WE DID IT! - ‘True Stories’: Tales from the north coast craft producers
“ME’S JUST a likkle mawga man,” says Hopeton Powell, an artist from St Ann and one of 22 producers featured in the inaugural True Stories magazine published by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC).
The picturesque, glossy publication is set for official release this Christmas, following the conclusion of the two-year North Coast Craft Revitalisation Project (NCCRP).
The $15-million NCCRP was a collaborative effort between the JBDC and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).
It was aimed at improving the competitiveness and income-generating capabilities of craft producers on the north coast of the island, specifically in the parishes of St Ann, Trelawny, and St James.
True Stories features gift and craft producers of paintings, fashion and fashion accessories, home decor, home accents, and carvings, bringing their art to life by delving into the little-known personalities behind these creations, as stated in the introduction – ‘Lifestyle to you, heirloom for some, art to all’.
The beauty behind what goes into creating a product, as well as the emotional response it conjures up from the recipient is captured in the publication.
It is found that throughout the lifetime of an artisan’s work, there is a meaningful story behind its ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’. This gives the product further life beyond being just another product on a local shelf and that is what is captured in the publication.
True Stories reveals what makes Jamaicans pride themselves in the land of wood and water; that untouchable thing that art lovers want to hold on to.
As stated in the magazine’s preface by CEO of the JBDC, Valerie Veira, the more than 80 producers in the project, “include the young, who are the beneficiaries of skills passed down through generations, who have accepted the awesome responsibility of caregiver and nurturers of our culture.
“Those who, through their experimentation and adventure with technology, have combined the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ and have introduced innovative and exciting product lines.”
According to Veira, “There is, of course, that special group, the master craftsmen, who continue to inspire with their product collection, with each having its own script to tell a tale. True Stories represents a bold statement by the producers that they have an interesting and impressive story to share and they are open for business.”
Veira said through the intervention, the hope is that both the producers and the buyers will benefit from the encounter, a sentiment echoed by Hopeton.
His goal is to see his work appreciated and sold globally, and to see more persons develop their artistic talents.
Victor Wallace, whose infectious smile landed him the cover photo, said: “I love doing this. I got bored with other things, but not this.”
Victor who hails from Exchange in St Ann, told the story of how he started as a spear fisher, then as a lifeguard at age 18, both of which he found boring, so he began to make jewellery, key chains, cuff links, belts, and pipes, and the rest, as they say is history.
He is no longer the bored lifeguard and sees his business growing as far as possible.
“I change up my pieces and designs all the time. None of my designs are made for more than two to three years,” said Victor.
“I still have some original pieces, but most designs are retired to make way for new designs,” he said.
True Stories also features some of the popular destinations in which these artisans can be found, such as the Pineapple Market in Ocho Rios, the Montego Bay Craft Market, and the Historic Falmouth pier.
COREEN’S HEARTY LAUGH
You couldn’t miss the redheaded, bubbly character that is Coreen Lewis at the Falmouth pier. Her confidence and vivacious personality evidenced in her hearty laugh and bold statements like: “I won’t have anybody do it better than me. I am the star of my show!”
Her materials include turquoise stone and hypatite from overseas and bamboo, wood, shark teeth and leather sourced locally.
Coreen’s pieces are made with the young, fashion-loving girls in mind. Her most extravagant pieces are made with turquoise stone. She creates these beautiful pieces alongside her husband, who introduced her to the craft in 2004.
She built upon his technique to create the ‘Coreen touch’. Her children have also joined in the fun by helping her with colour combinations, and she treasures those interactions as they provide a way for her to bond with her offspring – excerpt.
There are stories of resilience and creative vision, such as the one told by Andrea Crooks, far from just another jewellery maker. “At first me nearly buss mi finger!” said the mother of three.
Her pieces made from discarded coconut, embodies the ‘trash to treasure’ concept – “Coconut shell a weh people throw inna garbage,” she said.
She uses food colouring, beads and other crafty items to create beautiful jewellery made from discarded coconut shells.
Her most regular customers are visiting tourists who rave about their beauty. Though Andrea has inherited a family tradition, it wasn’t always easy.
She shared that she burned out many drills while learning how to cut the coconuts to be suitable for jewellery. It was a task but now as an accomplished artisan, her creativity shines through each piece created, from their colour to their detail – excerpt.
The enthralling 80-page publication, which is free of cost, hits the Things Jamaican store shelves with an exclusive prerelease event this Christmas.