Spinning old rope into gold : : Mr. Jacob

Mr. Jacob spins rope into goldTook a shortcut to the beach from the supermarket through the L’Anse aux Pines park, and spotted Mr. Jacob, sitting with his back against a disused shop, stitching something. Drawn like a bee to honey by anyone plying a needle, I went over and got to talking to him.

Mr. Jacob isn’t from Grenada, he hails from some other Caribbean island, but he moves around between the different islands a lot, doing his work, collecting old rope, and selling his handmade baskets and bags to the wealthy tourists on the beaches. He stays at a boarding house in the town, walks every morning to his little spot next to the park’s entrance, and sits there till sundown, making his baskets.

Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

He first started making his unique, original bowls from recycled rope 20 years ago. Before that, he was a fisherman, but a problem with his ankles (swollen and covered in sores) forced him to stop and find other work. I love that he looked around his original fishing environment, and found a way to use what he had in a new, beautiful, creative way.Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

Like Naomi Drakes from Guyana, Mr. Jacob puts a lot of unbelievable work into his handmade baskets. He chops frayed nylon rope into short, 1-inch lengths, and then sandwiches the stuff between two layers of invisible, fine fishing net, and stitches through everything, working his way over the surface, until he has a kind of “felt” mat, pushed and molded by hand into a bowl or bag shape. Using this bowl as his ‘canvas’, he then couches down simple designs using lengths of thicker rope, or thin, spread-out layers of brightly coloured fibres, using a needle he made from an umbrella spoke, and ‘thread’ from yet another length of untwisted nylon rope.

Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold


Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

Unlike Naomi Drakes, however, Mr. Jacob knows the value of his work, and makes a decent living from the sales of his baskets and bags. No doubt this is because he has access to a bigger market with more spending power (all the tourists between Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, basically) and because there are shops and galleries that also carry his work. Any one of the large fruit bowls in the photo above costs a little more than US$100, which I think is a fair price for the two days it takes him to make one.

Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

What is lovely about him , though, is that he is not at all pushy with his work. He’ll sit and stitch while he answers questions from curious passerby…never forcing his work on anyone, but never backing down on his price, either. He knows that what he makes is unique, that nobody else in the Caribbean makes these baskets, and he believes that the right person will come along and claim each one, in time.

Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

I didn’t pretend to be a potential buyer. I told him that we live on a boat, that we are traveling on a shoestring and that, much as I love his work, I cannot justify so much money for a fruit basket or bag…a hundred dollars buys us food for many, many days! He dropped the sales talk right away, and Kris and I had many lovely conversations with him about history and politics. I dropped in to see him whenever we went to the supermarket. If I bought a cardboard plate of Oil down from one of the vendors on the beach, I always got one for him, too, and we would eat together, drink the locally made tamarind juice, and chat about rope colours and his design ideas.

Far from lonely, Mr. Jacob’s corner is a magnet for smart people, and I often find him with company. He’s very well-read, well-traveled, cheerful, and because he knows how to listen and isn’t pompous, a lot of smart people hang around to talk to him. Some of the most stimulating conversations that Kris and I have had were with people hanging around Mr. Jacob.

Mr. Jacob spins rope into gold

If you are interested in getting hold of something he’s made, Mr. Jacob can be reached by snail mail, but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from him for many months…he moves around the West Indies, stays at boarding houses or with friends on the different islands of the Caribbean, it may be a while before he gets back to read his mail in Bequia (pronounced Bek-way).

Mr. Jacob Scott
St. Vincent & The Grenadines,

West Indies

We are leaving today (I write this on the 17th of July) and I have had these same photos printed for him in town, so he can show his work to people when he doesn’t have many finished pieces on hand. I’ll be going to see him in an hour, to give him the photos and say goodbye. We leave for Venezuela tomorrow, the 18th of July.

