How To Survive As An Artist -1

devonish art gallery

The year was 1969; days after returning to Barbados after spending seven and a half years in England, I paid a visit to the Ministry of Education. Three months earlier I had posted an application letter for a job as a teacher.

The secretary came out with my unopened letter of application, opened it before my very eyes, read it then went back in to the office, She came back ten minutes later and arranged an appointment for an interview.

The interview was very encouraging, The chief education officer was please he had found someone who knew about ceramics; knew how to use an electric kiln, mix glazes, teach how to use the potter’s wheel, and a trained teacher at that.

There was only one ceramic teacher on the Island, but he was due to go on study leave, so the chief education officer was happy to be able to replace him. The job was offered to me on the spot.

I was made aware of three other English trained teachers on the Island who were paid a higher salary than the local teachers, plus a housing allowance. I asked if I would be paid the same salary as the English teachers and was told “Definitely not”

We had several discussions on the matter as I stressed the point that since my application was sent from England and my qualifications were equivalent to the English teachers, I should be paid the same salary. It took some persuasion but it was finally agreed to honor my request.

My assignment was to a secondary school, to teach Art, English, Religious Education and History.

I was surprised to discover that the headmaster was my Godfather; he was delighted and proud to welcome his Godson to the staff.

I was then escorted to the class and introduced as the form teacher for the school year.

About ten minutes later a student came to the classroom with a message that there was a telephone call awaiting me in the headmaster’s office.

The call was from the chief education officer instructing me that there were some objections raised, and my salary was adjusted downwards.

I did not say anything to anyone, but walked back to the classroom, picked up my briefcase, asked one of the students to deliver a message to the headmaster that Mr Devonish has left school and the class needed a teacher.

I never did return. The monthly checks arrived for four months after my walking off the job; of course I returned them every time.

My wife and I had already decided to look for a suitable retail space in Bridgetown to open an Art gallery, Boutique and Gift Shop.

We found a two- story retail space on a busy side street in Bridgetown, and started to source inventory; we also decided to invite some other artists to submit work on consignment.

The name Devonish was synonymous with Pottery and the potters all came from Chalky Mount where I was born. Many of the family members were potters and even though I had studied some ceramics at college; my specialty was sculpture in wood, stone and copper; plus I dabbled in some black and white pen and ink abstract drawings.

We visited the chalky mount potters and negotiated to purchase some pottery and offered new designs for the gift shop; no businesses in Barbados were marketing the chalky mount pottery for sale, the potters would take their ceramics to the Bridgetown market every Saturday and sometimes they would visit affluent areas of the Island with a tray full of pottery on their heads, mainly plant pots and ashtrays.

devonish art

Boutique Inventory

Before I left England I had abandoned the jacket and tie and was wearing shirt Jacks. I could not believe that as hot as Barbados was civil servants and office workers were still wearing jackets and tie. I visited a local clothing manufacturer and introduced the owner to the shirt jack and we made a verbal agreement that he will only manufacture for our gallery since the idea and the design was ours, but technically it was not; but they were never made n Barbados before.

There were 2 floors in the building, but we were not sure what to do with the second floor. One day while repainting the walls I asked someone which restaurants served local foods. I was recommended to one restaurant that I later learnt was known to locals as the tourist trap.

That visit was so dramatic that it sparked off the decision to open a restaurant on the second floor.

The Lunch Break

As I walked into the restaurant, no one greeted me, so I seated myself at one of the few vacant tables; I sat there for at least half an hour and watched as tourists were greeted at the door, seated and some even served drinks before any one came to take my order.

The cashier was overheard to say to the waiter-“There is a gentleman sitting over there, why don’t you take his order”

The waiter marched over to my table like he had just seen his girl friend in the arms of another young man,” wa you want?”

Is that how you address all your customers, don’t I get a menu?

He stomped off, returned and flung the menu onto the table.

I decided to order the most expensive lunch I could find on the menu; a bottle of the most expensive champagne, 16 ounce ribeye steak, and the most expensive dessert.

“Can you please bring me everything on one tray, my lunch hour is up” I uttered in a soft trembling whisper; My voice tends to get softer when I am angry.

As he exited the kitchen door and walked over to the bar to collect the bottle of champagne; I got up from my table and met him at the bar.

For this occasion my fiery voice was loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear-” You deserve to be a slave all your dam life and all these people here should be whipping your ass all like now;” then leaned over and whispered to him-“I will make sure you pay for this lunch or be fired” and slowly walked out with every wide- eye focused on my exit.

When the time came to interview staff for the restaurant, as the Gods would have it, who should walk in but the same waiter from the tourist trap; he turned around to walk out as soon as a saw that I was doing the interviewing; I called him back and his first words were -“you made me lose my job”

“So I guess you could not afford the lunch, you deserved it anyway, but have you learnt anything”

Yes sure did, but locals don’t tip and we like da tips cause the pay no good”

I gave him a lecture on the experiences of immigrants in England and we must learn to respect our own.

You taught me a lesson; I will never do da again.

He was hired as the bartender for the Beer House, which was the name we gave to the restaurant.

Soon Come.

devonish hand-carved heartWould you like to join my hearts club?

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