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Just a Small Painting

Just a Small Painting

One of the reasons I pursued the task of saving the Old Government House from demolition was to preserve the murals painted by Margaret Barwick, the wife of former Governor David Barwick (1982-1986).And while I was working on the new Government House in 2003 I saw there was a four-inch floodlit recess being built into the living room wall, which I thought would be an ideal spot for a new mural so continuing the practice. Then-Governor David Macan (2002-2006) was not in favour of a large mural but said “just a small painting” would be acceptable. So I commissioned Mr Reuben Vanterpool, a local artist whose historically accurate paintings of the BVI are well known, to make a painting by blowing up the little 3-by-4-inch black and white photograph—one of several photographs taken in 1910 by WC Fishlock—that was of the original 1890 Government House.


First, Reuben made a 15-by-19-inch draft which he asked me to check for architectural accuracy. The roofline and the steps needed changing and were so marked onto the painting—but then came the interesting part. I wanted the painting to portray the day before the 1924 hurricane struck; when the whole upstairs was torn off while the commissioner—as the governor was then titled—Captain Otto Hancock, was sheltering in the pantry with his wife and two small children, their cook and two maids. This is all beautifully described in a letter his wife Agnes wrote home detailing the ordeal (published partially in “The Deadly 1924 Hurricane” which ran in the August issue of BVI Property & Yacht).  A copy of the letter is now on display for public viewing at the OGH. So the wife in her white sun hat (as shown in a Hancock photo) and the two boys were added to the porch. The commissioner was inked in raising the Union Jack and as we knew he had a wooden leg, having lost his leg in action during the Great War, this detail was also added in the painting.  Also barely discernable on the original photo was a cannon on its carriage. Two of the cannons are now mounted on concrete plinths in front of OGH. The big barrels were horse drawn artillery from the Crimean War, and they would have been originally mounted on wood and metal rimmed wheels—which must have rotted and rusted away.

Reuben decided to add to the painting: a small fishing boat and two fishermen mending their nets (a favorite theme of his); a whelk picker was added and as we knew the road to Sea Cows Bay was a continuation of Main Street up the old driveway and ran in front of the house; and he added people going to and from the market. The completed painting was now effectively as historically accurate as possible—an artist’s final masterpiece. It came out at 3 feet by 4 feet, which was somewhat larger than the governor had expected for his small painting. But of course it was approved as it is an elegant piece of historical art and is now the focal point of Government House’s living room. The final delight for me was gifted by Rueben: a cleaned up the small draft copy of the painting, where it now adorns my living room.

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