By Stanley Greaves
It was with surprise and regret that I learnt of the recent death of Roderick Bartrum. I met him as one of the first intake of students at the opening of the Burrowes School of Art in 1975 by the late Director of art Denis Williams. I was a part-time tutor.
Early impressions of Bartrum were of someone who liked the company of his fellow students, was fun loving, and enjoyed a good laugh.
Other sides of his character included that of someone who had a strong moral sense of fair play, a free thinker and one who did not hesitate to censure anyone who stepped beyond the boundaries of proper conduct.
Students, who came to love his personality, conferred the name ‘Bermine’ on him on learning that he had been awarded a scholarship by the Berbice Mining Company to attend the BSA full time. This was in recognition of work he had been doing on his own while being employed by the company. Bartrum was a gifted sculptor with an in-born sense of anatomy, both human and animal. He worked directly without using preliminary drawings or maquettes – small models. It was also the first time I had seen anyone carve as swiftly and assuredly as he did.
I also noted in conversation with him that he had a strong conviction of what he wanted to do after graduating. The aspiration of becoming a fine artist was not for him. He wanted to produce items in sculpture that would be of interest to the general population.
Bartrum was more of an artisan, producing fine craft, than an artist interested in concepts. His work was mainly figurative and created for him a reputation for carvings of Amerindians in traditional dress, historical figures, jaguars, and harpy eagles. All of this was done with authority. He accepted commissions and I even saw him once do a half life-size Crucifixion for the Kitty Roman Catholic Church.
Bartrum was a loner by disposition and did not frequent the company of artists. In the street off Russell Street, Charlestown where he lived, he was a presence. He was quite fearless and would admonish anyone behaving in an unseemly manner. His attention was especially directed towards young people and he even employed boys to help clean his work space, sand and do polishing work. This was to keep them out of trouble. Many years ago I also saw him preaching to a group of students at the BSA about the dangers involved in using drugs.
I will certainly miss a longstanding friend and associate with whom I spent many hours in conversation while watching in admiration and respect at the way in which he conducted himself both as a sculptor and a human being.