There aren't many cultural sites in the Cayman Islands. The country was originally settled (we're told) in 1658 by soldiers from Cromwell’s army. Later came pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition and shipwrecked sailors, but it didn’t have many inhabitants until the mid-1970s (numbering less than 1,000 in 1800 and about 5,000 in 1900).
One popular cultural site to visit, though, is a small house in South Sound. We “on island” all know it as “Miss Lassie’s house”; however, the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) went to great lengths to restore her homestead and the property is now called “Mind’s Eye – the Visionary World of Miss Lassie”. The home was named, we’re told, because she said,
“I see it in my mind’s eye”.
The property was placed on the 2012 World Monument Fund’s Watch List of endangered world heritage sites alongside such well known places as the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Valley of the Kings.
Who is Miss Lassie?
Miss Lassie, born Gladwyn Bush in 1914, a former nurse and shopkeeper, began painting at age 62. Self-taught, she described having a “visionary experience” and went to work – not just on canvas but on any surface close at hand: her walls, ceilings, windows, pillows and other furnishings in her home including the front of her refrigerator!
According to Henry Muttoo, artistic director of the CNCF, her art leans heavily on “Christian themes and the sea". He said that she is revered as an intuitive artist, one of several in the world who have “managed to retain the innocence and playful instincts of children – where they lost themselves in their work”.
Examples of her paintings formed part of the UNESCO supported travelling exhibition of contemporary Caribbean Art, ‘Carib Art’, in 1993. She is also profiled in books on intuitive art worldwide. Her paintings are in private collections in England, the United States, Jamaica, South Africa, Germany and the Cayman Islands. There are additional works in the collection of the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
And, Karl Jerry Craig, former Deputy Dean, Faculty of Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica in the book Introduction to My Markings: The Art of Gladwyn K. Bush, Caymanian Visionary Intuitive, 1994, (published by the CNCF) wrote:
“Prior to the recognition of Miss Lassie, all of the critically acclaimed intuitive painters in the English-speaking Caribbean were men. In her, we have discovered an uncommon artist, a female intuitive painter of a calibre equivalent to America’s Ma Moses, Mattie Lou Kelly and Sister Gertrude Morgan”
Miss Lassie was also made a member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1997 by the Queen of England and attended the ceremony in 1998. Miss Lassie died November 24, 2003 at the age of 89.
So now, what’s so interesting about that, says you? Miss Lassie, another folk artist with her artwork preserved. Loved and revered by all…
The Other Side of Miss Lassie
Well…not everyone remembers Miss Lassie, the folk artist, the same way. Some people called her a madwoman, an old eccentric who one day, in 1976, just began painting her visions.
In fact, a friend of mine remembers living nearby when he and his 6 brothers were young. He owns that they might have been a little rambunctious, but he recalls Miss Lassie chasing them down the beach with a machete calling them “little bitchin’ bastards”!
He also told me about Miss Lassie’s son chasing their dog with a fishing spear. His exact words about her:
“she was legitimately nuts”.
Other neighbours remember broken glass bottles stuck on Miss Lassie’s fence; some say because she didn’t want people to come into her yard. Others say that she was keeping evil spirits away.
Whatever the truth, these stories are interesting and balance the mythology that has grown up around Miss Lassie and her art.
And Miss Lassie wasn’t oblivious to what people said; she knew that people thought she was crazy but, according to her,
“it didn’t bother me. A person can’t hurt you by what they think.”
So now I can’t go by her home without remembering both sides of the artist!
Why You Should Visit
That shouldn’t stop you from going to see Miss Lassie’s site – lovingly restored by the CNCF. The artwork is bright and interesting (if not to everyone’s taste). Appointments must be made for a guided tour; up to five persons at a time (plus the docent) are permitted. Public tours of this heritage property resumed on Saturday, 12 June 2021 from 10am to 11am. Future tours will take place on the second Saturday of each month. To book a guided tour please contact CNCF at email@example.com or call (345) 949-5477.
Mind’s Eye is located in Grand Cayman at #4 South Sound Road, the intersection of Walkers Road and South Sound Road. Parking is available in the empty lot across from the site. Tour groups will meet at 9:55am.
"Know ya cul-cha" ("know your culture" in the local dialect)
So now you know the whole story but, remember, Miss Lassie wasn’t just a folk artist – but a real person with a real life – with all that comes with it: good and bad...