Sculpturer loving his job
PORT MARIA, St Mary:
FOR THE best part of four decades, St Mary-based wood sculpture Gilbert Nicely has been designing artwork that doubles as fully functional household furniture.
During that time, he has created pieces for Dr Carolyn Cooper; crafted much of the furniture found in the Great Huts resort in Portland; and received the Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in recognition of his work.
However, Nicely, 74, recalls that his early productions had little to do with wood. Speaking from his workshop in Hyatt Hill, he told Rural Xpress: "I've been making [woodcarvings] for about 40 years, but I've been painting since I was around seven years old.
"At the time, it was hard to get paint, canvasses, and those types of things. but there was a lot of wood around and I remember people used to say, 'If you can't get what you want, love what you have,' and that's when I started to work with wood.
"But I realised I was making carvings that looked good on the wall, but there was nothing else you could do with them, and I said to myself, 'You could mix the art with functional pieces.' So we make everything - chairs, tables, stools and benches - and mix them with the art."
Although Nicely, who works with his son, Omar, faces stiff competition from large retailers and rival craftsman, he believes his work remains popular because of its durability.
"We have clients in America and England," Nicely explained. "People from all over the world come here to buy things and ship them back home.
"I try to make our work attractive, strong, and affordable - something you will love and can leave for future generations - and that's why we're still in the business until now.
"The other day, a lady told me she used a rocking chair I sold her to rock her daughter to sleep. Now, she has grown up, has her own child, and uses the same chair to put her own baby to sleep. When I heard that, it made me feel really good."
Omar, 38, added: "Also, we try not to repeat designs. So even if your friend asks for something similar to what you bought, we're not going to give them the same thing. It will be a little different, so your product is unique to you."
Throughout 2014, the Nicelys utilised high-end platforms such as Harmony Hall and Grosvenor art galleries and the Liguanea Arts Festival to showcase their work, but Omar insists that if the sector is to flourish, local artists must be afforded more opportunities to market their merchandise.
He said: "I would really like to see greater promotion of Jamaican products because a lot of the imported furniture you find in the big retail stores is made out of bagasse, which is compressed wood dust.
"They look nice, but they swell once a little water touches them; they are not durable and only last about 10 years. But surprisingly, some of these items are more expensive than the genuine article. People need to understand the quality of our product is far superior.
His father added: "When you buy products that are made in Jamaica, it creates employment, but people still prefer to buy foreign things, even though sometimes they are not as good as our own.
"We don't promote our things in the right way, and I believe the Government should help manufacturers and local people to change that."