A couple of weeks ago, Grand Cayman – the peaceful, idyllic slice of paradise that I call home – was invaded by the Wyland Army, a tour de force of fun- and sun-loving merry men and women. Led by the group’s namesake and merry-maker-in-chief, Wyland – the world-famous marine artist and conservationist – the group blew into town like a late summer hurricane. They came and conquered during a weeklong celebration that, by comparison, makes Mardi Gras in New Orleans seem more like a stay in a monastery. The “Krewe De Wyland” has since moved on, but the cleanup continues!
Of course, I am exaggerating just a bit, but spending time with Wyland often takes on the feeling of a big party. Fortunately, Wyland likes to “party with a purpose” – and this time would be no different. As is often the case, Wyland used his small window of time in Grand Cayman to give back to the locals (as well as some down-on-their-luck turtles), who would be the lucky beneficiaries of Wyland’s spirit, determination and generosity. But, of course, there would be a party, too…
It all started innocently enough. Wyland had recently been selected for induction into the 2010 class of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, an event held annually in Grand Cayman. Several months before Wyland’s scheduled visit, he called me to offer up some quality time in my gallery, which is located in the heart of Georgetown. I immediately accepted his invitation. We decided to collaborate on a new mural, one that would reflect the great importance and diversity of Cayman’s undersea world. I also suggested that we fit in a few afternoons of scuba diving as well! In the meantime, the staff of the Guy Harvey Gallery & Shoppe began planning an old-fashioned Caribbean-style street party to celebrate Wyland’s selection as one of the newest members of the scuba diving HOF.
I was very excited to be working with Wyland on another mural project. Over the last ten years, Wyland (or “Wy” as we call him) has invited me to participate in collaborations on five different mural projects, as well as on three smaller murals done during various DEMA shows. Wy has completed 100 of these giant murals around the world over the past 27 years, and the critical and commercial success of these murals has propelled Wy to the very peak of the marine art world, where he is recognized as the most influential marine artist of the last three decades. Wy also holds several Guinness Book records for the largest paintings of all time, and has received world -wide recognition as one of the most successful artists in any genre.
Doing these murals is like being on a movie set – among other things, the work requires a large support team, buckets of paint, ladders, lifts and spray guns. Working on a large mural also allows for the opportunity to get the public involved, as the work typically takes place in a large, outdoor area. In keeping with our goal of promoting the message of marine conservation, both Wy and I decided that this would be the ideal project for involving local Caymanian schoolchildren.
But, before we could start work on the mural, we needed some Cayman inspiration – so on Saturday we made a few trips beneath the waves. After a couple of good dives with Ocean Frontiers at East End, the weather improved the next day and we were able to take Wyland’s gang out to the famous stingray sandbar. I loaded 14 people on my 28’ SCOUT, “Makaira”, and we had an eventful afternoon interacting with Grand Cayman’s most famous residents. The sun was out, the water was crystal clear and those on Wy’s staff who had never experienced the amazing rays had a fantastic experience. This was followed by a lunch at famous Rum Point, hosted by Adrien Briggs and Attlee Bodden, owners of Rum Point and Sunset House. Thanks guys!
The following day, Monday, word of our upcoming project was quickly spreading around the island. Wy and I were asked to do two radio interviews and a national TV interview to talk about the collaboration. By mid morning, work on our new mural finally got underway and we began painting some of Cayman’s famous marine life. I had prepared a 10’ X 5’ canvas in a diptych, with background water coral and a sunken galleon (in keeping with Cayman’s marine heritage).
Before the first dolphin was fully etched in, the initial group of school kids arrived. Wy and I gave an introduction about the collaboration, as well as a talk about the wonderful marine resources we have in the Cayman Islands and the need to conserve all marine creatures. I had several blank canvases for the school children to work on and Wy and I offered some pointers to those who were painting. By the end of the busy morning, the schoolchildren had produced a smorgasbord of amazing images – and some even added their touch to the mural! In all, there were five rotations of schoolchildren throughout the day, a process that was expertly organized by the staff of my gallery & shoppe, managers James and Mariasol, with great assistance from Lisa Robertson.
After a very busy day of painting on Monday, Wy and I headed out early the next morning to get shots of the rays at the sandbar before the mosquito fleet arrived. The morning was calm, sunny and crystal clear. We had the place to ourselves, which allowed for some incredible interaction with the local marine life. After the sandbar, we had a great dive on the famous North Wall, where we shared quality time with an adult hawksbill turtle.
Before we knew it, the morning was over. We realized we had to make some serious progress on the collaboration, so we headed back to town and began work outside the gallery & shoppe. Tim Adams, the managing director of the Cayman Turtle Farm, joined us, along with his staff and a very special guest – a 50lb. green turtle called “Moriah”, who was recovering from injuries under the care of the farm’s vet, Johanna Meija-Fava. Wy and I did a small collaboration on another canvas, which we donated for the turtle farm’s upcoming fundraiser to benefit turtle research and rehabilitation.
As the sun got warmer, we retreated inside the gallery & shoppe, where a throng of supporters and more school children joined us. We continued working all day on the mural until James, the gallery & shoppe manager, kicked us out in the late afternoon so his staff could close off the street and prepare for the party. The Guy Harvey Island Grill, located across the street from the gallery & shoppe, catered the party with BBQ food and adult beverages – thanks, Chef Bruno! – and local band “Absolut Joy” played everyone’s favorites, including some great Caribbean rhythms.
Wy and I continued painting through the evening, and at the right moment, we did some spontaneous collaborative brush stroke art that was auctioned off on site to benefit the Wyland Foundation and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. All five pieces were immediately purchased. To cap off a great event, Wy signed our big collaboration, titled “Cayman Treasures”, and we announced that limited edition canvas giclees would be made available, with all proceeds benefiting our respective foundations.
The party, held in honor of Wy for tirelessly spreading the message of marine conservation to the millions of people he has touched during his illustrious career – and to salute his recent induction into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame – was a huge success, as Wyland parties tend to be!
Thanks big Wy for your time and support! You touched many people in the Cayman Islands with your unique spirit, enthusiasm, knowledge, and message of marine conservation – not only for our tiny, delicate oceanic island but also for the whole planet. Safe travels and best of luck on your upcoming photographic expedition to the Antarctic. Stay warm!
Until the next dive…..