In Memoriam Maria Layacona (1926 – 2019)

Maria LaYacona – Image courtesy of Donnette Zacca

The National Gallery of Jamaica received the sad news of the passing of celebrated photojournalist and portrait photographer Maria LaYacona on Sunday April 28, 2019.

Born on November 18, 1926 in Cleveland Ohio to Italian parents, LaYacona first studied photography with her father Mario LaYacona and later trained at the Winona School of Photography in Warsaw Indiana. She went on to work as a photojournalist for LIFE magazine and travelled around the world documenting life in the 1950s for the magazine. She first came to Jamaica in 1955 while on an assignment for LIFE magazine to photograph Australian Cricket team’s first match –and also the first night game – at Sabina Park.  She fell in love with the island and in her own words “felt she had a tremendous future here” and made Jamaica her home until her passing.

She was the official photographer for the National Dance Theatre Company from its inception in 1962 until 1992. From that association, the books Roots and Rhythms and Renewal and Continuity – The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica – 1962–2008 were developed with both books benefitting from the extensive visual repertoire she had developed for the NDTC over the years.

Maria LaYacona – Rex Nettleford (1965/1993), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

Though known primarily for her beautifully lit black and white photography, she was also a founding member of the Colour Photographic Club of Jamaica in 1964 which became one of the leading promoters and innovators of the art form in the island.  With her black and white photography however, she felt that without the distractions of colour, the beauty of her subjects was more evident to her audience.  LaYacona made quite an impact as a commercial photographer. She was one of the early advocates for the use of Jamaican models in local advertising campaigns for such companies as Berger Paints, Milo and Captain Morgan’s Rum, which led to increased local success for these companies.

Video courtesy of Frame By Frame Productions 

Her commercial work led to portraits and she was known for her sensitive and engaging portraiture which she felt “showed the identities and personalities of her subjects.” She was the professional portraitist for many of Jamaica’s Prime Ministers including Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Edward Seaga; her portrait of Prime Minister Michael Manley was also used for the One Thousand Dollar bill. LaYacona also photographed many of Jamaica’s visual artists including David Pottinger, Mallica Kapo Reynolds and Edna Manley and major cultural figures such as Sir Phillip Sherlock, Millie Small and  Paul Campbell, but it was her photographs depicting everyday Jamaicans: fishermen, vendors and children that proved to be her most iconic.

Maria LaYacona – Anthony Simpson, Richard Brown, Jason Clare and Ronald Francis Green Hill Portland (1981)

Her first major exhibition – which featured photographs of the National Dance Theatre Company – was held at Devon House 1972, the same year that she was awarded the Silver Musgrave Award.  Her second major exhibition, a survey of Jamaican portraits, was held at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1993 (LaYacona would later serve on the National Gallery’s Board of Directors from 1998 to 2004). Her long career of capturing images also led to the production of two collections of her photography Jamaican Portraits and Jamaica Reverie which showcased her enduring passion for the people of Jamaica and its landscape.

The Board of Directors and the staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend their sincere condolences to the family, friends and caregivers of Maria LaYacona.

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In Memoriam Albert Artwell (1942-2018)

Albert Artwell holding “Black Star Liner”. Image courtesy of Jessica Ogden.

The National Gallery of Jamaica has received the sad news of the passing renowned intuitive painter Albert Artwell.

Albert Artwell was born in 1942 to farming parents in Catadupa St. James. He attended school in the same district and eventually became a farmer himself. At the age of 26 he grew locks after having visions of the Biblical prophets Abraham and Moses and saw himself as a shepherd of the Rastafari faith. Deeply religious, he differentiated himself from other Rastafari claiming to be a ‘Hebrew,’ “because he recognized Abraham as the father of the Israelites.” The genesis of his artistic production can be traced back to the highly decorated hardboard panels on which he used to write verses from the Bible that held personal significance for him.  Religious visions played a critical role in his artistic development, as they were noted as the inspiration for his decision in 1975 to begin illustrating scenes from the Bible which proved to be recurrent themes in his painting for the rest of his career.

