Leeanne Westwood, Curator at Valence House Museum recently travelled to Bermuda on an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the blog post that Leeane wrote during her visit. Her full trip report will be available shortly as a Case Study on the ICOM UK website.
Through the eyes of an artist: walking in the footsteps of Alice Eliza Jane Fanshawe
In 1870 Alice Fanshawe arrived in Bermuda with her father Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies Station. Over the next three years, Alice undertook to record the stunning landscape of the island through watercolours. A novice artist, she captured some of Bermuda’s most iconic features, including Admiralty House, Sinky Bay, Hunt’s Bay and Boss’s Cove.
Over 140 years later, the National Museum of Bermuda (NMB) was gifted an album of Alice’s watercolour views of the island. This donation prompted the then Executive Director of the Museum, Dr Edward Harris (now retired), to visit Valence House Museum (VHM) in East London to research the Fanshawe family. Valence House holds an extensive collection of material relating to the Fanshawe family, including portraits of many of Admiral Fanshawe’s ancestors.
During this visit, Dr Harris proposed that the two venues work together to produce an exhibition looking at the Fanshawes’ time in Bermuda and a publication of the artworks from the album, including the art work of Admiral Fanshawe by whom Alice may have been taught.
With funding from the ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant Scheme I was able to make a reciprocal visit to the NMB in late January 2019 to further discuss the potential partnership and to view Alice’s album of watercolours at first hand. It is unclear whether Alice had any ‘proper’ artistic training beyond that given to most girls from good families, but she was an accomplished artist.
Following the viewing of the album, I was given a tour of the museum by Curator Dr Deborah Atwood and Conservator Zoe Brady. Over lunch, the NMB team and I discussed our proposed partnership. It was a very productive meeting, with many potential ideas discussed.
During the second day of my visit, Dr Harris gave me a tour of the island, taking me to see some of the locations that Alice captured in her works. I was first taken to Sinky Bay and then to the site of Admiralty House. Below Admiralty House is Clarence Cove, depicted in my favourite of Alice’s watercolours.
Although of short duration, my visit to Bermuda was highly productive. The NMB and VHM plan to work together on an HLF funded project that is inspired by the album of Alice’s watercolours. Two related research projects will be undertaken by interns. The intern at the NMB will research the history of female artists and artisans on Bermuda. They will use this research to produce an exhibition and a publication. Very little, if any, research has been made in to this topic and the NMB staff agreed that this is an interesting and timely project to lead.
Simultaneously, an intern at VHM will research the world heritage links of the Fanshawe family. The influence of the Fanshawe family is international, with connections to Spain, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Canada, Bermuda and America amongst others. The intern will produce an exhibition looking at the Fanshawe’s time in Bermuda and a publication looking at the family’s wider world links. The interns will then visit each of the partner museums, with the host intern responsible for organising and hosting the partner intern’s visit.
Both museums are very excited about this partnership, and the potential it offers to examine thus-far unresearched aspects of their heritage and collections.