This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in The Bermudian in January 1958 and it appears here exactly as it did originally.
Many friends of Nancy Hutchings are firmly convinced that she has two different and distinct personalities. One is the glamorously dressed Nancy who goes out with her husband in the evening. The other is the Nancy who, casually dressed in Bermuda shorts and shirt, makes beautiful panels of fibreglass and plastic in her workroom during the day. The first Nancy is gay, talkative, loves to meet people. The second Nancy likes to be alone while working (often with some difficulty as her two children don’t fully understand this), rarely answers the phone if friends call in the morning, and is quietly happy lost in her work. This second Nancy never wears her wedding or engagement ring during working hours because plastic gets underneath. The first Nancy, in the evenings, wears three or four rings. Both Nancy’s are five-feet three with blue eye, brown hair and extremely pretty, even when in the throes of work and covered with bits of plastic.
Nancy has become known for her lovely and highly original work in plastic panels. She makes lamp bases, wall panels, both large and small screens and decorative screens for windows. Her latest original designs are small table tops made of glass and plastic, placed in iron table frames, painted in black or white. In all these works of art she creates amazing designs, mostly using natural materials found in Bermuda, such as bay grapes, Bermuda ferns, thistles, umbrella plant, bamboo, shells, sea fans, mother-of-pearl, pods, star fish and sea horses. She collects, dries, and presses these materials as one would press botany specimens.
Every panel ha a completely original design, which must blend into the overall design. Nancy makes these panels by first casting on glass. The glass has been cleaned and sealed with a plastic separating agent. She then uses a liquid thermosetting polyester resin to which a catalyst or hardener has been added. To that she adds a glass fibre to reinforce the plastic. This hardens in two stages. At the gel stage she puts in her design, which has been carefully laid out in advance. Then, when this stage of hardening has been completed, she seals the design with plastic. This same process, incidentally, is used to fabricate such fiberglass things as small electrical component parts and 36-foot LST hulls.
To Nancy, the most interesting part of her work is the truly artistic side, making and carrying out the designs. Her first objective is to give the designs a natural rather than a botanical appearance. The seaweed looks as if it is moving in the water, the pampas grass seems to be swaying in the wind. Even the tiny sea horses, found in Bermuda waters, look a if they are relaxing in the sea.
In spite of the fact that Nancy’s panels create a truly Bermuda atmosphere, she is not a Bermudian, except by marriage. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she and her mother and two brothers always had an on-the-move life due to the career of her father, Basil L. Walters. Known in newspaper circles as Stuffy, (he is five-feet-five and inclined to plumpness) Mr. Walters is executive editor and director of the five-paper Knight Newspaper group, plus chief of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service.
Nancy’s father has always been famed for his individual and colourful personality. Once, for instance, while editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune, a fire began sweeping through the small town of Spencer, Iowa, one hundred miles away. Mr. Walters took immediate, and highly characteristic, action. He arranged to fly the chief of the Des Moines fire department to Spencer-but unfortunately the fire chief became violently air sick enroute. Not at all disturbed, Mr. Walters rallied correspondents throughout the state to send dynamite to Spencer to blow up the advancing flames. But by the time he had enough explosives on hand, most of Spencer was in ashes.
For his family, life with father was a succession of new homes as he advanced from reporter, through editorships to his present prominent position. When Nancy was two years old the family moved from Milwaukee to Des Moines, Iowa, then a few years later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1944 they were on the move again to Grosse Point, Michigan, then to Kenilworth, a suburb of Chicago.
By the time she reached college age, during World War II, Nancy had acquired an on-the-move personality of her own. Somehow she managed to major in art and photography at the University of Minnesota, attended Minneapolis Art Institute classes on the side, and summer school at the National University of Mexico. Her next move was to Pine Manor in Massachusetts, where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Finally, she attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
During the war she acquired a pilots license. She was also a figure skater and could have had a career in the Ice Follies. However, her mother, as mother will, resisted this idea as she was afraid that Nancy might catch cold. As Nancy’s real interests were in art and photography, she gave up her future on ice skates with no reluctance.
Her first real job (to her father and mother’s horror) was during summer vacation, writing social notes and taking photographs at both Arlington and Washington Park race tracks just outside Chicago. A good deal of the time she found herself sharing her office with a friendly race horse. This position was lightly blighted when she took a picture of a well-known political figure’s wife, with the wife’s current love. Nancy innocently sent the picture to all the newspapers, then cowered under a barrage of howls and threats and loud, happy laughter from the press.
Her next position was more restful. She worked for a well-known commercial photographer in Chicago, as a stylist. lt was her job to set up the backgrounds, such as furniture and table settings, for advertising photographs and obtain the necessary models.
In June of 1949, after having a leg broken when a friend’s car was involved in an accident, she came to Bermuda to recuperate. Other friends, who lived across the road in Kenilworth, were also visiting here and introduced her at a cocktail party to big, goodlooking Nathaniel “Rusty” Hutchings, whose family had been in Bermuda for many generations. When Nancy returned to Chicago in July, Rusty followed a month later to visit her and meet her family.
