’s Maryland Institute.
Mrs Bloomfield-Ambrose played an active role in the burgeoning Post-Independence performing arts movement in Jamaica. She was an actress, appearing in numerous productions in the 1960s and 1970s and had acted opposite well-known actors such as Lloyd Reckord and also served as a set designer for many stage productions. It was in the 1960s however, that she began focusing on her own artistic career. She initially shared a studio with Ruth Cohn and Moira Small with whom she had her first Jamaican exhibition in 1964. She later shared a studio with painter Graham Davis in 1971 and went on to represent Jamaica in the International Women’s Year Exhibition in 1975.
Though a classically trained painter and sculptor, her work was never considered to be traditional and she established herself with an unmistakable sense of realism and ability to capture likenesses. Her use of pastel tones to capture the unique light of the Caribbean was noted as having embodied the energy of the artistic milieu of the 1970s. Her talents made her one of Jamaica’s most popular portraitists.
Known for her quiet intimate portraits that captured the relatability of her subjects, some of her most endearing paintings were the portraits she did of friends Barrington Watson, Kofi Kayiga and John Maxwell. Mrs Bloomfield –Ambrose also painted the portraits of Prime Minister Michael Manley, University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Vice-chancellors A. Z. Preston, Sir Alister McIntyre, the Honorable Rex Nettleford and Professor E. Nigel Harris. She also created the iconic sculpture of UWI founder Sir Phillip Sherlock.
In 1975, art critic Ignacy Eker (aka Andrew Hope) described his experience of sitting with her, “She caught me to the life: it was a penetrating and realistic study, yet also a sympathetic and well-balanced one … The reason for her success is that she approaches her task very conscientiously and without preconceived ideas, each sitter is an individual and there are no ready-made formulas to turn the job into a boringly automatic procedure.”
She completed portraits of Governors General Sir Florizel Glasspole and Sir Kenneth Hall. In recounting his experience of having his portrait done by her Sir Kenneth Hall recalled “… I was at first reluctant. However, within a very short time after meeting with Valerie Bloomfield-Ambrose, I was put at ease. It became evident that she is an artist of extraordinary competence.”
Her work has been widely exhibited locally as well as internationally in Cuba, Mexico the United States and was the subject of a 2013 retrospective held by the Arts Council of Martin County in Florida. Several examples of her work are included in the collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica. Even after her eventual migration to the United States, Bloomfield-Ambrose maintained her connection with her adopted home of Jamaica. Visiting, exhibiting her work and executing commissions.
The Board, Management and staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend their condolences to the family and friends of Valerie Bloomfield-Ambrose.