Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Saint Lucia Sunsets Calendar 2014

Sooooo....nearly there!!! I have designed the calendar - it's a desk calendar - 5"x9" so it can fit easily on your work desk - there are 12 lovely sunset photos with elegant section for dates ... AND a bonus cover photo - and here's where I need your help - which one of these do you like most?

Here's a peek at a calendar page too - I am thinking about also selling it as a digital file you can have printed at your local Xerox place....or through somewhere like Zazzle - will update here very soon!!!

Please drop me a comment if you think you'd be interested in buying this - THANK YOU!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

St. Lucia's Traditional Pottery - an Endangered Craft

St. Lucia’s traditional pottery can be seen any day in the Castries Market on sale for locals and tourists alike…but the truth is that it is a highly endangered craft.
In the days when many more homes did not have the convenience of a gas stove, the ‘coalpot’ was in use on many a kitchen’s back step – perhaps even two or three were used to cook up the food for the day. But progress makes its changes and today, the demand for these items has dwindled.
But it’s not just the lack of customers for these products that ails this tradition – the craft of making traditional pottery is itself about one of the most hard physical labour intensive things you could choose to do…and to boot, these beautifully simple utility crafts are made in even simpler unassuming huts and sheds on the potters’ lands. These characteristics of the craft have the unfortunate result that not one single child of the existing potters is interested in continuing in the craft.
This is a tradition in danger of imminent loss. I am involved in a couple of projects within which we will attempt to change this – but I can’t say I have a huge amount of confidence as I feel that this will require quite a lot beyond the scope of these projects. We hope to reduce the hard labour, promote the value of the tradition, make ways in which the items can more easily be transported off island by tourists and bridge tradition and contemporary tastes and ways, to encourage the younger generation into keeping the tradition alive, if even with some modern adaptations. Now I know that has it’s pros and cons…but in my mind, there is always space for ‘live’ traditions and by their nature, they must fit into the lives of those who carry them on – otherwise they are historical traditions – each has it’s place.
Ok, I know a fair amount about this craft, but I don’t pretend to be an expert; my friend of many years Patricia Fay, currently Assoc. Professor of Art at Florida Gulf Coast University though, has spent the last 15 years coming down to St. Lucia again and again, studying and working with our traditional potters; she has travelled the Caribbean and been to Africa to compare the pottery traditions.
So, I’ll give you a brief introduction into the world of our traditional pottery here and at the bottom of the article you can follow links to more information from Tricia.
St. Lucia’s traditional pottery is made from clays dug on the land of the potters; this land lies in the shadow of Gros Piton, on the slopes of the hills and valleys of Choiseul – Morne Sion, Matin, Fiette, La Pointe. This is a craft of women…I believe there is 1 solitary man who makes pots, but really, it is a women’s craft. The whole family may help in digging the clay – suitable spots are located and a pick-axe used to break through the top soil to the clay underneath.
Irena Alphonse digging clay at Cathy Osman's Land
This is then carried to where it will be slaked with water and then mixed by pounding with a pestle on a flat rock. At this stage, some potters will mix different clays together to create the clay they find works best for them. As each potter works from their own patches, the clays used can be quite different in colour, strength, smoothness, with some resulting in better products than others.
One of the FGCU students gives pounding the clay a good try
The clay itself is a young clay with a high level of montmorillonite in it; this has the effect of making it very plastic and strong in the wet and greenware stages but it is not normally associated with a ‘good’ clay body as it tends to cause deformation if not fired carefully (correct me if I am wrong on this, I am working from memory here!) The beauty of this clay and the products made from it is that they are highly resistant to thermal shock; this is in part also due to the coarsness of the clay body – equivalent of a highly grogged clay. The coalpot is used with coals lit directly in its bowl and in the full tradition, the cooking pot – the canawi , chaudier/ chodye (pronounced shod’yay) or leshwit (pronounced lee-schweet) would be placed directly on top of those coals without the risk of cracking. The food cooked in this way is unlike any cooked in a steel or aluminium pot…the taste is just not the same!
Another traditional form is the Cawaf – the water jug – again, because the clay remains porous, the water partially evaporates when in the Cawaf – cooling as it does.
Other uses of coalpot and leshwit are to ‘parch’ (pronounced pach) coffee – the clay holds the heat of the fire so well, the coffee beans roasted this way, once again, have a special flavour to them.
The making of a coalpot and all the other forms is done by a method very similar to one that I first learnt from African potter Magdelene Odundo who visited us at Crewe & Alsager College when I studied there; large soft coils are rapidly shaped by blending them ‘as you go’ into each other. Sides and shape are adjusted with hands during the coiling stage and adjusted with ribs afterwards. Edges smoothed off with a damp cloth.

