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Creating magic from Calabash

Published:Friday | November 27, 2015 | 9:06 AMPaul H. Williams
Shoulder bag with a difference.
Albert Jonas shows Arts & Education a detail on one of his calabash items.
Calabash utensils.

The calabash, also known as Crescentia cujete, huingo, krabasi and kalebas, is the fruit of the calabash tree, and is native to the Caribbean, South, Central and North America. It is not to be confused with its gourd relatives.

This round or oblong fruit with thin, firm shell is found all over Jamaica. While the smooth, green shell draws attention to itself, the malodorous heart of the fruit is not so enticing.

And despite its pungent pulpy content, which some people say has medicinal properties, it is much sought after in many quarters for its domestic and artistic value.

It is very popular among artists and artisans, who have been turning it into cups, plates, bowls, spoons, knives and forks, and tote bags, some plain, some polished and decorated.

But one man has taken calabash art and craft to another level, turning them into Christmas trinkets, pendants and wall decors. He also makes bowls and tote bags. On these items, Albert Jonas of Iris Town, St Andrew has etched images of some of Jamaica's most treasured flora and fauna.

The concept and the high quality of his artwork and

etching make Albert Jonas' items standouts. He is a regular at art and craft fairs and marketplaces, and last week Sunday, when he was at the Antiques and Collectibles Fair at Campion College, Arts & Education finally found the time to chat with him about his calabash art.


He said he has been working with the calabash since 1984, when he was introduced to it by a brother of his. And since he likes to draw, he experimented, and has evolved into a self-taught calabash artisan, who went entrepreneurial in 1995.

The technique of etching that he uses, he said, is very time-consuming, but time well spent. It requires the etching of the images and other designs, all done by hand, before the removal of a layer of the shell from around them. After the etching is complete, some of the items are stained with leather dye, while others are polished with beeswax.

Jonas said what he does with the calabash is specialised, and from the perspective of Arts & Education, it is a unique type of calabash art. And in his calabash art, Jonas said he etches images that have historical and cultural significance, and he uses them to preserve the past and culture of Jamaica. Preservation he said is very important to him.

His work, he shared, reflects his outlook on life, and he is very much influenced by his environment, the mountains, valleys, hills, flora and fauna of the Irish Town area of St Andrew. So, in his calabash art you will see hummingbirds, owls, trees, flowers, butterflies, lizards, dragonflies, etc. Yet, from the mountains to the sea Jones goes with fishes, turtles, seahorses, etc.

And should you have something special that you want etched on an item of cujete, Jonas is more than happy to fill your request. In Jonas' calabash, art can reflect who you are.