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Long-time Cayman Islands resident artist Ed Oliver died in 2005, but his talent lives on in the hundreds of people he taught and the thousands who have enjoyed his prints, books and post cards.
His widow, Barbara Oliver, recently donated copies of his book, Mr. Ed’s Pencil Keeps Moving, to the National Gallery, the National Museum and the Turtle Centre so they may benefit from its sale.
A successful businessman and art instructor in the United States, Mr. Ed retired to Cayman and chose to teach because he wanted to “help youngsters become aware of their artistic talents.”
That quote comes from a Government Information Services release issued in 1997 when he was awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour “for his role as a local pioneer in the development â€¨of the arts”.
In addition to serving as art instructor at Triple C and Cayman Prep Schools in the 1980s and ’90s, he held Saturday morning classes for more than 30 years, starting in 1969 when he took up permanent residence. The press release referred to above notes that he became a naturalised Caymanian in 1975.
But Mr. Ed’s history in Cayman goes back even farther: Page one of his Portfolio of Drawings features a photograph he took in 1957 – Teacher McField and the students of his one-room school.
The next 177 pages are his pencil drawings, a revelation of textures, shadings and detail. Cayman subjects figure prominently, from a thatch broom and grater to buildings that sadly no longer exist. Anyone who wonders what the old Government Office looked like before it was destroyed by fire in 1972 has only to study Mr. Ed’s drawing and be transported to another era.
Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 wrecked the Olivers’ home in Bodden Town and much of Mr. Ed’s lifetime portfolio. Fortunately, the books survived. Barbara stored them safely and produced a colourful new jacket with biographical notes “to acquaint new readers with Ed Oliver, Caymanian artist”.
Having moved to the US after Ivan, she returned to Cayman periodically to market the book and visit friends. Recently she received word that her storage site would no longer be available to her; she wondered what to do with the remaining 2,000 copies, since shipping them to her US residence would be prohibitively expensive.
“My next Aha! decision was to keep them in Cayman, where they belong,” Barbara said. “I contacted the gallery, the museum and turtle Centre, all of whom graciously accepted my gift and generously agreed to pay the haulage to their premises. Now I have delivered the rest of the book jackets and the shrink-wrapping machine to implement proper display and storage.”
Barbara, a muralist who was also her husband’s partner in Cayman ARTventures, said she hopedthe book finds an audience with people who remember Mr. Ed as well as those interested in the wonderful Caymanian past as shown in drawings only Ed Oliver could execute.
“I’m happy the books now have a safe home with these agencies, which know and appreciate my husband’s legacy for the Islands,” she said.
In addition to serving as art instructor at Triple C and Cayman Prep Schools in the 1980s and ’90s, he held Saturday morning classes for more than 30 years, starting in 1969 when he took up permanent residence.