Irene Alphonse making a coil to start a Canawi
Irene shaping the start of a bowl shape for a canawi

Irene and Cathy working

Cathy finishing the base section of a coalpot
Irene shaping the inside of a canawi with a calabash rib
Cathy working on the base of the coalpot
Cathy adds a handle to the nearly finished coalpot base
Irene adds a handle to the nearly finished canawi
both the coalpot and canawi are nearly done
Irene Smooths the rim of the canawi
Cathy smooths the rim of the coalpot

Pots are left to dry very slowly – 2-3 weeks. They are then scraped with river stones to give them a final smoothing. In the original tradition, the pots are carefully and knowledgeably stacked in the open at the firing spot – wood, coconut, etc is placed strategically in, around and over the pile and it is lit to the windward and burnt through. This requires a certain combination of weather conditions and so, often the firing has to wait. Part of Tricia’s work has been to build brick kilns for the potters – largely broadening the weather that firings can take place in and increasing the heat and evenness of the firing too. The local business Clay Products Ltd, owned by Geoffrey Devaux, has been instrumental in these projects, donating bricks for all the kilns built so far.

Finishing the building of a fully traditional firing - Irene & Cathy (Photo courtesy of FGCU)
The end of the firing (Photo courtesy FGCU)
The newest kiln built by the FGCU team under Patrica Fay's guidance (Phtoto courtesy of FGCU)
So, where does that leave us? This tradition is special – at the time of writing, latest figures show a drop in the number of active potters; where a few years ago, you could count up to 50, the largest traditional pottery by far in the Eastern Caribbean, today there are a scant 30 or less. And no daughters...or sons, looking to follow in this tradition. This tradition will be lost if we can’t find ways to regenerate it. All help is welcomed.
A finished Coapot and Canawi
For further reading:

As always, your comments, thoughts, suggestions, memories and all are what completes these posts - please do share them and share the post with others too!


Friday, June 11, 2010

St. Lucia’s Traditional Crafts - Pottery

For those who don’t know me, St. Lucia is my home – an island in the Caribbean 14° N, a little country 14 miles wide and 27 miles long. Our history is one of colonialism – indigenous Amerindians – Caribs and Arawaks – having largely been wiped out by the invading Europeans; in our case we ended up being 7 times French and 7 times English. Today the population is largely of black African descent – great-great-great….granddaughters and grandsons of the slaves brought to these shores. This is mixed with a much smaller number of Indian (as in from India) descent and a handful of local and expat whites, Chinese, Syrian, Lebanese etc.
St. Lucia is there on the right...that tiny dot...
The area best known for indigenous or traditional crafts is the Quarter of Choiseul – the island’s limestone district marked by long narrow hills separated by steep plunging gullies. It is unique in the island: The famous twin peaks, Petit and Gros Piton constantly guard Choiseul’s northern borders and several secluded yellow sand beaches decorate the western shores. It is, for me, a beautiful place. I had the pleasure of working there 3 days a week during my time as the Crafts Development Officer for the government in the early ‘90s, and to this day, I love to be in Choiseul.
Gros Piton seen from Catty Osman's Home, Morne Sion, Choiseul, St. Lucia
So I am happy to be about to embark on some projects that will keep me, once again, in Choiseul 3-4 days of every week for a good number of weeks: These projects are concerned with stemming the decline of traditional crafts as an occupation…we’re seeking ways to make it attractive for the younger generation to take up these traditions as their livelihood and to make it a livelihood that is worth taking up – financially and socially. It’s not an easy ask.
You see, here is a history of hard work, patient manual labour, close connection of supplier and buyer…and unfortunately in recent times this last has been largely lost; the buyer and supplier are not making those connections and so the financial benefits dwindle while the hard work and patient manual labour remain, and this is not an attractive proposition to the future generations.
So we plan to be bridge-builders; introducing elements that relate to modern-day life and blending them with elements that keep the essence of the traditions to create a mix that feeds the modern needs of a new generation of crafters – designer-makers, by catching the eye of the buyer – even speaking to their hearts we hope. And at the same time, finding ways to reduce the tedium and sheer hard work of the manual labour part - make the act of creation much more fun to be part of...
This is part of a bigger plan that’s being seeded as we speak…a plan to breathe life into every corner of Choiseul, bring visitors – local and international to these limestone hills and jaw-dropping gullies. I’ll post more as we go, but for now, I’d like to share some pictures of Irena Alphone of Matin, Choiseul as she demonstrated, in Catty Osman’s pottery hut,  making her “Cocoa Farmer” to the visiting Florida Gulf Coast University students a couple of weeks ago.

The roughly finished Cocoa Farmer - this took about 30 minutes for Irene to make; now it will dry, be cleaned up and refined, and in about 2 weeks, be ready for the open-pit bonfire firing

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Got Inspiration Block - Try This!

I belong to a great Yahoo group – Metal Clay Gallery. Actually, I belong to several great Yahoo groups, but this post came out of a discussion on the MCG group about ‘Art Fear’. There were many interesting contributions, but this one jumped out at me, perhaps because at the moment I am going through a period of lack of inspiration and/or the ability to create what I feel are ‘good’ designs; it was, I think, so genuinely and joyously put that I just had to ask to use it for a post on how to overcome Inspiration Block.

