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
Bequia,
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.

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Brown bag sketchbooks

brown paper bagsI have wanted to do something about this stack of large, heavy-duty brown paper bags—the kind that you get your bok choy and bananas in, at a farmer’s market—that I carried home from some yard sale ages ago.

Today I cut the bottoms off, leaving a kind of paper ‘tube’; I then slit the tube with a large kitchen knife at the side folds into two pieces, cut the resulting two sheets in half once more, and then folded the sheets, ten at a time, to form signatures or sections. A few quick stitches using heavy linen upholstery thread, some cloth tapes cut from a scrap of printed cotton, some glue and half an hour under the press. Just like that, I have two brown paper books, a hundred leaves (200 pages) in each. I may, or may not, worry about covers (I’m a bookbinder. That means most of my own books spend their lives half-finished and coverless…)

brown paper journalsI have a lot of good art papers, and at least a dozen hand-bound drawing and watercolor sketchbooks, to take on my travels…but I needed some scribbling-and-doodling books that didn’t feel precious; made of the cheapest possible paper and roughly sewn together, so that I wouldn’t be afraid to waste the pages, to draw and write utter garbage, to jot down phone numbers and shopping lists. I like that the pages in these two books are creased. There are some stains and spots where the bags got rained on last year. I even left the double-thick strip—where one side of the bag was glued to the other—to form a margin on some pages.

Often, it is in such cheap and accessible books that the best work gets done. The mind is so strange.

stranger things have happened

I began to test various dip pen nibs on the rough, hairy paper, trying to figure out which nib would work best. This random line from an audio book—Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives—I was listening to as I began to write appeared on the first page. I guess I have unwittingly named one of the books…

testing pen nibs on the paper

Fabric Bunting Beads (via from Hell to Breakfast)

 

Took a moment this morning to make some little beads, using fabric and plastic tubes, that—when strung together—look like festive party bunting. A good way to use those pretty fabric scraps too small for other projects, and—thanks to double-sided tape—very quick and easy to do.

Tutorial for these miniature bunting beads is on my other blog.

Cheers!

 Nothing says “Fiesta!” like colorful bunting flags hanging all over town… Another quick way to use up fabric scraps. I dreamt these tiny stringable fabric bunting flags up just before falling asleep last night, and spent a quick hour this morning making some, to see if the idea would work. The sort of thing you can make using junk from around your home…

via from Hell to Breakfast

a quick tutorial : : book beads

beads that look like teeny-tiny tomes

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3965519944 a4f1ed1a43 o1

3965520568 2fbe890162 o1

3964748469 b1ed337186 o1

3965521810 606e312137 b1

3970793195 f92442d695 o1

3965522716 c342edf753 o1

3964751895 4d10795075 o1

3964750721 b27b86aa84 o1

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I haven’t added any text instructions, because I think the photos are clear enough. All that’s left to do know is make a whole heap of these, in different shapes (but always symmetrical shapes!) and sizes, and stringing them up.

This uses the same binding method used to make childrens board-books…the only difference is that you glue the front and back cover together, as well, and create a book in the round, without and ending or beginning…and that’s some pretty heavy symbolism for a pretty paper bead!

Have fun!

It’s in the bag

july bag detail

I did a major cleanup in my studio this morning, and then, because I am essentially starting a new season, I was in the mood to paint some personalized calendar pages.

julybagweb

I usually do a few months at a time, in the pages of my large visual diary, but because it’s a heavy book I tend not to use it often, or keep it where I can see it, and still end up forgetting important dates and missing deadlines.

This time I decided to make loose pages that I could post on my studio wall. A quick hunt through my stockroom for suitable paper yielded half-a-dozen brown paper shopping bags, so I used them instead.

august bagseptember bag

three months

Besides looking quirky on the wall, I can throw all those bits of paper that turn up during the month into the bag—where they’ll stay put until I can sort them out.