Albert Artwell – City of Africa (1978, Collection: NGJ)

His paintings utilized the archaic compositional device of vertical stacking, which is found in Egyptian art and other African artistic traditions including Ethiopian Illuminated Manuscripts.  The sometimes seemingly arbitrary scale of his figures, are also related to a hieratic compositional mode found in medieval and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in which the relative importance of the figures in the work, relate to the artist’s concept of their importance in the narrative presented.

Dr David Boxer in his essay Introducing Fifteen Intuitives described his work as “wondrous visions caught in intricate drawings that seem to chart the very wanderings and yearnings of his soul”…His iconography, however has been clearly updated by his obvious Black Rasta consciousness. Thus in a Crucifixion for example, Christ will be black (‘The Sufferer’) and his tormenting soldiers will be white – sometimes dressed in the garb of British colonial officers”  

His work was exhibited locally in the Fifteen Intuitives and the Intuitive Eye at the National Gallery of Jamaica and internationally in the critically acclaimed Jamaican Art 1922-82 exhibition staged at several North American venues by the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES); The Commonwealth Institutes Jamaican Intuitives staged in London, Sheffield and Edinburgh in 1986 and Redemption Songs: The Intuitive Artists of Jamaica which toured the United States from 1999-2002 and most recently the Jamaica Jamaica! Exhibition staged last year at the Philharmonie de Paris which travelled to Brazil and is currently on show at the SESC 24 de Maio in São Paulo.

Over the years his work was very popular with collectors of Jamaican Intuitive art and he developed a close working relationship with several of the galleries that represented him in particular the Harmony Hall Gallery in Ocho Rios and the Gallery of West Indian Art in Montego Bay.

Albert Artwell – The Birth of Jesus (n.d.), Annabella and Peter Proudlock Collection

“Artwell’s religious work and especially his recasting of Christ’s story and mission, indeed the very essence of Christianity, in his terms as a proud and dignified Black man, is his indelible gift to the visual arts of Jamaica”

In 2003 Albert Artwell received a bronze Musgrave Award from the Institute of Jamaica for Outstanding Merit in the Field of Art.

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 Albert Artwell.

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.

In Memoriam Jacquelyne Hussey-Pearson (1962-2018)

Jacueline Hussey Pearson

Photo courtesy of Amitabh Sharma

The National Gallery of Jamaica received the sad news of the passing of Jacquelyne Hussey-Pearson on March 12. Known to her friends and others in creative circles as ‘Lady Jacquelyne,’ she pursued a career as a visual artist, fashion designer, short filmmaker and Didgeridoo player and approached life with an infectious positivity that left its mark on all who interacted with her.

A major proponent of abstraction, her paintings documented personal struggles, triumphs and also reflected the major influences in her life. She exhibited extensively both locally and abroad and was involved in several initiatives that promoted Jamaican visual arts one of which was the Wonderland Fine Art Gallery at RedBones which has had over 200 artists exhibiting since its inception.

She was a vibrant and energetic presence in the artistic community and she will be greatly missed.  The Board of Directors and the Staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

 

In Memoriam Dorothy Henriques-Wells (1926 – 2018)

Albert Huie – Portrait of Dotty Henriques (1952) (detail) Collection NGJ

On March 5, 2018, Jamaican painter and educator Dorothy Henriques-Wells passed away at the age of 92 in Miami. Henriques-Wells was born in St Andrew in 1926 to parents who were themselves actively engaged as creatives. Her father Llewelyn was a jeweler but it was her mother, Lilieth an oil painter who often painted the flora and landscapes that surrounded their home that would be her earliest inspiration.