So here it is – from Ann Davis

Note: All images are the sole property of Ann Davis, please do not download or use without obtaining her prior permission

You have a journal...right...every artist must have a journal. I have a dozen or so...some I write and sketch in and some I just draw in.

Ok, once you have your very own special journal get your special favorite pencil or colored ink pen in your hand...sometimes writing in green ink for the day just helps you think...another day it might be purple!! I have a whole pack of colored pens!

Beyond fear most artists need focus!! So I thought I would share the way I get it...maybe it will help somebody focus/think...THINKING is good!! I never do enough of it!!!

So to start.....

Make a list of 10 things you are fascinated with right now...it could be ancient alphabets, flowers, pebbles, birds. Art Deco, frogs. the sea....what ever, things you just love.
Leave some room between the listings, there is more to write.

The Special Magic
Now under the listings tell yourself why you are fascinated by each thing, what it's 'special magic' is for you.... I kind of think of it as a magical thought...a magical seed of an idea as it were...for instance, if you say you like birds...then what aspect are you drawn to...feathers, if so...local birds or tropical feathers??....little feet??...they way they swoop in flight?? WRITE IT DOWN and sketch if something pops up, don't ever deny that quick click of an idea.
If it's ancient alphabets...then make a list of the ones you like,
Latin, Greek, what ever...you are going to gather these things UP!!

Get Out
When you have your 10 things done and fleshed out, you need to take your list and get out of the house/studio/bedroom...sometimes just being in the 'same' environment triggers the same old thoughts...go to a library and look up books on each subject you listed and try to find the kinds of things you listed as your magical seeds. Xerox those pages or check out the books.

Ammo Up
Now you have your seed ideas, you need some ammunition. Go to your favorite junk store/craft store/hobby store/nursery where you are going to look for anything that reminds you of those magical aspects...doesn't have to be the same exact thing...like if you listed feathers...you could buy feathers at a craft store but.... they may have some fabric with feathers printed on it that just fits the bill…or...some angel wings…could just be the shape of the feather...pick up little bits and pieces of stuff that catches your eye and stays on your theme.

Take it all home. Lay it out in front of you.

Plant the Seed
Now....Start a new page for each magical seed....so... if you bought feathers or seashells...put them on the page and draw around their shapes or sketch them if you draw well...if you sculpt with polymer, start copying...yes copying exactly what you have in your hand. Often the making of an object gives way to something else in your mind…your hands and the way it feels are part of the magical seed information going into your brain;))...keep writing on that page, the little bits and pieces of the exact aspect that you like about the thing...how it comes together or how it's shaped...the color…the texture...REALLY give it your attention...Now you will know these things inside and out and once you know your subject.....you really own it!
Play Mad Inventor
Next is the fun part...start mixing the pieces...put the feather in the shell or if you picked up a silly plastic frog…put him on the feather or, or put the frog on the shell with the feather sticking up....Start imagining these things as metal clay. (or whatever your medium is) Start LAUGHING!! You should get some really weird ideas...draw them out no matter how funny they seem...these are the seeds of your imagination playing with each other....it's a form of cross fertilization...very good stuff.

If you have really thrown yourself into this exercise you should start having all kinds of silly ideas, a frog covered in ancient alphabets...or a frog with wings...a shell with wings or imprints of the feather all over it. Go with one of your visions...make it a reality...put it into metal clay!!...even if the first thing you make is not perfect, guess what...you are working!!! Keep going!! More than likely you will discover that you need to perfect some other technique to get your 'vision' perfect...throw yourself into it, then when you have mastered it come back to you magical seeds and realize that dream!!

Well anyway, for what it's worth, in a nutshell, that's the way I jumpstart my work.

Now I tend to either take pix or make copies of stuff and glue them into my journal, plus I have acquired so much junk that I could open my own craft store;))hahaha we won't even go into the time I was fascinated by all the variations of raffia out there or my collection of sand from all over the world, or how that looks under a microscope;)

So last week I was mulling over the Masters Register pieces and trying to decide what to make next and I spent several hours going through my journals and ended up spell bound by a section on hand made iron gates...yes I have wonky entries!! and the kuemboo spoon project just popped into my head full blown. So I sketched it out, figured out how I could make it and just threw myself into it while the idea was still hot!!

So there you have it – if you’re like me and going through the doldrums in your artistic world right now, doesn’t that just hype you up? Thank you so much Ann for agreeing to share this on Explore Arts.

And you, the reader, do you keep journals?

What method(s) do you use to keep the creative juices flowing and to turn the ‘everyday’ into a great piece of art?

Do share your experiences here – and feel free to share this wonderful little coaching session on getting out of Inspiration Block too!

See you here next time! On your way out, do take a look at some of Ann’s wonderful work at anndavisstudio.com

Wishing you all lots of inspiration!