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What Do Georgia O’Keeffe and David Bowie Have in Common? This Island

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Photo courtesy Bermuda Tourism

We spoke with Tom Butterfield, founder of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, about Bermuda’s important place in art.

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You may know some things about Bermuda: the pink sand (well, pink everything), the exceptional seaside beauty, the shorts, the triangle. One thing you may not know? Bermuda has served as a creative retreat to some of the most talented contemporary artists and writers, from Georgia O’Keeffe to David Bowie.

Tom Butterfield, an island native and devoted art lover, noticed this draw.  “The island of Bermuda is a muse,” Butterfield says. “I don’t think many destinations can boast that sort of thing.” So, in 1987, Butterfield founded the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art with 12 paintings. Now, the museum is housed in a 16,000-square-foot facility, featuring over 1,500 pieces.

We caught up with Butterfield to brush up on the island’s role in art history, plus some of his insider tips for a visit. You can experience this dreamy destination with us on our AFAR Experiences Bermuda on April 28-29, 2017.

Tom Butterfield
Tell us more about the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

We have a purpose-built museum here on the island—the first of its kind—complete with all the things that are necessary to run a museum with a collection of this size and nature.

This collection is one of the most unique on the face of this Earth. We have focused on the island as muse, which has inspired local and international artists. Since we opened the museum, we have moved into other media, such as literature, film, and music. We have a film by Eugene O’Neill, who was on holiday here in 1925 (he wrote Strange Interlude, one of the great bits of American literature). We have a John Lennon sculpture—he wrote his last album here in Bermuda in the summer of 1980, and the museum is within feet of where he would have gotten inspiration to title his album, Double Fantasy, because there’s a freesia here called a double fantasy.

The idea 30 years ago was to try to start a collection that would reach beyond the safety of the Bermuda reef line. That by doing that, we would welcome visitors to our island and our shores with the artwork. Now, we see people come to the island just to come to the museum and make it their first stop.

Bermuda seems like it’s had a rich art history. What's Bermuda’s art scene like today?

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I’m not so sure that Bermuda has such a rich art history. We, as Bermudians, were welcoming the people who were coming through our doors, like Georgie O’Keeffe. We only discovered the other day that Norman Rockwell came here. Now we’re setting out to see if there’s any chance or evidence that he was inspired to do something while here on the island. It would be awesome if we could add that to the collection. David Bowie—same thing. He was a resident here off and on. I do know that he painted here, but tracking down an artwork has proven to be very, very, very difficult.

The art scene today is very alive today as a result of what we have done. There are lots of Bermudians who have returned to the island and are making a living teaching painting, or just painting. For a little island of 21 square miles, there’s a lot going on right now.

Other than art, what other cultural elements do you love about Bermuda?

The thing that I like to experience in Bermuda is some of the great Bermuda music! There are small pockets of it now, but it’s difficult to find. A lot of the hotels and other outlets that once hosted musicians have closed down over the years. Obviously, the great Gombey troupes in their colorful outfits are part of the Bermuda music scene.

What’s a local secret we can share with our readers?

You must experience the little back lanes of St. George’s. It’s an Elizabethan town and it goes back about 400 years. It’s worth getting off your bike and taking lots of pictures in the little town. It’s very, very pretty.

Make sure to join us at AFAR Experiences Bermuda on April 28-29th!