AS the many visitors from all over the world attest, Great Village itself is a memorial to the life, art and legacy of Elizabeth Bishop. If Bishop could return to this community in the twenty-first century, she would find that much has changed, of course (she knew change was inevitable); but she would also recognize much that has remained — the topography and geography, the built heritage, the spirit of the people.
Bishop was not born in Great Village. She lived there continuously for only a brief period of time. But the time she spent in Great Village during her childhood was profound and pivotal to her life and art. As Bishop wrote, “Something needn’t be large to be good.” This small village had a large impact on one of the most important poets of the twentieth century.
Not only did the place itself imprint on her mind and imagination, but also her maternal family and the residents of the village. It must be remembered that Great Village was larger and more bustling at the turn of the twentieth century than it is in the early twenty-first century. There was a great deal of cultural and economic activity for Bishop to experience.
The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia has spent nearly a quarter century recognizing and celebrating the importance of Great Village and maternal family to the life and art of Elizabeth Bishop. One of the ways it has done so is through exhibits.
Elizabeth Bishop Exhibits of the past:
The first Elizabeth Bishop exhibit in Great Village took place in 1992, in St. James United Church, before the EBSNS had come into existence. It was mounted as part of the celebration that saw a Bishop memorial plaque placed on the church.
At that point, Bishop’s first cousin Phyllis Sutherland loaned some of her extensive family archive.
This material was eventually catalogued and sold to the Province of Nova Scotia, with the help of the EBSNS and Acadia University, where the material was deposited.
After the EBSNS came into existence, it was involved in a number of exhibits about Bishop’s connections to Nova Scotia. The first occurred on 10 June 1995, also in the church, in conjunction with the Elizabeth Bishop Memorial Lecture, delivered by Thomas Travisano.
(l. to r. Sandra Barry, John Barnstead and
Peter Sanger in front of part of the 1995 exhibit.)
The next exhibit occurred in September 1998 at Acadia University, in conjunction with the Elizabeth Bishop Symposium, “Divisions of the Heart.” By this time, the Bulmer family archive was at the Esther Clark Wright Archives and the exhibit was set up in the Kirkconnell Room.
In 2007 the EBSNS collaborated with the Colchester Historeum in Truro, N.S., to mount an extensive exhibit about Bishop and her Great Village connections, curated by Sandra Barry and Elinor Maher. This exhibit ran through the summer and had many visitors. In June 2007, the EBSNS and the Great Village Historical Society had unveiled the pergola and the initial historical panels, which were about Elizabeth Bishop, a very public “exhibit.”
A natural evolution:
During the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary in 2011, the EBSNS set up a small display about Bishop and EB100 at the Truro Library.
(The Bishop and EB100 Display at the Truro Library, 2011)
EB100 activities and the subsequent legacy projects took most of the time, energy and resources of the EBSNS from 2010 to 2013; but once this activity eased, the EBSNS board began to ponder its next projects. When the St. James Church Preservation Society offered the EBSNS space in the sanctuary of the church, the next project became clear: a permanent exhibit about Bishop, to complement the historical panels on the pergola. Creating a permanent exhibit to recognize and celebrate the importance of Great Village and her maternal family to Elizabeth Bishop is a natural and logical evolution for the EBSNS. The next post will update on the progress of this project.