Ceramics : Casa do Artista Popular

Casa do Artista Popular
Brasileiro artesans produces a prodigious amount of ceramic sculptures, mainly in terracotta.
Casa do Artista Popular
I didn’t take as many photos as I should have—so this post is no indication—but one sees these large, traditional or fantastic, figurines in every souvenir shop, every lobby, every restaurant.

Casa do Artista Popular

There are whole towns, in the interior, that do nothing else but craft tiny scenes from everyday life, boys chasing chickens, women selling vegetables…though I didn’t see them here.
The lights are very “gallery-esque” at the Casa Do Artista Popular (tiny, amber spotlights that one can hardly see by) so I’m afraid many of these photos will be blurry or dark, but they give an idea…

With their tremendous talent for shaping and working clay, one wonders why there seems to be so little experimentation. But I guess that’s what makes it folk art: the artisans have the techniques, but no imagination or desire to break away; they are happy to produce the same time-honoured designs of their forebears.
It probably took a couple of hundred years for them to venture from making religious figures to making secular figures…it’ll probably take another few centuries before the village potters attempt anything so outlandish as a flower vase in the shape of a house…

Woodwork : Casa do Artista Popular

Casa do Artista Popular
More folk arts from the Casa DO Artista Popular…woodwork, this time.
We love the little wall-hung dioramas featuring the workspaces of various craftsmen, such as those who repair the facades of the many old buildings in the city,
Casa do Artista Popular
Madeira (wood) folk art
the pharmacists
Madeira (wood) folk art
the cachaça (rum) makers
Madeira (wood) folk art
and leatherworkers.
Madeira (wood) folk art
Also, this little view of a home interior, with a tiny radio on the shelf, and a sewing machine:
Casa do Artista Popular
Madeira (wood) folk art

The doll room : Casa do Artista Popular

Casa do Artista PopularReally good stuff at the Casa do Artista Popular in downtown João Pessoa. Rooms devoted to various folk arts and crafts. I loved the doll room. Tiny fabric foliões (revelers) just over an inch high, above.

Papier maché puppets…Casa do Artista Popular

Mechanical figurines with whirligigs that produce movements…

Casa do Artista Popular
Large mosaics made entirely of prettily-dressed dolls…
Casa do Artista Popular
and gypsy rag dolls complete with wooden clogs and travel suitcases…
Casa do Artista PopularThe Casa do Artista Popular is a small museum of folk art and crafts, set in a beautifully restored old building overlooking the Parque da Independência, 56 – Centro, João Pessoa – PB

Three-day retreat


N.B. I wrote a long blog post about this, right after it happened, but failed to save my typing and lost it all when my browser crashed.

In early October I spent three days, two nights, with the glass artist Meng Hoeschle and her delightful, multilingual husband, Herb. I was put up in a second, smaller house on the other end of their 5-acre property, and told to “relax”.

It was quite funny, me not knowing how to do that. I hadn’t brought any current project (as I didn’t realise I’d be in a separate house, and who wants to unload a heap of things onto someone else’s dining table, engage in something as unsocial as painting, or make a big mess?) so I was rather at a loss for ways to spend my time, while I was alone. I don’t watch television, so didn’t even check to see if it was plugged in. I had a lot of showers, they were definitely luxurious—the bathroom was as big as my bedroom/workspace on the boat!—and I took Nana naps! I tried to draw a little bit, but this was early days for my sketchbook pages and I lacked confidence.

The best part of my time there was, of course, the hours spent in conversation with Meng, and with Herb. If I wondered, on the first night (lying in the white cotton bedsheets, in the air-conditioned bedroom, surrounded by the deep silence of a night on the rural outskirts of Darwin) what the heck I was doing there—in a spotless modern cottage like a resort’s—I had the answer by breakfast the next morning.

Life sends you teachers when you need them. Both Meng and Herb were reservoirs of wisdom and joy, and I cried often during our conversations.

