CHARLES LLOYD TUCKER (1913-1971) was Bermuda’s first professionally trained black artist and a dominant figure on the art scene in the 1950s and 1960s. As the first art teacher at Berkeley Institute, he inspired a generation of Bermudians. Some, including Chesley Trott and Elizabeth Ann Trott, became artists themselves. Others attribute their lifelong appreciation of art to his influence. Music was his first love, but his enrollment at a conservatory in London was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, ending his dream of becoming a concert pianist.
Tucker was one of eight children born to Ada Louise (Steede) and John Edgar Tucker, a community leader, mason, and builder. Only three of his siblings lived to adulthood. He was born in Shelly Bay and raised in the family home “Rocklands”, which had been in his mother’s family for generations, and which stood on a two-acre property overlooking Harrington Sound. His lifelong devotion to his mother may have had its roots in their shared musical talents. She played the organ and guitar and taught him how to play the pump-organ; he also studied piano from the age of seven.
Tucker attended Temperance Hall Primary School in Hamilton Parish, Mrs. Millicent Neverson’s Excelsior Secondary School, and the Berkeley Institute, from which he graduated in 1933. In December, 1937, he sailed to England to study music at the Guildhall School of Music and Dramatic Art, but the onset of war in 1939 forced him to sail back home. Though Bermuda was in no danger from enemy bombing raids, the island was soon pressed into service; in 1941 two U.S. bases were built there, in Southampton and St. David’s. Tucker began to give private music lessons, played piano in hotels, played the organ at the base chapel in St. David’s, and was a hotel steward and base watchman. American servicemen whom he had befriended were surprised to discover his “hidden talent” at music. Bill Wagner, a member of the dredging crew at the Southampton base, met Tucker when he was working for the base as a watchman at Hen Island, St. George’s. Wagner would later write that Tucker’s “big hands brought out Chopin like I had never heard before.” When the war ended in 1945, Tucker considered himself too old to resume his music studies, but he had already begun to dabble in painting. Wagner was his art mentor. “Bill undoubtedly gave me a priceless gift - my first real interest in art, not as a spectator, but as a participant,” Tucker told Preview magazine in March, 1961. “I like to think I returned in kind by deepening his appreciation of music.”
An American couple, Albert Rosen and his wife, whom Tucker had met while playing piano on the hotel circuit, were impressed by his artistic talents. They had connections that led him to art school. In 1948 Tucker returned to England, this time to study graphic arts at the Anglo-French Art Centre. Acting on the advice of another student, Tucker transferred to the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting, where he studied from 1949 to 1953. For a year, he roomed with future Barbados Prime Minister Errol Barrow and his wife in a large garden apartment on the edge of Hampstead Heath, London. Tucker soaked up the culture of England and Europe; he visited art galleries and roamed neighborhoods from Kew Gardens to the London docks, sketchbook readily in hand. He also played piano in clubs and sold his own artwork, including Christmas cards of Bermuda scenes, which financed trips to Europe. During his first summer in Europe he studied woodcarving. On one such trip he studied watercolors with the German painter, Hans Hermann Hagedorn (1913-1998). Though he painted landscapes and people as part of his studies, Tucker's lifelong passion for painting flowers was already being recognized. In 1953 he won the school’s Flower Painting Prize, and was the recipient of the Ernest Jackson Memorial Scholarship, which was awarded to the school’s outstanding student, and which covered the cost of his tuition for the academic year 1952-1953. Also in 1953 he assisted with the painting of a mural at the Bishop of London’s private chapel at Fulham Palace. In September of that year Tucker completed his studies and returned to Bermuda. In 1954, the year he began teaching at Berkeley Institute, he had a one-man show. He taught at Berkeley until 1959, and resumed in 1963, where he remained until his death.
Tucker became an active participant in the island’s artistic community, and was a founding member of the Bermuda Society of the Arts, which was formed in 1956 with an integrated membership, an indication that artists were leading the way in race relations. He exhibited locally and in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and juried several BSA exhibitions. Tucker’s friendships bridged Bermuda’s racial divide. His best friend was a white Bermudian, fellow artist Robert Barritt. Tucker exhibited with Barritt and many other leading white artists of the time, including John Kaufmann, Alfred Birdsey, Florence Fish and Canadian-born sculptor Byllee Lang.
Tucker was a prolific painter, who worked mainly in watercolors and pen and ink, but also in oils. He painted landscapes, street-scenes and Bermuda landmarks, and traveled frequently to exhibit and study. A trip to Haiti in 1956 became a major influence on both his paintings and woodcarvings. Up to then, he had been heavily influenced by the European masters, especially the French Impressionists. Tucker was also one of the first Bermudians to venture into political art. Storm in a Teacup, painted in a Modernist style that was atypical of his work, was inspired by the 1959 theatre boycott, which ended segregation in cinemas and hotels. The following year, the Bermuda Bar Association presented departing Chief Justice Sir Newnham Worley with a Tucker painting, an indication of both Tucker’s standing in the white establishment and of the changing times.
Tucker built his house and art studio ‘Morrox’ on family property. Tourists and local art lovers beat a path to his door to buy his paintings. One day a young woman named Sarah Theresa Jackson visited his studio with her mother. After a year’s courtship she and Tucker were married in an outdoor ceremony amid the terraced rock gardens on his property that Tucker had built himself. Hundreds attended the wedding that offered a glimpse into Bermuda’s political future. Future Premier John Swan was in the wedding party. Best Man Robert Barritt would serve in the Swan cabinet.
In 1970 Tucker was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Less than a year later, he died suddenly of a heart attack. His death and funeral were front-page news. Berkeley headmaster F.S. Furbert said at his packed funeral at Bethel: “Here lies a man who walked with kings and never lost the common touch with those with whom he was familiar.” His casket was covered with yellow roses, a fitting tribute for a man who loved flowers. Archdeacon Jack Cattell, who presided over his burial at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Hamilton Parish, said, “I always think of Charles Tucker as standing like a colossus across the artificial man-made barriers of race and society. He was at home with all kinds of people - old and young, black and white.”
Today, Charles Lloyd Tucker is considered to be a pioneer who paved the way for countless black Bermudian artists. He demonstrated that white artists, whether local or visiting North Americans, did not have a monopoly on the island’s aesthetics. Tucker left behind a treasure trove of work, which can be found in many prestigious private and public collections, and also at Morrox, where his family keeps his legacy alive.
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