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


Robin Wood said...

Very interesting sounding project I look forward to hearing more. It is a problem world wide how to keep traditional crafts alive and use the skills passed down to make things useful in modern daily lives. The connection between maker and user is often being re established via the web and this can access more affluent markets too.

The figure pictured does look more like a tourist gift than a piece of indigenous useful craft or did these figures have some role in traditional daily life?

In the UK we have

Robin Wood said...

Sorry wrong link
the heritage crafts association
This may also be of interest UNESCOs work on traditional crafts.

finola said...

Hi Robin - thanks for the links - will explore them today.

Yes, you are correct that the figure is more modern - Irena is one of the few traditional potters who has had training in sculpture (from Joseph Eudovic - St. Lucia's 'father of sculpure') and in modern pottery techniques. She still makes her traditional pottery and the clay being used is the one prepared for that.

I will write about the technique a bit and post some pics taken the same day of the Coalpot and Canawi being made - should get that done by next weekend!

I agree about the web - and I do have the opinion that tradition must by it's nature, involve some change if it is to be alive and not just historical.

Janet said...

I just can't remember any pottery on St. Lucia. We have a number of excellent wooden carved plaques but they might have been from one of the other islands. The Shipwreck Shop at the time we were there was importing craft items from all around the Caribbean.

finola said...

Hi Janet - yes, St. Lucia has a big tradition of Pottery, but you're right, Shipwreck at that time would not have had any - that was when Jeannie and Dave England still owned it; they did so much for the Choiseul crafters, but more for straw and wood workers, that's true.

Thanks for reading!

A corner of paradise said...

Finola, thanks for sharing this. I had a chance to meet Irene while writing about traditional St. Lucian coal and cook pots -- and bouyon -- for a food story. Here's a link to the video of Irene forming one of her traditional pots --

and a link to the food story, tying the pots to the charcoal made in Vieux Fort the buoyon, made in this case in Laborie.--

All the best,

Anonymous said...

My class and I are learning about St. Lucia and I am trying to think of a traditional craft we could try. I already do pottery in another area of the curriculum and I was hoping to do some Batik would it be appropriate? Or do you have any other suggestions?

finola said...

Batik isn't one of our traditional crafts, though some contemporary artists do use that technique...
the other true traditional crafts are basketry and chairmaking - we also do more recent traditional crafts of dollmaking (the double dolls - you flip them over to see a different head and dress) and woodcarving - masks with various pictures above the head.
There is a video of tubecoil screwpine weaving on this blog -
hope that helps!