Henriques-Wells showed promise as an artist quite early in her life and declared at age 12 that art was to be her calling. She was sent to take art classes with Armenian artist Koren der Harootian and would go on to win numerous prizes for art as a student at Wolmer’s High School. In 1947 she enrolled at the Ontario College of Art – now the OCAD University and it was while there that her interests expanded from the natural bounty of her native Jamaica, to portraiture and her thesis painting depicted a black model wearing a traditional headwrap. She became the College’s first black alumnus in 1950; and later returned to Jamaica, marrying veterinary surgeon Carl F. Wells in 1956, with whom she raised three children.

Dorothy Henriques-Wells – Mountain Scape (nd)

Henriques-Wells made a significant contribution to the artistic scene of Jamaica. She opened a commercial gallery called the Art Wheel in 1968 which represented other local artists and went on to help found the Jamaican Artists and Craftsmen Guild. She was also an art teacher for more than twenty years and exhibited numerous times in Kingston at the Institute of Jamaica’s All Island shows, the Victoria Craft Market Tercentenary as well as in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Annual National and Biennial exhibitions.

A gifted painter who shared her mother’s affinity for the natural Jamaican landscape Henriques-Wells painted mostly in the realist watercolour style that she had developed during her studies at OCAD; Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts at OCAD Andrea Fatona on first seeing her work described her it as follows:

Her poetic, realist approach to her subjects – nature and humans –  is sparse, flowing and vibrant with sun-kissed colours.

Dorothy Henriques- Wells – Untited (nd)

In 1987, the Institute of Jamaica awarded Dorothy Henriques-Wells the Silver Musgrave Award for outstanding merit in the field of visual arts. Her legacy continues through the many children she taught and inspired – including her own –  with her vibrancy and passion for art.

The Board of Directors and the Staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend our deepest condolences to the Family and friends of Dorothy Henriques-Wells.

In Memoriam: Dr Donna McFarlane O.D.

Dr Donna McFarlane O.D.

The National Gallery of Jamaica was deeply saddened by news of the passing of our colleague, the scholar, curator and activist, Dr Donna McFarlane O.D. last week.

A true visionary, Dr McFarlane was the first Director/ Curator of our sister museum Liberty Hall: Legacy of Marcus Garvey. In Garvey’s time, the Liberty Hall was a meeting place for the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). The property hosted a range of cultural and intellectual programmes in its heyday. Eventually the property left UNIA hands and was owned by several individuals until it was purchased by the Government of Jamaica, through the Heritage Trust and declared a National Monument in 1987.  Always a passionate advocate for civil rights and African and Diasporic empowerment; Dr McFarlane had returned to Jamaica after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Masters in Developmental Economics. She worked for the Government of Jamaica and was also a consultant to the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and other development financing agencies. She was however never far from the activities of the Cultural sector.

The Liberty Hall reopened in 2003, as a living monument to the legacy of Marcus Garvey and it was Dr McFarlane who spearheaded the development of the ground-breaking Marcus Mosiah Garvey Multimedia Museum. The museum – which was the only one of its kind in the Caribbean – utilized interactive technology to teach about the life, ideals and still-relevant messages of Jamaica’s first National Hero. The introduction of this type of technology into the museum experience was meant to make Garvey’s treasure trove of wisdom attractive and accessible, especially to Jamaican youth. Under her directorship the Liberty Hall was transformed into a centre of learning.

She later completed her master’s and PhD in museum studies and applied her knowledge to the improvement of the facilities and services of the museum. Dr McFarlane aligned the activities and programming of the Liberty Hall with Garvey’s famous quote: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, no one but ourselves can free the mind…” In addition to its museum, she also established the Garvey Multimedia Computer Centre; the Garvey Research/Reference Library; and Community Outreach programmes that include Adult Computer Literacy class, Garvey After-School Programme, and Summer Art programming.

The Board of Directors and the Staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend our deepest condolences to the Family and friends of Dr Donna McFarlane.

Her spirit and legacy will live on.