England was the first to permanently colonise Bermuda in the early 1600s, and the island remains a British Overseas Territory today. The country’s influences can be found in many facets of Bermudian culture, perhaps most notably in the island’s historic architecture. In turn, Bermuda has inspired notable British artists, including renowned playwright William Shakespeare. It’s believed that his early 17th-century play, The Tempest, was inspired by the sinking of the sailing vessel Sea Venture, which wrecked in Bermuda in 1609.
Several centuries after The Tempest, John Lennon of The Beatles arrived on Bermuda’s shores for the first time in 1980. He was experiencing a significant creative drought at the time — it had been almost five years since he’d completed a song — and, as it turned out, Bermuda would deliver just the inspirational boost Lennon needed. During a stroll through the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, Lennon glimpsed a double fantasy freesia flower, which lent its name to his final album — Double Fantasy.
“I was there on the beach taping songs, just playing guitar and singing,” Lennon said of his time in Bermuda. “We were just in the sun and these songs were coming out.”
Bermuda’s close proximity to the U.S. extended its influence to American artists, too, including American writer Mark Twain. Though there are no mentions of Bermuda to be found in his more famous works, Twain spent much of his later years on the island, where he penned articles for American periodicals in which he extolled the virtues of the place he considered paradise.
“You can go on to Heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda,” he is said to have remarked near the end of his life.
So many artists have been inspired by Bermuda, in fact, that the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art features a permanent collection of more than 1,500 pieces that depict the island’s beauty. The Bermudiana Collection includes island scenes by renowned international artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Winslow Homer, as well as local artists.
Unique creativity can be found across a wide range of mediums in Bermuda, from the Plein Air Painters, a group of artists whose practice of painting whilst out in nature is made even more pleasant by the island’s subtropical climate, to the Gombey dancers, whose dress, dance and style of drumming originated in the 1600s. This folk life tradition has its roots in slavery, when slaves would protest the rule that they could only dance once a year by feting in masks to avoid punishment. Today, this revered form of expression is performed at holidays and events by Gombey troupes, whose members dress in colourful garb, hats and masks, and decorate themselves with mirrors, bells and tassels. Though the island is geographically isolated, it shares some of its cultural influences with the Caribbean, including music. Some of the most popular forms of music in Bermuda — like calypso, soca, steelpan and reggae — originated in the Caribbean, and one of Bermuda’s own performers, Collie Buddz, has become an international reggae success.
Individual artists in Bermuda run the gamut from painters, pottery artists and wood sculptors to fine art photographers, chalk artists and spoken word performers. There are numerous places on island where visitors can experience Bermudian art.
The Bermuda National Gallery in Hamilton is a feast for the eyes from the moment you enter its City Hall location; a splendid cedar staircase leads you to the gallery, whose Ondaatje Wing features works that tell the island’s history and showcase its multifaceted cultural influences. Also in City Hall and up the grand staircase is the Bermuda Society of Arts, whose four separate gallery spaces host rotating works from local artists. History and art come together in St. George’s at the World Heritage Centre, where paintings depicting the life of Bermuda’s first settlers are on display. And at Royal Naval Dockyard’s Bermuda Craft Market, you can see the island’s artists and craftsmen at work and interact with the artisans as they make their Bermuda cedar creations, jewellery, candles and much more.