Fri | Oct 30, 2020

Brunch start to Barry Watson legacy tours

Published:Friday | February 14, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Marina McCullen discussing a Barry Watson masterpiece mounted inside Orange Park Great House.
A section of the gathering that turned up for the brunch and tours at the Orange Park Great House complex in St Thomas.
Doreen Watson smiles as she looks at a self-portrait of her late husband, Barrington.
ABOVE: Master drummer Maroghini and his son, Amri Hanson, were among the first official batch of tourists at the Orange Park Great House.

“Barrington was fixated on ­having a museum established on this property, which was his home and studio for 45 years,” Doreen Watson told a rapt audience.

The Orange Park Great House Complex is located in the Yallahs Hills of St Thomas. And it was the official launch of the Orange Park Museum and the Barrington Watson Legacy Tours, which took the format of a brunch and tours of the complex.

The property was a coffee plantation, and some of the buildings on it are over 400 years old. It was acquired by Watson in the early 1970s, when it was in a state of decay. He refurbished it and turned it into a living, working and meeting space for artists and art lovers. It was a special place for Watson, who wanted the Jamaican people to experience it.

“I will build a museum and in it I will put my works and others that I have collected so that all classes can come and look at it … It is something I hope to leave for my country, Jamaica,” he was quoted as saying.

Thus, he bequeathed it to the people of Jamaica under the management of the Orange Park Art Trust, and in 1994 the great house and adjoining studio were declared a national monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Watson lived there up to 1995. He passed away last January.

Because of the age of the structures, they require ongoing maintenance and upkeep so that they do not fall into disrepair. Yet, there was no money in the trust as no account was set up to receive such, and successive governments did not step up to the plate, despite the official designation.

“I made a promise to Barrington that I would honour his wishes regardless of the circumstances. As a consequence, I single-handedly embarked on a project of repairing the great house and studio, in addition to other structural and aesthetic modifications to the complex,” Watson explained.

“It has been my labour of love to ensure Orange Park retain the character befitting the ambitions and memory of Barrington. It became challenging for me to visualise the appropriate framework for organising the exhibits to start the museum. I realised that I no choice, so I persevere.”

Watson was ably assisted by Marina McCullen, who, by chance, contacted Watson when she was told about the property. McCullen, who has a background in art and theatre, works at Leeds Castle in southeast England. It is a 900-year-old historic royal palace and country retreat.

Yet, McCullen was smitten by what she saw at Orange Park. “What struck me was the tranquility and that special inner light that only Jamaica can provide. It is unique,” she declared in her address to the ­gathering on Sunday.

In wrapping up her presentation, she said, “It is an incredible and unique venue where people will want to paint, enjoy a retreat, get married, celebrate special occasions, tell everyone they know about how wonderful it is because of their unforgettable experience here, and return to soak up the idyllic atmosphere, enjoy the highest quality hospitality and standard of absolute excellence that was so important to Barrington.”

The grounds of the Orange Park Great House Complex are now available by appointment for group tours, weddings and outdoor daytime activities. Among other things, the property consists of the great house, which has sleeping space in the attic; the tennis and the honeymoon cottages; and Studio Barrington, Watson’s former working space.

“The launch of the museum and legacy tours today is a small first step in realising the dreams and aspirations of Barrington,” the committed and dedicated widow said in her conclusion.