Nancy’s two young brothers, Tom and James, were highly excited at meeting a Bermudian and firmly believed, in spite of Nancy’s warnings, that Rusty would have a British accent. They spent weeks practicing saying, “Pip, pip, old boy,” “Jolly good,” “Anyone for tennis,” and were bitterly disappointed when he didn’t answer in kind. Nancy, however, wasn’t a bit disappointed in Rusty- the following February they were married.
Rusty almost didn’t get to their wedding. At that time in Bermuda, currency restrictions were such that each person was allowed only one pleasure trip a year. Rusty was told he had used up his quota and would not be allowed to go. Desperately, he pleaded that he had to be in Chicago to get married. The Currency Control Board ended all arguments by saying, “Oh, in that case, you can go–we don’t consider getting married a pleasure trip.”
Married eight years, the Hutchings live at Shawell in Paget. They have two children, Nathaniel William, age six, known as Nicky, and Nancy Christina, called Tina, age four. Rusty is with the construction firm of N.W Hutchings & Son, Ltd. (he’s the son) in Devonshire.
When they built Shawell two years ago, Rusty had a special workroom added as a surprise for Nancy. The room is above the kitchen, with a private outside staircase leading to it. It has four windows with a magnificent view of the harbour. As you enter, on the right is a long circular desk which originally belonged to James Ullman, well known author of “The White Tower.” Nancy hoped the desk would inspire her, which it obviously has. There are two cabinets and Nancy’s special glass-topped work table. The desk is covered with jars and bowls filled with different types of shells, glass threads in different colours, mother-of-pearl, bits of stained glass and white glass. Also on the desk are all the materials which have been dried and pressed, and are filed for future use.
Nancy works from nine to twelve every day, except Sundays. During these hours, she can make two panels. Setting her original designs sometimes will take her fifteen minutes, at other times she will hover over them for an hour. Every detail of design must be ready in advance, because once the plastic ha been mixed she has to work fast before it hardens. The panel is then left overnight to fully harden. If it is damp weather a light must be left shining on it. After he cut it to size, it goes to the Hutching’s sawmill where it is trimmed, sanded, and framed in cedarwood, mahogany, or pine.
Nancy has no set schedule for the gathering of her materials. She finds them in her own garden, while strolling in the neighbourhood, or while driving to appointments in her car. If she has a companion in the car, this can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience for them. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, she will stop the car and leap out to collect a likely looking specimen growing by the roadside.
She does, however, make fairly regular tours, accompanied by her children, to Harrington Sound and the beaches at Somerset to collect shells, sea weed, mother-of-pearl, sea horses, and sea fans. Friends and relatives also collect for her and rarely come to call without bringing her leaves, flowers and plants from their gardens. Her children, not yet at an age to differentiate, often appear with broken pieces of crockery from neighbour’s cast-off dinnerware, or rather uninspired looking stones. They also love to ‘help’ her in her workroom. Only the highly pungent smell of plastic cooking will hastily drive them out.
When Nancy first settled here after her marriage, she was interested mostly in photography, and working with enamels, jewellery, ashtrays, and striking copper screens with enamel designs on them. She also is gifted at oil painting. Occasionally her pictures are displayed at the Society of Arts in Bermuda. Now, however, she concentrates almost exclusively with fiberglass and plastic panels.
Occasionally there are complications to her work, such as when it rains and she has to dry her materials in the oven before they can be pressed. A few times she has found herself competing for the oven, not only with their cook, but also with Rusty. One time, for instance, he was drying sand in the oven to put in his new hi-fi speaker enclosure to deaden the vibration. Sand while cooking has a highly unusual and unpleasant odor, so their friends dropped away for that week. One friend, while making a hasty exit, remarked, “You always seem to have something cooking in the oven-but it never seems to be food.”
Nancy and Rusty work together in everything. Rusty mixes all the plastic, which come in 45-pound drums, too large for Nancy to handle. Rusty also personally supervises all work done on her panels after they go to the sawmill to be trimmed, sanded and framed.
Together they have made their eight room home completely individual. Rusty designed over half the furniture, then put on all finishing touches after it was made at the sawmill. While he was doing this, Nancy was painting murals on walls and hand-blocking draperies. They both painted furniture, and spent one rather wild evening putting splatter-dash paint on the cement floor of the room they call their Bermuda room. This is a huge room on the first floor level, with one whole wall in windows, used for television, informal dining, and as a playroom for the children. For more formal occasions there is a large, fascinating dining room and downstairs, on the garden level, a lovely living room. Almost every room in the house has Nancy’s panels, enamels, and copper work.
Nancy, however, does not design her panels only for her home. A good many homes in Bermuda also display her work. She has also brought Bermuda to American homes, with screens and wall panels which entranced visitors to the island have commissioned her to do. She is truly nature’s artist and is fast becoming recognized as such.
Work by Nancy Valentine and daughter Christina Hutchings is currently on exhibition at the Bermuda National Gallery. Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings looks at how the works of mother and daughter intertwine and how each forged a unique path as women and interdisciplinary artists. Click here for more information.