Meng and I talked late into the night, in her studio like an alchemist’s laboratory, while she moved briskly about the room, cutting sheets of glass, enameling them, then putting them into the kiln to slump. We talked about art, about craft, about putting yourself into your work, about the value of such work beyond measuring sticks like money or time. From the rafters, tinkling glass discs and globes trapped or threw ensorcelled lamplight out into the darkness of cycads and gum trees surrounding the house.
sea wall by Meng Hoeschle

I fell in love with one of her pieces, that I have named Sea Wall, because looking through it is a bit like looking at a cross section of foaming ocean, and I love the submarine light that filters through it. The next day, Meng chose another of her works to give me…this one a turquoise tumbler that looks like the moment when a drop hits the surface of a tropical lagoon, frozen in time. It was still warm from the kiln, from the night before, and she wanted me to have something whose making I had witnessed.splash by Meng Hoeschle

Twice, during my stay with the Hoeschles, I was given the bulge and nuzzle of the sea to hold. Precious, precious pieces, representing their two radiant souls, and the gifts they gave to me, of courage and curiosity, of essence and message.

Today, because I cannot take them with me, I took these photos, and then wrapped each piece up in layers of bubbles and brown paper, for when we get back.

Thank you, Meng & Herb.

Handcrafted, come what May.

pop up3
The first ETSY Territorians’ Pop-Up Market was a success beyond our expectations…some 400 visitors descended upon the Darwin Botanic Gardens throughout the day, and we ETSY sellers were on our feet, meeting interested people and selling our handmade creations without cease from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m., when an afternoon thunderstorm showered our first ever craft event with blessings and tropical relief from the heat! Most of us didn’t mind, we’d all done so well that we were quite ready to pack up and go home.

pop up1

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Encouraged no end by this, I’ve rolled the day’s takings into making more journals, getting more art prints done, and improving my stall’s wares for the two ETSY Territorian Pop-Up markets happening in May:

May 3rd, Saturday & May 4th, Sunday…


May 18th, Sunday…

etsy may market

At our “regular” venue: the beautiful George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens…pavilions and pompoms and dainty stalls under the leafy outspread branches of great-grandfather trees, across from the fountains of the water lily pond, and within desiring distance of the Botanic Café and their organic coffees and luscious cakes…

You’re invited!

A Pop-Up Upmarket : : ETSY Territorians

ETSY Territorians Pop-Up Upmarket 2014

I’m pretty excited about this new pop-up craft market that’s coming to the Territory…the ETSY Territorians Pop-Up Upmarket.

Happening only during the 6 months of the Top End’s cool and gorgeous Dry Season, this once-a-month boutique-style array of handmade loveliness is different from most of the markets to be found in Darwin, in that it features only Top End craftspeople and artist/makers who also have shops on ETSY, and whose work is of the highest quality. ETSY sellers bring experience with global markets, internet savvy, marketing and styling panache to the local market scene…no mass-produced touristy tat, or poorly-made tchotchkes flown in from someone’s holiday in Bali, here! This is the market where you’ll find something handcrafted, unique and precious—for yourself, for your home, or to give as an outstanding present to someone very special.

The first Pop-Up Upmarket is happening on Sunday the 13th of April! If you live in Darwin (or even further out but don’t mind the long drive into the city on a Sunday), please come to the very first ETSY Territorians event—set under the massive old trees of the George Brown Darwin Botanical Gardens from 9a.m. – 4 p.m.—and help us start this new market with a flurry of discovery and delight! The market is officially supported by ETSY Australia, and by the Northern Territory government.

We aim to grow this market into a popular Top End tradition and you could, years hence, be telling everyone that you were there from the beginning! :)

For more information and to help spread the word about the very first pop-up upmarket, please visit the official ETSY Territorians facebook page, or share  event invitations to April’s market with friends and family who live in the Top End.

To find out who our local ETSY craftspeople are and see what they make, check out the ETSY Territorian team.

