By FELICITY DARVILLE
Bahamian art and culture means the world to Marsha B. Knowles Adderley. The colours, sounds and vibrancy of Bahamian life are lived through Marsha. She is full of life. From her bold hair colours and apparel to her jolly laugh and many stories, Marsha is what you would call “a true true Bahamian”. She has captured her love for her country in a unique way – folk art. Marsha’s beautiful collection of paintings are testament to her love of her country. She has painted scenes that are a part of Bahamian culture; some of them are disappearing and will only be remembered if we capture them.
A visit to her home is like a walk through Bahamian history. Seeing her painting of children kneeling at mama’s bedside for prayer reminds me of days with my own precious grandmother in Long Island. The men climbing the greasy pole is a scene you may only see on Fox Hill Day or at a Family Island regatta. Her painting of a woman washing outside in a tin tub with a scrub board is a dying past time. She has captured boys playing marbles, men cracking conch shells, a rake n’ scrape band, native fruits and flowers - so many scenes of Bahamian folk life worth cherishing.
“The new generation… like my grandsons… some of them don’t know anything about shooting marbles, playing hop scotch, climbing the coconut tree, and spinning top,” Marsha says of her decision to focus on folk art.
“I want them to know of our Bahamian traditions. This is our heritage and we should keep it in our Bahamian culture before it dies out. It makes me feel proud to be a Bahamian. I love to be able to paint and draw Bahamian scenes. Lots of people who view my paintings are proud that someone is going back to the past to see how we live, how we eat, how we enjoy life. They even enjoy my paintings such as the Royal Bahamas Police and Defence Force pop bands performing and appreciate them as a part of Bahamian culture.
“Without our culture, we will be doing what Americans do, what Jamaicans do… people of other cultures and the next generation will end up with nothing to fall back on and no reason to be proud to be a Bahamian.”
Marsha grew up in Fox Hill and has strong Long Island roots. She cherishes her memories of barking almonds in the back of her grandmother’s yard. She climbed many dilly and tamarind trees as Fox Hill is loaded with them, and she enjoyed her days playing with all the neighbourhood children.
At the age of six Marsha entered an art competition while she attended St. Anslem’s Primary School. She won with her rendition of a lady wearing old fashioned clothing standing by her bed. Her drawing made it to the newspaper and in return, her proud father bought her a drawing book, pencils, erasers and crayons. This, Marsha says, is how her love for art was born.
Her parents, Edmund and Ruth Charlotte Knowles were always supportive of her craft, while her father became her biggest inspiration as she grew. She and her four siblings enjoyed growing up and playing together but Marsha always found time to spend by herself doing her art. She attended C.I. Gibson where she came under the tutelage of art teacher, Harry Rolle.
“To this very day, Mr. Rolle is still my art teacher and mentor and I still get input from him on my work,” she said, adding one day they plan to host a student/ teacher art exhibition.
With Mr. Rolle’s guidance, she took the art BJC and received special credit for her work. Marsha then went on to A.F. Adderley for high school where her budding art talent continued. She took art at the BGCSE level and earned a distinction. While at A.F. Adderley, she entered one of her pieces into an exhibition and it was purchased – a proud moment and one that showed her the value of her work.
When Marsha left high school, she worked at Solomon’s Mines for a while and gave birth to her first child, Antonia. She went on to work at the Cable Beach Hotel, where she served as a waitress and had the opportunity to meet and interact with numerous stars and famous people.
After the birth of her second child, Anthony, Marsha took a year off from work. When she entered the work force again in 1986, she joined what was then BatelCo, where she spent a little over 24 years. While at BTC, she had her third child, Marsha Renae and earned her first class Pitman certificate in typing.
All along, she kept art as a hobby. One day while on lunch break at BTC, James Thompson, former senior manager of training noticed her sketching a portrait for a correspondence course she was taking. He struck up a conversation, explaining he had a portrait done for him that he did not like. The next day, Mr. Thompson returned to Marsha with the portrait and the photograph from which the sketch was derived. He told her if she could sketch a portrait of him that he was pleased with, he would pay her for it. Marsha went to work, and in 25 minutes, her version was done. Mr. Thompson immediately tore up the previous portrait and paid Marsha for her work. He advised her to buy art supplies and continue the course. She says that inspired her to continue in her craft, and she successfully completed a Diploma in Master Art from International Correspondence Schools in 1994.
Marsha joined BTC as a janitor at the company’s Perpall Tract location. She knew she was qualified to do more, but there were no other openings. She took pride in her job and persisted until she was assigned to the Training Department. During the more than two decades of dedicated service to BTC, she worked as an operator, clerk, receptionist and assistant secretary supervised by Marsha Taylor. She retired as a customer service representative for all areas, residential and commercial, for installation, repair and maintenance. She thanks coworkers like Ricardo Thompson, Val Cargill, and Andre Neely, as well as her family and close friends for encouraging her in her career at BTC.
When a serious car accident left Marsha with shoulder and knee injuries in 2010, she ended up having to retire from the workforce. However, the hobby she loved so much turned into her full time endeavour. Art was always an escape for Marsha, who was married to her children’s father but is now a divorcee. She enjoys employing four art techniques – ink drawing, water colours, pastel chalk and oil painting.
“Art makes me relaxed, it helps me enjoy life better and it keeps me happy,” Marsha said.
She thanks God for her many blessings including her children and grandchildren Zion and Amez, and she believes in taking one day at a time. She thanks the Bahamas National Trust for always giving her a platform to showcase her art throughout the years.
“I eat, sleep, drink and enjoy art. It’s something that connects people from all walks of life.”