Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer
TOWER ISLES, St Mary:A DECADE ago, shortly after the Government declared Harmony Hall Art Gallery in Tower Isles, St Mary, a national monument, a spokesperson for the Jamaican National Heritage Trust claimed that preserving the site was "a matter of public interest by reason of historic, architectural, traditional, artistic, aesthetic, scientific, or archaeological value".
Naturally, the gallery's owner and founder agrees, but after 32 years of managing the site, Annabella Proudlock has decided to move on and call in her chips.
The 71-year-old art collector told Rural Xpress: "At this point, I would like to sell Harmony Hall. I've not been so well for the last year and think it's time to hand over the reins to somebody younger who has all the energy and enthusiasm I had 32 years ago."
Harmony Hall was originally a small pimento and lime estate built by the Methodist church in the late 1850s.
Proudlock acquired the property, located just 15-minutes' drive east of Ocho Rios, in 1981, and spent a year remodelling the building into a Georgian-style great house, which she has used to showcase the work of Jamaica's best painters, sculptors, and carvers ever since.
Proudlock remembers the period leading up to the gallery's launch as exciting, but stressful. She says: "In February 1981, we eventually raised enough money to get a mortgage and started restoring [Harmony Hall] to how it might have looked. We kept running out of money and took longer than we should have but eventually opened in November 1981."
Edward Seaga's first trip to St Mary after becoming prime minister was to open the gallery. Unsurprisingly, his appearance attracted a large crowd, but rather than enjoying the free publicity generated by the prime minister's visit, Proudlock found herself suffering a mini-panic attack.
She explains: "The crowd was huge, and as he arrived and cut the ribbon, everybody walked up the stairs, and I thought: 'The floor's going to fall through because it has never held so many people before,' but it was OK."
An exhibition celebrating the gallery's 32nd anniversary is currently under way and features an eclectic range of work from naif and highly-sophisticated artists. Proudlock believes the show, which runs until December 28, highlights the very best artwork the island has to offer.
She says, "The exhibition has a wide selection of Jamaican art and handicraft from our highly-trained classical artists to the self-taught and young artists, and in the gift room, we have a number of different handicraft, working with straw and ceramics.
"We're quite strong on ceramics. right from Gene Pearson who is probably Jamaica's acknowledged master to the young ceramist David Pinto and the potters from Clonmel, St Mary, who've done their own research on clays and glazes. That's the sort of thing I would like to see more of. I have great admiration for them."
Besides housing some of Jamaica's finest artwork, Harmony Hall is widely acknowledged as one of the island's most beautiful buildings and has done much to help revive tourism in St Mary.
Proudlock believes the parish has much to offer in terms of attracting tourists and is happy the area surrounding the estate is being developed.
She said: "There have been enormous changes in this area over the past 30 years. When we came, there was nothing across the road. Now, there are three different apartment buildings. Rio Nuevo and all those developments didn't exist.
"I can't believe the number of houses there are in St Mary now. It's the most beautiful parish, especially when you come off the main road and go up into the hills."
However, in spite of its beauty, Proudlock believes more can be done to help regenerate the parish and its inhabitants. She said, "I wish I could wave a magic wand and there would be wonderful education for everybody.
"We need more happening in this parish in terms of further skills and or agricultural training. St Mary is a great non-traditional agricultural parish with so much to offer."