The National Gallery of Jamaica was saddened to receive news of the passing of art collector and gallery owner Hugh Dunphy on October 31, 2019. Dunphy was the proprietor of the Bolivar Bookshop and Gallery, located in St. Andrew, Jamaica.
Born in Hampstead, London, Dunphy joined the British Navy briefly before enrolling at the University of Cambridge hoping to study for a visual arts degree. However, none was offered at the institution and so he took courses in English Literature and Archaeology, as well as minor language studies. After he graduated from Cambridge and had a chance meeting with influential British potter Bernard Leach (mentor to Jamaican master potter Cecil Baugh), Dunphy received a scholarship to study ceramics and batik in Japan. There he was introduced to several Japanese masters including ceramist Shōji Hamada and batik artist Minagawa Taizo. Later Dunphy began working as a travelling book sales representative for publishing houses in England, eventually getting a job as an international representative for the Oxford University Press. His travel assignments for Oxford – which involved selling books and promoting the publishers to writers and institutions – took him to Eastern Europe, Russia, and South America. His work eventually brought him to the Caribbean in the 1950s and after 3 to 4 years, he left Oxford to settle in Jamaica permanently around 1954.
In the same year he established a bookstore at Tangerine Place, off Half Way Tree Road in 1965, which he named ‘Bolivar’ – inspired by the fervor of newly Independent Jamaica and the legacy of Venezuelan liberator Símon Bolívar. The bookstore specialized in “books on Latin America and the West Indies, Spanish Language, Art and other subjects…” and also offered publishing services through the Bolivar Press. Additionally, Dunphy began construction on a building at 1d Grove Road, which featured a purpose-built space for an art gallery. The Bolivar Bookstore and Press were relocated to the new facilities in 1966 and the Bolivar Art Gallery was officially established. Dunphy also opened Bolivar Fine Arts at the Westgate Shopping Centre, Montego Bay, which concentrated on retailing and framing rather than hosting exhibitions. He continued to work as a publishing agent sales representative for other book publishing companies.
Among the oldest commercial art galleries in Jamaica, the Bolivar Gallery was a major hub for a variety of artists, ranging from emerging to highly acclaimed, based locally and overseas. Edna Manley, Albert Huie, Ralph Campbell, Carl Abrahams, David Boxer, Colin Garland, Barrington Watson, Hope Brooks, Carol Crichton and Phillip Thomas are among numerous Jamaican artists who had solo and group exhibitions at the Bolivar. The art gallery also offered valuation and consultations for established and aspiring private and corporate collectors – Dunphy’s clientele included for instance, the Matalon business family. The Bolivar Gallery was one of the few older galleries that had survived the financial crisis of the early 1990s, which led to the closure of several such galleries particularly in Kingston and St. Andrew. Due in part to the continuous diversification of the Bolivar’s business offerings, for example the addition of framing services, Dunphy and his then wife Ouida, further expanded the business to include antique dealership and the sale of imported Oriental furniture and décor, inspired by their many travels to exotic locations like Southeast Asia. His continued activities as a publishing agent for the Cambridge University Press and Thames and Hudson in the UK, as well as McGraw-Hill in the United States, also helped to supplement his art business during the economic downturn.
Dunphy himself became known as an avid collector of the work of modern Jamaican artists and pre-twentieth century works about Jamaica, developing a moderate but comprehensive private collection. The National Gallery of Jamaica benefitted from his knowledge of lithographic prints, when the institution consulted him during the development of the exhibition Isaac Mendes Belisario, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica (2008). He was also a private lender for that exhibition. Following Ouida’s passing in 2012, the Bolivar continued to be a hub of activity for contemporary art shows, book launches, presentations and other events such as the Kingston on the Edge arts festival. In later years, Dunphy continued to run the Bolivar with the assistance of his current wife, Janet and their staff.
The NGJ’s Board of Directors, management and staff remembers Hugh Dunphy for his great, gracious and steadfast support of the Jamaican visual arts community, a commitment that has spanned over five decades of his life. As such, the institution extends its deepest condolences and best wishes to his son Damian (with former wife Patricia Byer), his family and friends, during this time of bereavement.