September 30, 2020

Cayman Islands Museum celebrates Mr. Ed


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There was a new art exhibit at the Cayman Islands National Museum at the weekend, celebrating the work of well known artist Ed Oliver. Ed Oliver is known affectionately as Mr. Ed. He was an inspiration for many on the island. Officials at the national museum thought that the exhibit would be an excellent way to pay tribute to his legacy.

Mr. Ed arrived in Cayman back in the 1960′s after leaving the field of advertising and industrial design in the United States. He passed away in 2005.

The following story was written by GIS shortly before his death.

At 86 years, ‘Mr. Ed’ as he is affectionately known, is not ready to fold his easel and put away his paintbrushes. “I still have a lot to give,” says the man who believes that his painting career was ordained by a higher power that had earmarked him for a lifetime of reflecting nature’s beauty.

The octogenarian is now preparing for the 36th year of his popular painting classes in Cayman, expanding his Saturday morning programmes to three new weekday offerings for adult beginners; talented youth, from ten-years up; and evenings, studio drawing.

Mr. Ed Oliver arrived in the Cayman Islands in the late ‘60s, at a time when the Islands were still, as now famously dubbed by a Saturday Evening Post reporter, the “islands time forgot.” Word of Cayman’s charm had gone abroad by then, with Mr. Ed’s first hearing occurring while vacating in Trinidad; there, the street bands held little attraction for him, and, holed up in his hotel, he struck up conversation with a travelling real estate “shark.” Six months later, that Trinidad hotel exchange would prove one of the most providential of his life. The realtor wrote saying he knew of just the place for Mr. Ed—the Cayman Islands!

Today, Mr. Ed’s story reflects the saga of Cayman’s development. When he arrived he and two children stayed at the Seaview Hotel, paying $6.50 per day, including meals. His real estate friend from that fortuitous Trinidad encounter took him on a tour that ended in Mr. Ed buying 100 ft of beachfront property in Bodden Town—for the grand sum of $23 per foot!

On a subsequent visit, he arranged for the late Edison Jackson and Jim Berry to begin work on his Bodden Town house, in which he still lives today, though, as most old Caymanian houses, it has been added to many times.  As the men built, they sent pictures, and he sent funds.

Moving to Cayman, Mr. Ed’s talent was already recognised and he had had many years of art school. His perspective on life had also been influenced by some “miracles” that had saved him from tragedy—a common theme in many lives during that World War II period.

At the tender age of eight, Mr. Ed had overheard his third grade teacher alerting his parents to his abilities: “This little boy can go places,” she said. On leaving high school, he enrolled at the Arts Student League in New York City and he recalls one course with famous anatomical (life) class tutor, George Bridgeman.  Next on the list was the Cooper Union Art School, in New York, which was terminated when he was conscripted into the US Armed Services in 1942

With the war came a new, yet related twist of fate. When he entered the armed forces In February 1942, he was assigned work as an art clerk.  However, the end of basic training brought his discharge, a serious nasal problem (subsequently corrected) intervening.

Determined to do his share in the war effort, he joined the air force. As a cadet, he studied navigation before going on to advanced training.  Just weeks before graduation, fate again intervened, and he was grounded by airsickness.  From there, he became a chaplain’s assistant.

Then his number came up again, and he was off on a US military transport vessel to Bombay, India.  While there, his commanding officer commissioned him to sketch a portrait.  While working on that, his number came up for a new war assignment, but fate intervened once more, for his commanding officer arranged for him to remain to complete the artwork.

Later, he flew over to Kunming, the capital city in lower China, where he was given a photo intelligence assignment in the American armed services under the command of General Clair Chenault. While there, he also made maps for the Chinese infantry. At war’s end, he was among the first troops to arrive back home, anchoring in Seattle, in December 1945.

Settling back into civilian life, Mr. Ed assembled his portfolio and hit the pavement of Madison Avenue’s “Ad Alley.” One of his first jobs after his stint in advertising was as an alphabet designer with Remington Typewriters.  In those days he worked on the Univac computer, then bigger than a 12’ by 15’ office. From there, he returned to New York to work for a company designing retail packaging and advertising.  For seven years (1950-1957) during this period, he taught at the Silver Mine College of Art in Connecticut; later, from 1965 to 1969, he served with the Famous Artists School, correcting correspondence lessons for students in 58 countries around the globe.

Arriving in Cayman in 1969, he had only $500 in his pocket, but talent galore.  He started out as manager for the Caymanian Weekly newspaper, but soon went into business on his own, doing signboards, menus, brochures and calligraphy.

He pioneered the postcard business in Cayman in 1970. In over 22 years, he designed and published some five million postcards, in some 160 categories, such as sunsets, marine life, and plants, homes and landmarks.  These were distributed to some 80 outlets around Cayman and from there posted onto the rest of the world.

In 1969, it was time for change.  Mr. Ed started his first art classes, in which some of Cayman’s greatest talent had their start.  These included art luminaries such as Bendal Hydes, Danny Ebanks, Raphael Bodden, and Alpha Kozaily.

Looking back on his life, Mr. Ed’s art classes represent his highest point.  “Helping people discover their talents within means most to me, and represents my proudest achievement,” he reflects. He is convinced that everyone is born with talent, and warns, “If it gets lost under the pressures of life’s obstacles, it can be devastating for the individual.”

This is why he cares so much about this work at Caribbean Haven drug rehabilitation centre, where he spends two hours weekly, instructing residents as part of their rehabilitation—and he does so completely voluntarily.

Voluntary service is nothing new for Mr. Ed.  In recent months he has donated some of his artwork to the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority for display in the hospital. He has also taught art, without reward, at Triple C, Cayman Prep. and at the International College of the Cayman Islands (ICCI).

“So many people have talent—but their talents are being squashed without their ever discovering what they have,” he says, explaining why he is so dedicated to teaching and to reaching as many persons as possible.

Teaching is also part of his search for a more harmonious symbiosis with life, where love is the currency.  He has tried the church, he says, visiting many, but he is still yet searching. “I am not done—I will keep looking, but I have yet to find a church that’s successful in preaching what it should: Love.

This inquiring aspect of his nature has led him to a lifelong interest in astrology.  He was born, he said, at a time when five planets were in Venus, making it impossible for him to avoid reflecting the world’s beauty.  He is firmly convinced that human “intuition” is a sort of message from the heavens.

Mr. Ed also has a very keen interest in natural medicine and has some strong words for the world’s food manufacturers:  “Processed food has become a weapon of mass destruction.  The food industry is making us all sick,” he says, explaining that ingredients such as preservatives that don’t belong there can be deadly

And now, in his platinum years, Mr. Ed looks back on his Cayman experience as a very special time.  “It’s been a great outlet—it took me away from the mental and physical pollution of New York. Here in Cayman we are still working with wide open opportunities” – but he urges that we “avoid stress and politicking.”

And what of the future? “I still have lots to give,” he responds.  “It satisfies me to give, and that’s how I want to continue enjoying minute.

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  1. Thank you for that honorable story of my dad Ed Oliver. Please know we miss him and appreciate his dedication to serve and help others. We in the family are all the same! xo

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