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Mighty Gully youths carving out a living

Published:Friday | December 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Some of the participants in the Mighty Gully Youth Project, near Old Harbour, St Catherine, with some of their wood sculptures. (At back, from left) Dillion Gabbidon, Dwight Clarke, Tyree Henry, Gavaska Simpson, Donito Davis, Jayvan Johnson and Dwayne Allen. (At front, from left) Lloyd Salmon and Philmore Lesile. - Photos by Paul Williams
Kara, Kaya, Kadaye and Marsha Bryan, daughters of master sculptor, Lancelot Bryan, stand behind a piece of their late father's work.
The piece of wood that Philmore Lesile is carving will soon look as fine as the other pieces beside him.
Jayvan Johnson, who has been sculpting since he was eight years old, is hard at work on the eyes of his 'Nubian Princess'.
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Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

IN COUNTRY and in town, everywhere I go on assignment, there are strong-looking youths standing on a corner, sitting on a wall, drinking in a bar, loitering on a piazza, or lazing under a tree. This island is replete with idlers' spots, I have concluded.

But, near Old Harbour, in St Catherine, at a place called Mighty Gully, there are many young men who spend their days on the 'gully-side', creating magnificent works of art, lignum vitae wood sculptures. They are participants in the Mighty Gully Youth Project, the 1982 brainchild of master wood sculptor, the late Lancelot Bryan.

"He was the mastermind behind all of this. He had an inspiration that he could use this trade to take a lot of youths off the street, and open their minds to greater things," Dillion Gabbidon, who manages the project with one of Bryan's daughters, told The Gleaner on Friday, November 26.

Since its inception, while producing several skilled sculptors and attracting many local and international clients, the project has gone through the ebb and flow of life, dire financial straits, and at one stage, it seemed as if it had crashed upon jagged rocks. But the vision and legacy of Lancelot Bryan would not die. Youths such as Gabbidon, Donito Davis and Jayvan Johnson are determined to keep the project afloat, and have themselves become teachers and trainers of the art.

Inspiring our youths

"We feel good continuing Mr Bryan's work because, when we look at the aims that he had in mind, inspiring our youths, so far, this has been very good for us," Gabbidon said, "We are still fighting on." Similar feelings were echoed by Davis. "We are putting back ourselves out there because a lot of people thought this place was closed down and done away with. It's not. It's up and running again," he said.

Davis, a graduate of Old Harbour High School, has been carving since he was 12 years old. He has won five gold medals for wood sculpture, one internationally and four locally in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission national fine arts competitions, and looking at his pieces, it is not hard to see why. Johnson, who has been under Bryan's wings from he was two, has been carving since he was eight. Upon Bryan's passing, in May last year, he went to Bradford, England, to complete one of Bryan's unfinished pieces.

Inspiring the youths is what they are indeed doing, vowing not to turn away anyone who is interested in wood sculpture. They even accommodate visits from student groups, giving them hands-on experience. Yet, they are not in a comfort zone. Expansion and greater marketing are high on their list of objectives. For that they need funding and more business contacts, which have dwindled with Bryan's transition. The current recession is also a major challenge.

They need tools, sandpaper, glue, polish, and a vehicle to transport wood and their finished products. A workshop with lockers to store their paraphernalia and a showroom are also needed, but they are pressing on, conceptualising, designing, cutting, fashioning, chipping away, smoothing and polishing with all their might, not just for the financial gains, but for the love of their art. "We need to look at the simple things in life and bring forth from them lots of joy and love, so that people can see and recognise that art is more than art. Art is love and love is art," Donito Davis said.