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Artists in abundance

British Virgin Islands are rich with artistic talent. We meet five talented artisans who draw inspiration from our stunning islands in the creation of their beautiful works.

When I think of the BVI, I think of abundance. Abundant vegetation on the hillsides, abundant waters teeming with fish, abundant views from every peak, abundant beaches, and abundant smiles. We are also lucky to have an abundance of artisans who share their work in the BVI and beyond. Their high-end creations share the abundance of the islands with those who can’t always be here.

Celeste Tyson from Bamboushay Pottery

Celeste Tyson loves that when you buy a piece from Bamboushay, you take a part of the BVI home with you. “A lot of our pieces involve actual impressions from sea life that has washed ashore,” she says.

“Marine impressions are used from shells, coral, sea fans to brain coral. We also find inspiration in the environment of the BVI–palm fronds, sea grape leaves, and shell plates with accents of lizards, turtles, hummingbirds, fish, starfish, frogs, and examples of BVI fauna, replicas of BVI life.”

The signature seagrape colour of Bamboushay pottery “blends the greens of the landscape with the blues of the sea,” Celeste says.

Bamboushay pottery, wall sconces, and signature animal mugs have become synonymous with the BVI, providing unique touches that are a part of the interior vernacular. Celeste hopes to expand the Bamboushay brand beyond the Caribbean, giving it more of an international reach.

Celeste’s uncle, Eldred Williams, started the business almost 20 years ago. He’s from Nevis, where his family are still in the pottery business.

 

“He’s brought back a piece of his childhood through the pottery,” she says. The main potter at Bamboushay, Ramon Herrera Mariano, has been with the company for over 15 years.

“The colors, shapes, and pieces that are produced are iconic to the BVI, but they are also a representation of the Caribbean as a whole. We are colourful, resilient, and multi-functional but with common features,” she says, laughing at her metaphor.

“I love that about Bamboushay. I also love that the whole spirit has evolved–first solely pottery, then a restaurant, now the lounge vibe with live music weekly on Friday nights. People support Bamboushay in many different ways, whether having a meal, drink, meeting, or shopping in our boutique. They’re different businesses, but one Bamboushay family. The BVI has always been supportive. We are all one.” Pottery can be purchased at Bamboushay Boutique on Waterfront Drive or online at bamboushaypottery.com

Anne MacPhail of annie macphail™ bags

Annie MacPhail’s designer bags are handmade in the BVI from recycled materials: retired sails and kitesurfing kites, repurposed leather and rope, outdated promotional flags, recycled upholstery and awnings, and even the Olympic trial sails from the Anderson/Brockbank campaign. But don’t be fooled by the use of recycled materials; luxury annie macphail™ bags have an international following. From the smallest wristlet to the largest duffel bag, each bag is one of a kind and hand-sewn with the highest attention to detail.

“I have this design gene,” Annie says as she breezes through her colourful location that straddles Main Street and Waterfront Drive across from the ferry dock in Road Town, Tortola.

“My father was an industrial designer, first at Ford Motor Company at age 19, then for a firm where he designed, among other things, the airport loading ramps at Kennedy Airport.” Annie originally trained in graphic design, and her impulse to re-engineer materials is in her blood.

In addition to her sought-after annie macphail™ bags, she creates bespoke pieces that are unique to sailing or living in the Caribbean—such as hand-sanitizer holders for sailboats, kite-tube sandbags to weigh down yoga mats for outdoor classes, and washable covers to protect bags from surface transmission of COVID-19.

Annie sources her used textiles from Doyle Sailmakers BVI, Necker Island, corporate marketing departments, and individual sailors in the community. Some recent bits included “a bunch of recycled leather from Cuan Law when they reupholstered” and “an awning someone was throwing away”. When she gets a funky fabric offcut or spinnaker, she creates limited edition designs that fly off the shelves. She also hopes to “chip off this waste stream in the BVI, bit by bit.” The entire annie macphail™ line is available exclusively at Nutmeg & Co. in Road Town or at anniemacphail.com.

Jehiah Maduro’s Steel Sculptures

While traveling abroad, Jehiah Maduro encountered a series of sculptures–multi-colored cows throughout the city of Raleigh-Durham, painted by local artists to celebrate a farming festival. He wanted to bring that kind of public art to the BVI.

