September 2016 Volume 13

Mr. Franklyn Bernal’s legacy — if birds could talk…

Reprinted from Jamaica Observer
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In the midst of the unending social discourse and the untiring dynamism which is Jamaican society, a giant of another time, passed quietly.

Mr Frank Bernal, Officer of the order of Distinction (OD), retired civil servant, renowned artist and author, died peacefully on June 2, 2016 after a long and productive life. He was 95.

He has left his nation enriched by a treasury of extraordinary and detailed paintings of the birds of Jamaica, his passion for over 50 years and a joy to bird lovers. Mr Bernal became particularly captivated by the Jamaican hummingbird.

For five painstaking decades researching and documenting these in hundreds of beautiful paintings, rendered meticulously in airbrush and water colour, Mr Bernal was famously hailed by the Amherst College Library Review for “the best paintings ever of Caribbean birds”.

Franklyn Bernal was born April 28, 1921 and educated at Kingston College. He was a self-taught artist. He discovered this love while designing and painting Jamaican stamps, national symbols and the images on some of Jamaica’s bank notes, and illuminated addresses including for Queen Elizabeth II.

He combined his painting with his work as an employee of the Jamaica Government Service in which capacity he specialised in organisation and management, retiring in 1979 as director of the Management Services Department.

During this period, he wrote and published two books on filing systems and organisational charts for use in government training courses.

Mr Bernal had three highly successful solo exhibitions in Kingston at the Frame Centre Gallery during the 1980s. He researched, wrote, painted, and produced Birds of Jamaica, which was published in 1989. This was the first publication in Jamaica in which 26 of the 28 endemic birds and 19 of the non-endemic resident species were reproduced.

His second book, The Birds of Jamaica (1999) featured 61 paintings beautifully reproduced in colour with accompanying text containing general information about birds and a detailed description of each bird illustrated.

He combined the talents of a highly accomplished artist with his knowledge of Jamaican birds acquired by many years of study and observation. These publications — and his renderings of Jamaica’s national symbols at the time of Independence in 1962, his works in calligraphy and many other original artistic outputs — represent a major contribution to art in Jamaica and also to the study of the birds in Jamaica.

Among other accolades, Mr Bernal was awarded the silver Musgrave Medal and earlier this year honoured with a Special Achievement Award by his alma mater, Kingston College.

Mr Bernal leaves to mourn his loss Kathleen, his wife of 69 years, son Dr Richard Bernal, former Jamaican ambassador to the United States, daughter-in-law Margaret, grandsons Brian (Guila) and Darren, and great grandchildren Nile and Elle.

A memorial to his legacy as painter-extraordinaire of the birds of Jamaica will be held at a date to be announced. It’s a legacy which could only have been adequately described…if birds could talk.

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