Saluting Wayne Berkeley

Having been partially paralysed on one side of his body by a stroke in 2000 that curbed his design activities, sadly Berkeley now apparently did not survive the effects of another stroke that he suffered two weeks ago.

However although we say farewell, Berkeley has without doubt left his imprint on us collectively as a nation, and as individuals each having a hundred and one fond memories of his work.

Berkeley won Band of the Year an amazing nine times, out of the 18 bands he presented from 1973 to 1997. He even copped top honours in 1988 when he had retired as a band-leader but nonetheless designed “Amarante — the secret garden” for Earl Patterson’s Masquerade band.

He is fondly remembered for pioneering a fantasy-flavour in his portrayals, departing from the rather straight historical realism of his predecessors such as George Bailey. Further, revellers to this very day keenly still recall the visual impact of his colour combinations, his great attention to detail in every aspect of his designs, plus the meticulous sectioning of his band which was a tightly-run ship.

His nine winning bands were Secrets of the Sky (designed with Bobby Ammon)(1973), Kaleidoscope (1974), Genesis (1980), Hero Myth (1989), Nineteen Ninety (1990), Swan Lake (1991), Titanic (1992), Strike up the Band (1993) and Mirage (1994).

It is certainly to our enjoyment as individuals and to the benefit of our institutional memory as a Mas-loving nation, that Berkeley’s designs have been preserved in his 1999 book, Costume Design, volume 1. In addition, his original design drawings have been acquired in a special collection by NALIS which displayed them last year February (2010) in an exhibition entitled, “The Evolution of Costume Design — The contribution of Wayne Berkeley 1965 to 2000”.

We strongly support such efforts to record the creations of our top Mas designers, and we urge that other records of Berkeley’s work such as film-footage, photographs and news articles, also be archived, so that the story of Carnival can be properly told to future generations.

This is particularly apt in light of Berkeley’s own deep concerns expressed to a journalist in an article, Wayne Berkeley: King Carnival, in the Caribbean Beat magazine in 1992. “I get frightened when I look around and see no young people designing anything new,” Berkeley said. “I wonder, where is the new blood?”.

While we cannot answer that question, we do urge that Berkeley himself be held up as one of the founding fathers of modern Carnival design, along with persons such as Peter Minshall, Harold Saldenah and George Bailey.

Mas is a somewhat fleeting and ethereal art-form that can’t really be frozen in time for posterity, or be reproduced decades later.

However we urge that innovative ways should be explored to try to preserve aspects of this artistry, and that as Minshall recently said, some media analysis be done of the actual designs proffered.

Remembering the man himself, we are glad that Berkeley was formally recognised with national honours, in the form of the Hummingbird Gold Medal in 1974.

To sustain his legacy, we would suggest that some aspect of the Carnival Arts programme at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) be named to honour the memory of Wayne Berkeley. This might be a building at the UTT, a programme, an award given to best student or a scholarship fund, to name a few suggestions.

Of course, our greatest remembrance of Berkeley probably lies within each of our hearts and minds as we recall the many hours of joy that he brought to us as we donned his costumes to shuffle through the streets of Port-of-Spain, or alternately watched the colourful spectacle from afar.

However if anything can be done to more-formally record these happy memories given to us by this great mas-man, then this would meet with our fullest support.

We send our deepest condolences to the family of the late Wayne Berkeley.

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"Saluting Wayne Berkeley"

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