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The Working Man’s Artist: Cedric Turnbull

Words by Traci O’Dea; photos by Dan O’Connor

Photographer Dan O’Connor and I met Cedric Turnbull at the bottom of Greenland. He picked us up and drove us to his hillside home. Cedric’s soft spoken, laidback, youthful disposition belies his enthusiastic, prolific work ethic. In addition to teaching at Elmore Stoutt High School, Cedric paints, sculpts, photographs, carves, macramés, gardens, designs jewelry, makes furniture and musical instruments, and even created a fish tank built into a wall outside his home.

“If I have something to do, I just go, do it. Bam. Next. If I stay on one project too long, I get bored,” he said as we chatted in his house which is full of his creations—from the entertainment centre shelving unit in the living room to paintings on the walls to a plant holder hanging from the ceiling.

See some of Cedric’s work here:

I first encountered Cedric’s work on the painted mural in East End that depicts scenes of home life and spirituality. And while painting is Cedric’s first love, he has recently fallen for a different art.

“Right now the most rewarding thing for me is playing music. That’s what comforts me right now,” he said then picked up a handmade banjo-uke (also known as banjolele), a combination of a banjo and a ukulele that Cedric made.

He strummed the instrument, and a sound emerged that seemed to brighten his house with a brief, happy tune that reminded me of a mix of Buddy Holly and local fungi band The Lashing Dogs. He smiled as he played, and I was reminded of how he described his painting work ethic as short bursts of artistic expression.

Cedric taught himself how to play and make the instruments, and he’s also started making them out of calabash—a local gourd that he gets from friends’ trees in the BVI. “There’s nothing more challenging to myself than to invent something up,” he said then went into a back room in his house and reappeared with a güiro made from calabash. “I challenge myself to make things out of calabash,” he said and showed me a felt-lined calabash jewelry box, earrings, bowls and the hanging plant pot.

A painting in the corner of his living room caught my eye—a surreal Dali-esque piece in a Caribbean setting with a camera lens and basketball strung among a spiderweb. “I did that when I was in school in New York. I think I had to come up with five different properties about myself—so photography is the lens, I used to play basketball, I tried to make a crane out of bamboo and the rock to show a hardworking person, and then the scenery was memories of the island when I was in New York; I can’t remember what [the spiderweb] was,” he said. The fact that he was as hardworking back then as he is now, and aware of it, struck me. “When I was in school,” Cedric said, “my counselor used to say to me, ‘Why are you here? You’re wasting your time’, because I used to spend more time helping other students because I would’ve already done [the work]. After I returned [to the BVI], and I had to teach, I had to keep trying different ideas, trying to come up with different things,” he said and gesticulated with his hands in a way that seemed he was creating new artwork and sculptures from the air.

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“So when I discover something that I liked, I dig into it. I’m always picking up different ideas. That’s me. In a nutshell.”

Cedric is currently displaced from his gallery in the Crafts Alive Village due to the renovations, but he has plans for the upcoming season when the shop reopens. “My next goal is to make stuff for the tourists—some screen printing on aprons and such. And all this stuff is local stuff, you know. The calabash is local [grown in the BVI then made into crafts in the BVI]. I’m thinking about making some lampshades out of calabash and some maracas,” he said. “And when I get tired of that, I’ll probably move on.”

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