Considered to be one of America's most important contributors to the history of art in Bermuda, NORMAN IRVING BLACK (1883-1949) was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was known for both his paintings and etchings, and was active mainly in Massachusetts, Maine, and Bermuda. His artistic education included stints at the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, as well as being a student of the noted artist Eric Pape.
According to Jonathan Land Evans' reference book, 'Bermuda in Painted Representation', Black first visited Bermuda in 1910. Several of his early Bermuda paintings were used to illustrate an article titled 'A Bermudian Sojourn', by W. Dean Howells, which appeared in the December, 1911 edition of Harper's Magazine. It is noteworthy that Black later donated two of these paintings to a wartime charitable event held in Bermuda.
Along with many other North American painters, Black and his artist-wife Marguerite went on to become regular winter residents of Bermuda, their annual tenure on the island lasting well into the 1940s. In February and March of 1922 he and his wife held an exhibition at 'The Residence' in Hamilton, and beginning that same year his paintings were regularly exhibited at the Hamilton Hotel during the winter season. In 1923 he was elected Vice-President of the newly-formed 'Calabash Club', an enterprise located on Burnaby Street in Hamilton that was comprised of many of the island's artists and writers. The club was the creation of the poet Captain A.E. Whiting-Baker, its name paying homage to a tree immortalized in a work by the 19th century Irish poet Tom Moore, who spent time on the island in 1803 working for the British Admiralty and, according to Wikipedia, is considered by some to be the unofficial poet-laureate of Bermuda. In addition to his membership in the Calabash Club, Black was also a member of the Bermuda Art Association, an organization believed to be a precursor to the Bermuda Society of the Arts.
In 1924 Black and his wife established a combination studio and apartment at the former Porter's Cottage at 'Langton Lodge' in Pembroke ('Royal Gazette', February 18th, 1924). In 1925 Black requested permission from the government - under the Alien Act of 1907 - to acquire additional property adjoining that which he had already purchased, including the Eagle's Nest Hotel (Ibid. March 5th, 1925). Then, in 1927, he acquired 'Trelone' on Pomander Road, Paget (Ibid. January 11th, 1927), which later became a residence for he and his wife.
Over the years Black developed a reputation as a patient, skillful artist, whose output had an 'unhurried air' about it (Ibid, March 15th, 1932). A prime example of this unique quality is a St. George street scene that now hangs in the Bermuda National Gallery (gifted by David L. White; originally sold by Nicholas Lusher). Another good example is Black's painting of Harbour Road near Red Hole, one of several works exhibited in the Masterworks Museum. Unfortunately, many of his works were badly damaged in a shipping accident that occurred after being displayed at the Bermuda Pavilion of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition in London (Ibid. December 12th, 1925). Beginning in 1926, Black exhibited to great acclaim at the annual Art Exhibitions, and by 1932, was noted as a 'familiar exhibitor' ('The Bermudian', May, 1932). His watercolor of 'Devondale' in Devonshire elicited 'great admiration' at the 1933 exhibition (Ibid. April, 1933), and was illustrated in the same edition. Though best known for his paintings, he also displayed some etchings in 1930, earning him high praise in the March 15th, 1930 edition of the 'Royal Gazette', which called him 'versatile and lavishly talented'. Black also took part in a small-group exhibition in 1935 at the Book Store Gallery in Hamilton, along with Samuel Andrews, Francis Getty, and 'Toby' Darrell (Ibid. March 15th, 1935).
Mr. and Mrs. Black visited the island almost annually until 1941, but their regular winter visits were discontinued with America's entry into the Second World War. They sold their Bermuda house in 1943, and in 1946 Black returned to oversee the sale of his and his wife's remaining artworks in a large auction at the Cooper Building on Reid Street in Hamilton. The approximately 150 lots included numerous Bermuda paintings, drawings, and etchings (Ibid. February 8th, 1946). In 1950 the Bermuda Art Association held an exhibition of his pencil-sketches, which had previously been displayed in Paris (Ibid. July 25th, 1950).
Black's relationship with Bermuda lasted 36 years, and by the end he had earned the distinction of being the embodiment of the 'winter colony' school of art on the island.
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