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Passages: Amos Ferguson
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Posted by:Oct 20th 2009, 11:55:44 am
Fig Tree News TeamFavorite son Bahamian artist Amos Ferguson dies

By KRYSTEL ROLLE ~ Guardian Staff Reporter ~

Self-taught international artist Amos Ferguson, whose unique and intuitive paintings are coveted around the world, died yesterday morning after a long battle with dementia.

Ferguson, one of the most famous Bahamian artists, was 89.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham described the late painter as a cultural icon.

"He is perhaps our country's most successful artist with works in private collections and galleries around the world," said Ingraham in a press statement. "Mr. Ferguson, a talented house painter, unschooled in the fine arts, reportedly began painting pictures following the encouragement of a nephew who dreamt of his uncle's hidden talent," noted Ingraham.

Ferguson, who was known to "paint by faith, not by sight", said he often turned to the Bible for inspiration.

The art world also expressed sadness yesterday over the passing of Ferguson.

"We have lost one of our national treasures, a giant of a man," said renowned sculptor and artist Antonius Roberts.

"He is not only a world-class artist who hails from The Bahamas, he is the most respected Bahamian artist in the world. I'm not sure that we'll ever find another Amos Ferguson in our midst - from humble beginnings, painting by faith and not by sight. I mean his faith has taken him to the world. He is just a perfect example of someone who was just true to himself, true to this talent, true to his God and it opened many doors, not only for him, as he has brought a lot of positive attention to The Bahamas," he added.

Roberts said he only wished that the country could have done more to honor Ferguson while he was still alive.

Erica James of the National Art Gallery Bahamas offered similar sentiments.

"I think this is a sad day for us. I'm going to miss him quite a bit," said James.

"I knew (Ferguson) since I was a child. I think he was one of the first people I ever saw painting. In a lot of ways, I think he was a quintessential artist. He believed in self expression. He believed in his own division for his work and he just lived that. He didn't care what anyone said or thought, just firmly believed in what he was doing and he followed that through to the end. I found him to be a very spirited person and [a] spiritual and passionate person," she added.

James revealed that the National Art Gallery has been actively working on ways to honor Ferguson.

She said she is attempting to acquire Ferguson's home for the permanent installation of his work for the National Art Gallery.

"So I really hope that it goes through now that he's passed and we can really proceed with that," she said.

Noted designer and architect Jackson Burnside said Ferguson was "perhaps the most important intuitive artist of the 20th century."

Most Bahamians did not recognize his importance. He is easily the most prolific Bahamian artist," he added.

Burnside said Ferguson produced unique and distinctive art that The Bahamas won't see again.

"The Bahamas owes him a tremendous debt for what he did for the country," he continued.

Burnside added that most Bahamians did not appreciate or value Ferguson's artwork.

"Bahamians laughed at his work and dismissed it as child's play... They thought that his work was less than important because of his unique way for spelling and painting."

His artwork always included his signature "Paint by Mr. Amos Ferguson".

Ingraham also acknowledged the country's lack of appreciation of Ferguson's work, particularly at the start of his career.

"As is often the case, Mr. Ferguson's artistic value was recognized and valued abroad long before serious attention was given to his work in The Bahamas," Ingraham said.

Throughout most of his life, Ferguson made Exuma Street his home, which also houses his famous gallery.

The government renamed Exuma Street in his honor to Amos Ferguson Street in January 2005.

Ferguson's work has been featured in a two-year traveling exhibition staged by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Hartford Connecticut -- the oldest art gallery in the U.S.

According to a booklet issued by the Ministry of Culture, Ferguson first appeared on the international art scene in the mid-1980s, and became known as an "intuitive supernova".

Within years, Ferguson's work had won him many admirers and had garnered the interest of collectors the world over.

His paintings have also been used to illustrate a children's book "Under the Sunday Tree" - a collection of poems by Eloise Greenfield.

Born in the Forest Exuma in 1920, Ferguson maintained a small farm and assisted his father in the carpentry trade before moving to Nassau. While in Nassau, he moved on to house painting -- a passion that he had since he was a little boy, he said.

Ferguson's early work was purchased by tourists through a straw market vendor, the late Beatrice Ferguson, who later became his wife.

Most of his unique and simple paintings depicted colorful Bible-inspired pieces or scenes of the Bahamian culture.

In 1991, he was bestowed a Queen's honor.

He received the MBE award for his outstanding contribution in the field of art for over 40 years. He also received an E. Clement Bethel award in 1995 for excellence in artwork.

20 October 2009

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