Art "Bermuda style" typically has meant fish, flowers and candy-pink houses. "A reflection of our life," the woman behind the counter at Trimingham's department store says, "as predictable as teatime."
Those who come to Bermuda for these very things will nod approval. Art should imitate life and vice versa on the semitropical British island 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
"All that has changed," she continues. "Not our life, of course, but arts. We've gone beyond flowers as you'll see when you go straight-away to our National Gallery. The Queen loved it. Pity, you just missed Pop and Op Art -- all the big names and most from local collections. Then there was the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit. She used to come a lot. Had you been at opening you would have seen a splendid African show from New York."
The Bermuda National Gallery opened in the Hamilton City Hall (now called the City Hall & Arts Centre) less than three years ago with a mandate: introduce Bermudans -- forget tourists -- to the visual arts. Second, provide a place where the best resident artists can hold major juried shows. Third, discover and encourage talent.
Lord Hereward Watlington, local businessman and Member of Parliament, led the way by offering to donate to the gallery his collection of European and British masters from the 15th to 19th centuries, including works by Romney, Constable, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Cranach. The rest, as they say, is not only history but the dedication of volunteers and professionals alike.
Among the latter, director Laura Graham already had relocated to the island and was able to take over during the planning stage. She stressed the need for five distinct viewing areas and the ultimate in climate control.
Bermuda's balmy mid-ocean weather is hard on paintings. Now British art conservationist Michael Cowell spends three months a year on-site undoing the damage of insect life and island damp.
In the past, viewing art in Bermuda was equivalent to souvenir shopping. You packed or sent home watercolors of shells, flowers and sea-foam landscapes. Poking about the quirky little galleries from one end of the island chain to the other was what you did between swimming and golf.
Naturally, you can still buy pastels of pink houses and quiet lanes -- the quintessential Bermuda -- but there is more.
Changing exhibits at the Royal Naval Dockyard at the west end (( VTC will forever include classic representations of sea and sail. However, local painters are showing an increasing number of abstract and innovative works as well. The day's craft demonstration in the Old Cooperage is as likely to be of contemporary mezzotint as the carving of game fish.
In the east end, along the quaint lanes of St. George's, the ateliers andgalleries of resident potters, painters and printmakers also are located in historic structures.
Bridge House, an example of Bermuda architecture of the 1700s preserved by the National Trust and located just off Kings Square, shows and sells Bermuda-made arts and crafts. These include cedar wood carvings, dolls and jewelry, but also the people-pictures of local Bermuda artist Sharon Wilson.
You can get a crude but original souvenir free from the ancient press in the old printery of Featherbed Alley. In the 18th-century home that houses the St. George's Historical Society Museum, you'll find limited editions and signed prints among the replicas in the gift shop. Watercolorist/printmaker Carole Holding has her studio above the old White Horse Tavern.
Mid-island on North Shore Road is the Garden Gallery of Fine Art, which specializes in oil paintings of Bermuda. The gallery is artist-owned, and you can take a few lessons or arrange to sit for a portrait. On South Shore Road, the Art House Gallery shows exclusively the paintings of Bermudan Joan Forbes. Near the airport at Blue Hole Hill, Bailey's Bay, you can watch the artists in the Bermuda Glass Blowing Studio at work, commission a piece or attend a seminar. Glass blower and designer Stephen Zawistowski learned his trade from a famous maestro in Venice.
In Hamilton's City Hall, the transformation of the east wing and the opening of the first show brought immediate and euphoric public response. The permanent collection bloomed; corporate members sponsored traveling exhibits. Lectures, concerts, tours and workshops followed. Every schoolchild in Bermuda sees every show and has it reinforced in the classroom.
Government archives have yielded wonderful maps dating back to 1511, and more than a century of photographs demonstrates that this is one of the Western Hemisphere's most photogenic places.
Bermuda's attraction for mainland painters is widespread. Works Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, Charles Demuth and Albert Gleizes are among those in the Masterworks Foundations' collection. For Bermuda as seen through the eyes of international artists, drop in at the gallery on Front Street, Hamilton.
The Bermuda Society of Arts has more than 300 members. Given the island's confluence of sea and blossoming shore, raising a brush comes as naturally as lifting a glass of rum swizzle, a mug of "Dark and Stormy" (black rum and ginger beer) or a cup of tea.
At Trimingham's you can talk about art, but also buy Bermuda scenes ready to pack or mail in cardboard tubes, mostly under $15.
IF YOU GO . . .
Admission to the National Gallery is $3 for adults and free for children under 12. No charge at other galleries. U.S. dollars are pegged to the Bermuda dollar and accepted everywhere.
Getting there: Bermuda is less than two hours from northeastern gateways. A U.S. resident needs one of the following: valid or recently expired passport; birth certificate; voter's registration card with a signature; U.S. Naturalization Certificate; U.S. Alien Registration Card; U.S. re-entry permit. A driver's license won't do. When you return, you go through U.S. Customs in Bermuda. Departure tax is $15.
Getting around: No rental cars in Bermuda, but bikes and mopeds are plentiful. Taxi drivers double as guides. The pink buses go everywhere; you can save 50 percent by buying multiple tickets at the terminal in Hamilton. Ferries run between the west end and Hamilton, and you can take your bike on board.
More information: Many packages are available. Hotels range from bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts. See your travel agent or call (800) 223-6106.