Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Infusing life in clay

Published:Sunday | August 21, 2016 | 8:00 AMPaul Willaims
The head and the arms are on, but something is still missing.
Some of Abraham Grant's clay figurines.
Abraham Grant with a piece of clay getting ready to make a figurine.
Fashioning of the shoulders and the neck.
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For centuries, artisans have been making figurines - those artistic objects that are used as accent pieces or put on show for ostentatious reasons. They range from the crude to the modest to the gaudy to the exquisite, and are made of various materials.

Some are collectors' items to kill or die for. some people really don't care about them, asking what they are good for.

But whether you like them, and for whatever reason people use them, you can't help admiring the skills and the artistry of their sculptors. And all over the world, there are many artisans who earn a living by making figurines. Right here in Jamaica, Arts and Education recently chanced up a figurine sculptor whose objects are made mainly by hand.

While many figurines are produced with moulds, Abraham 'Brammy' Grant, who lives in Trench Town, Kingston, uses his bare hands to create eye-catching figurines from clay. Every piece of the object is fashioned separately and then attached to the work. He uses unconventional tools to create a certain effect or to make a particular shape. That's how it is done until the work is complete.

When Arts and Education caught up with him, he was giving demonstrations. A Rastaman sitting on a drum that he is beating was one of the objects he created, while some of his finished products were on display, for sale. From pieces of shapeless clay, which is from the deposits right there in Trench Town, Grant first made the drum then the legs straddling it.

The man's torso is affixed to the legs before the neck and shoulders are formed. The arms are then attached to the torso before the Rastaman is given an identity, a head whose features took him a little while to form. Upon the bald head, long pieces of clay are then arranged. A comb is used to make groves into those pieces, creating dreadlocks.

 

finished product

 

The finished product is well - proportioned and looks lifelike, ready to be glazed and fired. But how did Grant get to this point where he can produce figurines that rival those in in-bond stores? He works with the Trench Town Ceramic and Art Centre, which produces clay objects. The centre has been around since 2012, but he has been working with clay since the 1980s.

He started out by trying to learn the art of making pottery from a friend, but Grant said he was not proficient at making clay pots. He realised he was more skilful with figurines. "Mi couldn't even mek a good straight pot," he revealed.

He was told by the friend that people were needed at Things Jamaica to make figurines, so he went to check out what was going on. Before he was employed, he had to go through formal training. He has been making clay figurines professionally since then.

After Grant's contract with Things Jamaica ended, he moved on to produce his own figurines, and has been working with Garfield Williams at the Trench Town Art Centre. Williams focuses on making clay pots, vases, candleholders, etc, while Grant specialises in making figurines.

Marketing the products is one major challenge as they do not have their own stores. Gift shops in Kingston are some of their supporters. They also make personalised pieces. From the clay of Trench Town, they are creating beautiful works of art.