THE TEACHER KARL BROODHAGEN
Sculptor of the Bussa Statue
Karl Broodhagen is truly a master of the arts, one of the foremost craftsmen of our heritage. Sculptor of the "Bussa" statue.
Karl will not seek public recognition - but he most certainly deserves it.
His most visible and, by extension, best known piece of work is the Slave in Revolt Statue of the Emancipation Monument. While visitors may regard this statue as one of the island's most outstanding landmarks, it should also be remembered that for the people of Barbados it assumes a much more meaningful significance as a symbolic representation of the black man's struggle to free himself of the bonds of slavery.
Though the artist did not fashion the statue on any particular individual it has been colloquially known as "Bussa", in honour of a slave leader, ever since it was unveiled in 1986. Virtually everybody who visits Barbados eventually sees or hears about the slave monument. But what about the artist who created this striking statue? What about the man? Even a cursory study of Karl Broodhagen's life and career readily conveys a distinct impression of a highly gifted artist whose abundant talents have been richly complemented by a deep seated sense of humility and an intense love of nature, especially the human form.
It was his great empathy with life around him that stimulated the young Broodhagen to incorporate art as a natural part of his everyday existence. He carried a sketch-pad wherever he went and drew whatever caught his eye, notably people.
As the years advanced the developing artist flourished within the maturing young man, Though spurred by a voracious appetite to learn and progress, he struggled to find the kind of inspiration he desired. In those days, either side of the 1930's, Barbados offered no exposure to the work of international artists. Karl could not even find books about art in the national library. To add to his frustration he knew no other local artists with whom he could associate and compare work.
Isolated within this vacuum he continued to use nature, and what he saw through his own eyes, as his only source of influence. He improved his technique by means of trial and error, comparing his results to the reality of what he actually saw, thus developing his own particular style.
Karl especially enjoyed drawing and painting portraits. In his own words he "searched for character in men, and beauty in women. Not cosmetic beauty, more the qualities of serenity, shape and form, and a sense of movement." It was then, perhaps, a natural progression for him to extend his skills to the medium of sculpture. The sensitivity and appreciation that Karl felt for his subjects enabled him to recreate with his hands whatever he saw through his eyes. He describes sculpture as "a sensuous kind of touch -being able to imagine the feel of a breast, the curve of a hip, the lines of a jaw, and then transferring that picture from the mind to the hands.
Indeed he would often create a sculptured portrait from one his painted portraits, some times many years later. Otherwise he would ask people to sit for him - a girl he saw waiting for a bus; a friend; a dignitary. Anybody within whom he saw beauty and humanity.
A visit to Karl Broodhagen's home instantly, and forcefully, demands an appreciation of the magnitude, depth and calibre of this artist's creativity. The house is full of busts, statues, paintings, drawings, sketches -a stunning collection of a lifetime's work, all the more impressive in their haphazard distribution throughout the various rooms.
The man himself is genial and eloquent. His own distinct facial features make me wish that I too possessed the same skills as his sculptor's hands. What great satisfaction there would be in creating a sculptured portrait of Karl Broodhagen.
His voice is crisp and clear as he recalls the early days of his life - leaving Guyana in 1924 as a 15 year old to come to Barbados; adapting to the new life he now had to live; his mother insisting that he learn a trade as a tailor; the unfolding of his innate artistic ability.
With his eye for detail, and great knowledge and understanding of anatomy, Karl Broodhagen won respect as a highly proficient tailor. He eventually opened his own business and was just successful enough to support his family and his art. He remembers this time as a period of struggle, a struggle that was to accompany him most of his life.
He recalls these hard times not with bitterness, but rather a great sense of satisfaction. His spiritual needs have always outweighed his financial requirements.
Consequently he has never felt compelled to sell his work, preferring instead to be surrounded by it, thus allowing him to assess his own progress. Hence the superb and comprehensive collection that he has on display in his house today.
As an artist Karl Broodhagen best sees himself as a teacher. He is emphatic when he says; "I have always had an inclination to impart knowledge. It has been vital in my life. It has consolidated my position in life." No wonder then that he considers his contribution to education in Barbados as his greatest achievement. In 1947 he established an art department at the Combermere School, the first of its kind in the history of Barbados. He forged a path to be followed in later years by all Barbadian schools; he opened the door for generations of artists. He still teaches at Combermere today, nearly 50 years later.
The word education is derived from the Latin "Educere" which means to lead. There can be no greater "leader" in Barbadian art than Karl Broodhagen. Karl Broodhagen is not a rich man, but nobody could possess a greater feeling of wealth. He is surrounded by his life's work, a collection of incalculable value. He doesn't need people to know that he is the creator of the Slave Statue, or to be aware of his other commissioned pieces, or even to appreciate the greatness of his achievements.
He is supremely content. We are the ones that need to know these things. The onus is upon us - visitors and Barbadians alike - to discover the work produced by Karl Broodhagen; to understand its true value; to fully respect the enormity of the contribution he has made to his country; to learn from him.
Article written in 1995 compliments of "Ins and Outs of Barbados" Magazine