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By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter


THE heights reached by the local fine art movement is due in great part to renowned sculptor and artist Edna Manley.

Art always seemed to be in the blood of young Edna Swithenbank, who was born in England to a British father and Jamaican mother.

Edna Manley

Edna Manley

From her early years, she took art classes with various tutors and formal classes at Regent Street Polytechnic as well as Saint Martin’s School of Art in London.

From the 1920s until her death in 1987 at the age of 86, Manley devoted her life to promoting local art. Her works were exhibited frequently in England between 1927 and 1980.

Edna Manley in London

Edna Manley in London

Her first solo exhibition in Jamaica was in 1937. The show marked a turning point in Jamaica’s undeveloped art movement, and prompted the first islandwide group show of Jamaican artists.

Manley was also a founder of the Jamaica School of Art in 1950. After premiering in Jamaica, her show opened in England, where it was received with much fanfare.

Manley’s work would not be shown in London for nearly 40 years.

Her signature work is the bronze sculpture Negro Aroused, created in 1935 and first exhibited in 1937. It sits proudly on the downtown Kingston waterfront. The piece, a tribute to the Jamaican worker, perfectly marries her artistic life with the work of her husband, statesman Norman Manley.

Edna Manley’s two sons were former Prime Minister Michael Manley and government minister Douglas Manley.

For Manley, expressing the beauty of Jamaica was second nature.

“I carve as a Jamaican for Jamaica,” she said in an interview. “Trying to understand our problems and living near to the heart of our people.”

For her contribution to the development of Jamaican art, Manley received the Musgrave Gold and Silver Medals; a Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies; and the Order of Merit.

Edna Manley

Edna Manley

In 1995, the Cultural Training Centre, which houses the Schools of Art, Dance, Drama and Music, was renamed Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Edna Manley is interred in her husband’s tomb at National Heroes’ Park in Kingston. She has earned her title as the Mother of Jamaican Art.

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