Celebration of Jamaica's heritage
In Jamaica, there are many awards and medals that are given to persons who have contributed significantly to various areas of Jamaican life and culture. One of the oldest awards in the island of Jamaica is the Musgrave Medal.
As a lasting tribute to the founder of the Institute of Jamaica, Sir Anthony Musgrave, the board of governors decided, upon his death in 1889, to award gold, silver, and bronze medals to persons who made outstanding contributions in the areas of literature, science and art. The medal was designed by Alfred Toft, an English sculptor.
The first medal was awarded in 1893 (in silver) to Daniel Morris, a botanist who had served as director of public gardens and plantations. He received the award in recognition of his work in the identification and preservation of Jamaican plant life. It was not until 1896 that guidelines governing the award of the medal were formally established.
The gold medal was to be awarded to persons who had "distinguished eminence in literature, science or art or for public services in connection with the West Indies," with particular emphasis on Jamaica. This award was to be made only once in three years, a rule that was modified in 1965 to allow the award to be presented annually. It was not until 1943 that the board of governors was satisfied that someone had fulfilled the criteria outlined. Edna Manley received the first gold Musgrave Medal for her 'distinguished work in the field of art' and her encouragement of literature.
The silver medal was to be awarded "for outstanding merit" in literature, art, and craft. Before 1965, only two silver medals could be presented in any one year. After 1965, the number was increased to four. Medals have been awarded in such fields such as literature, music, poetry, folklore, dramatic art, dance, ornithology and archaeology.
The bronze medal, between 1896 and 1929, was awarded for "achievement in the Institute's art and craft competitions". Awards were given in such areas such as needlework, pottery, and book-binding. Between 1920 and 1962, no bronze medals were awarded primarily because no competitions were held.
In 1962, the bronze medal was revived to honour persons who had contributed in all fields of cultural activity. The occasion of Jamaica's Independence added relevance to the conferring of the medals as the bronze was awarded to several persons, in all fields, that year.
The Musgrave Medals have, over the years, particularly before the awarding of national honours, served as the symbol of excellence and achievement to Jamaicans. The high calibre of the recipients has made the award one associated with prestige and honour.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Silver Musgrave Medal of Professor Rex Nettleford was donated to National Museum Jamaica by his estate after his death.
- Information compiled by Sharifa Balfours, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica.