Barbados Gov’t & Private Sector take note – Bermuda Arts Council honours writers, musicians, educators and a certain Royal Gazette cartoonist
Songs and applause filled City Hall’s Earl Cameron Theatre as the Bermuda Arts Council honoured the Island’s artistic greats – along with those who helped bring them to centre stage.
The 2013 Awards saw authors Persis Butler and Willoughby Patton; musicians Winston DeGraff and Max Maybury, and artist Peter Woolcock celebrated for their lifetime of achievements.
Richard (Dick) Butterfield was this year’s Patron Awardee, while dancer Conchita Ming took the Founders Award.
“I am sure that for many of the awardees, their commitment to their profession and passion was not without great personal sacrifice,” Minister of Community and Culture Wayne Scott told the audience.
“History will record their personal sacrifices and their remarkable talents. For that, we as Bermudians are most thankful.”
Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge commended the award recipients as “pathfinders – our voices, our eyes“.
Introducing the achievements of writer and musician Persis Butler, Bermuda Arts Council founding member Ruth Thomas said the educator’s Bermuda songbook is now in schools around the Island.
Some of her pieces were performed on stage by the St George’s Preparatory School Choir.
From her upbringing in the African Methodist Episcopal Church choir to her present day role as director of the Golden Hour Senior Citizen’s Club Choir, Ms Butler has kept to her love of folk music, and of music as a teaching tool.
Ms Thomas quoted her as saying: “There is nothing special; I am just a teacher at heart. Even as a musician, I am a teacher first.”
Local musical great Winston DeGraff was given a posthumous award. Introducing Mr DeGraff’s work, Bermuda Arts Council stalwart Gary Phillips recalled how the keen trumpeter had also been the driving force behind the family business, DeGraff’s lunch counter, from which the sounds of him practicing could often be heard across City Hall car park.
Mr DeGraff went on to join the legendary jazz band Legacy, and achieved a huge following before his early death from stomach cancer in 2003.
Accepting the award on his brother’s behalf, Neilson DeGraff told the gathering: “If Winston were here, I think first of all he might be embarrassed.
“Winston didn’t do it for recognition – he loved music. He said to me once, ‘They didn’t need to pay me – I would’ve done this for free‘.”
Saxophonist and Somerset Brigade Band veteran Max Maybury was recognised next, with Mr Phillips recounting how the jazz great gave music lessons free to children – demanding only their absolute attention.
Looking appreciatively at his award after taking the stage to accept it, Mr Maybury said: “This is made out of Bermuda cedar. That’s good.”
The curtain then rose on the Giant Steps band, which performed some of Mr Maybury’s own compositions – soon to be heard at Cuba’s Havana Jazz Festival.
Also receiving a posthumous award was author Willoughby Patton, who celebrated the lives of Portuguese Bermudians with books such as “Manuel’s Discovery“.
Her award, presented by council member Angela Barry, was received by her nephew, Robert Patton, who said: “All Patton children were raised on her children’s stories. And I know they have been inspirational to many Bermudian children as well.”
Illustrator and cartoonist Peter Woolcock was honoured next, with Mr Phillips recounting a life that began in Argentina, where he practised sketching farm animals during lonely school holidays.
After a long career of illustrating books and magazines, Mr Woolcock moved to Bermuda in 1981 – and, in the build-up to the general election, approached the then editor of The Royal Gazette, David White, with a proposal for political sketches that has continued unabated since.
Drawing laughter, Mr Woolcock told the audience: “This is wonderful. This is like the Oscars. They even rolled out the red carpet.”
Thanking the Bermuda Arts Council, along with his family, Mr Woolcock added: “I mustn’t forget to thank all those boys and girls up there in the House of Assembly who dedicatedly, every week, managed to put together some package of potential that only needs me to add my own particular brand of lunacy.”
The Patrons Award was given to philanthropist Richard (Dick) Butterfield, in honour of what Ms Thomas called his “gracious giving and unstinting generosity“.
Driven by his childhood stutter to take up a career in the theatre and public speaking in Canada, Mr Butterfield initially stayed only briefly in Bermuda because he disliked the atmosphere of racial segregation, she said.
He later became auditor for the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society, and thus joined in the theatre – also helping to found the Bermuda Festival along the way.
Mr Butterfield later took up the cause for the creation of a centre for the performing arts in Bermuda – which he continues to support.
Taking the stage to receive his award, Mr Butterfield told the audience: “It’s nice to be praised for having fun.”
He added: “The arts are very important in a community — I know that we all agree on that. They bring people together.
“I should have said they bring persons together, because I wanted to emphasise the importance of the one-on-one relationship that so frequently occurs.”
Lastly, dancer and educator and organiser of the Bermuda Shakespeare Schools Festival Conchita Ming received the Founders Award.
The award goes to “those who are pioneers in their art form, and have been mentors and role models for their fellow artists and generations to come“, Mr Phillips said.
Ms Ming’s creation Bermuda Tapestry was the first local performance featured in the Bermuda Festival in 1979.
She was made an Officer of the British Empire in 2010, receiving her award from the Queen, in recognition of her efforts behind the Island’s 400th anniversary celebrations on the previous year.
Ms Ming joined her dance students on stage for a series of dance excerpts.
Holding her own award, an emotional Ms Ming said: “This is just overwhelming.”
Commending her students, she added: “It’s working with dancers like these girls here who have trusted me with crazy things – it’s a collaboration.”
Thanking those who had helped her over the years, Ms Ming finished: “We were always standing on the shoulders of other people. The same is true with me.
“This is awesome … thank you, Bermuda Arts Council, for honouring me in this way. This is more than I ever could have expected.”