Jehiah has been drawing since primary school. In college, he pursued architecture, but upon graduating, he found a job in government as a graphic artist and has continued working there for the past 20 years. Working with steel came about because his brother Jaron Maduro, a lecturer at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, purchased a metal-cutting machine.

“I provide the artistic direction, and he does the technical stuff,” Jehiah says.

They started out making custom cut-steel signs, but the idea for outdoor sculptures played in the back of his mind, so he sketched cultural scenes from the BVI. “I spoke to a friend of mine from VICA [Virgin Islands Communal Association], and she was ecstatic about my sketches and showed them to the Director of Culture, Dr Katherine Smith,” he says. Dr Smith commissioned sculptures for Virgin Islands Culture Month.

Each sculpture is four to five feet tall. They’re inspired by conversations with friends, the painted wall murals throughout Tortola by artists such as Ruben Vanterpool and Cedric Turnbull, and a photograph of his grandfather, Julian Madura, a Virgin Islands shipwright.

“We have a rich heritage, and we need to show it off when we put on a celebration,” he says. Jehiah is already planning more sculptures, and he would “love to see more BVI art in the public sphere,” he says. He’s also working on more portable sculptures made of Plexiglas that are lighter and easier to pack in visitors’ suitcases!

Alex Durante of EC Soap Co

“Some of our customers are soap addicts,” says Alex Durante, executive director of EC Soap Co (East Caribbean Salt and Soap Company Ltd).

“They’ll buy eight to ten bars at a time. Others are addicted to the natural deodorant or the papaya face mask–made from local papaya seeds which are high in enzymes.”

Alex’s handmade, locally sourced products seem to be everywhere these days–most local hotels, resorts, and charter yachts feature EC Soap Co soap, shampoo, shower gel, sunscreen, and conditioner, but the big difference is that each batch is custom tailored for the client “so you don’t see the same products at each resort,” she says.

Alex works with local farmers, beekeepers, and other harvesters to keep her products as local as possible. Local raw ingredients include aloe, turmeric, Salt Island salt, tea, honey, papaya seeds, cotton, and beeswax. She also uses her popular storefront on Main Street to showcase other BVI artisans. “I’m trying to create a medium for everyone to flow through. Real estate for storefronts can be cost-prohibitive for new artists and entrepreneurs starting out, so I offer them space in my shop.”

Ideally, Alex would like to see a new pillar in the BVI economy–exporting of BVI luxury goods. EC Soap Co ships worldwide from www.ecsoapco.com, but the goal is to franchise the brand so the branches on other islands would sell EC Soap Co products as well as creations by their own local artisans, to celebrate the individuality of each island, while also offering high-end skincare that’s guaranteed to attract repeat customers.

Lin Crook of Island Reflections BVI

Lin Crook has been creating stained glass since 1981. Her passion started as a hobby, though she sometimes donated pieces to BVI art auctions and fundraisers. It wasn’t until last year that she got her trade license to create stained glass pieces and sell them under the name of Island Reflections BVI. Since then, she has been working nonstop, thanks mainly to word of mouth, BVI Community Board, and people seeing her pieces in local homes or establishments. Most recently, she completed three pairs of stunningly intricate bougainvillea windows for above the three entrances at Indigo House, Cane Garden Bay’s new foodie-favorite restaurant.

“It’s all-consuming at the moment,” she says from her home overlooking Brewer’s Bay, where she also has her studio. Each piece is custom designed by Lin, then she cuts the glass, foils it in copper, solders it together, and treats the solder. One piece took her 190 hours to complete.

“Every piece is bespoke–kitchen cabinets, windows, freestanding pieces,” she says. “I get my inspiration from living here–floral scenes, beach scenes, frogs, lemurs, dragonflies, sunsets.”

She likes “to incorporate something in each piece to make it unique and something unique from the BVI.”

Lin does not have a website or a social media presence–she prefers potential clients to come up to her studio to get an in-person feel for what they might like. Based on how busy she’s been without any serious marketing (and the fact that all of her work is currently sold out) it’s obvious that her talent is appreciated.

Soap, steel sculptures, sconces, stained glass, and recycled sails! The British Virgin Islands inspire an incredible range of interests and artists, and we recommend that you support them all.

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