Fabric Bunting Beads

at a Darwin craft market

what some people can do with a ball of thread

greeting card by Zim & Zou
It’s always worth paying a visit to Behance when French designers Zim & Zou post new work. I admire their paper-fuelled creativity, their wicked skills with a scalpel, and their colorful, simple designs that champion handmade elements, without the digital artifice.
exhibition book by Zim&Zou

These three items (a greeting card, exhibition book, and portfolio) are part of a personal project promoting their work. All incorporate simple thread geometrics stitched on paper. Something childlike and retro about the designs (maybe I am thinking about Spirographs, again) but also something faintly oriental (and it’s probably the Japanese binding, and echoes of temari)
portfolio by Zim&Zou

Speaking of temari, I suppose everyone’s seen the My Modern Met article—about some extraordinarily intricate temari balls by a Japanese grandmother—that has been doing the rounds on facebook?

temari by Japanese Grandmother, via mymodernmet

While each design is stunning enough, in its complexity and perfect construction, it’s also mind-boggling to see how many of these traditional hand balls, once a child’s toy, Nana Akua’s 88-year-od grandmother has made: over 500 of them! Every ball, or so it seems, is documented on Nana Akua’s flickr stream.
Apr2009_my 88yrs old grandma's works : TEMARI

über embroiderers: Chloe Giordano

Chloe Giordano

I’m trying to keep up a sort of regular ‘feature’ on über embroiderers on The Smallest Forest: These are the big kids, the crème de la crème, the leet of needle and thread…that runts like me long to play with, but will never even exist in the same universe with. *stabs herself with a #24 chenille* Oh, crewel world!

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Chloe Giordano

Admiring Chloe Giordano’s fine handiwork this morning: delicate little animals rendered in minute embroidery stitches and subtle colors, miniature 3D forms that don’t sacrifice any detail or cut corners in the making. They are quite dazzling, in a calm and self-possessed way…the mark of a professional.

Chloe is an illustrator, like many of the über embroiderers I’ve featured here, and I continue to be intrigued by the slightly different ‘feel’ of embroidered works produced by artists who have come to the craft from some other area of the visual arts, using thread and stitches as though they were paints and pens. Their work seems to be less constrained by the rules that one tends to follow when trained strictly as an embroiderer. I like the freedom with which these visual artists manipulate thread, and the expressiveness that their stitches have. I’ve also noticed that they tend to stick to simple stitches…no fancy, exotic knotted and looped moves that stand out on the fabric.

In traditional embroidery it sometimes seems that the medium is the message and not a lot of imagination or creativity goes into the actual design (pay a visit to the craft pavilion at any Royal Show and you will see the judges flipping fairly boring embroidery designs over to inspect and fuss over the threadwork on the back). These contemporary approaches to the craft allow the subject to shine, and have stitching play a supporting role (not that any of this nitpicking matters, they are all beautiful, wonderful, and our lives could use more of both approaches!)

Here’s a portion of the brief FAQ on her blog page:

How did you learn to embroider/sew?

I’ve learned mostly from trial and error, usually I’ll draw out what I want to sew first and try to work out in the sketch how I would stitch to get the effect I want. I also try to look at work I admire and figure out how they did it – this especially helpful when I’m working on something 3D

How long does a piece take you?

Anything from a couple of days to 2-3 weeks. Usually the planning stage takes the most time, once I’ve got everything hammered out the actual sewing doesn’t take long.

What materials do you use?

I mostly sew on an off white calico, if its dyed I use powder dyes. Generally I used embroidery thread for text and sewing thread for everything else, but it’s not set in stone.

Where/what did you study?

I studied Illustration at the University of the West of England, in Bristol.

Have a look at Chloe’s Tumblr, and keep an eye on her (hopefully only momentarily empty) ETSY shop  for more work by this sensitive and soulful young artist.

Found via Mr X Stitch

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uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha
uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha
über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz
über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz
über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar
über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar