Life as a Teacher and Artist in England.

                                                                                                           

My scrap book is old and not in the best shape, but allow me to share some of the print media coverage starting 55 years ago in Coventry, England.

As a school teacher, creating art in the summer was like another full time job; school ended at 3pm and the sun set at 9pm. The garden shed at the back of the family house was my studio, it allowed me to earn enough income to afford a shared luxury 2 bedroom apartments in the first central heated building in the city, in the heart of the traffic free shopping center and five minutes walk to my school.

A journalist who shared the apartment with me for a period, alerted me to the unusual practice of other journalist publishing my address in every newspaper article; according to him they were prompting the police to have a look at my activities; they could not understand how a school teacher could afford such an apartment.

The fact was that keeping warm was just as important to me as eating, the art provided enough income and the expenses of the apartment were shared. I was not involved in any illegal activity, as was the question being asked by the journalists.

These newspaper clippings show how active my life was , both as a Teacher and as an Artist,The move to Barbados did change my life as a Teacher, but began my long life as a fulltime artist, entrepreneur and Gallery Owner; as you will see in future newspaper clippings.



The Journey to 50 years as a Caribbean Artist- 3

For a Caribbean artist from a small Island, life in the art business took me down many roads and unforgettable memories.

My first memory occurred during the early days of the gallery in Marhill Street, opposite the Route 5 Bus stand, Barbados.

There were headline news on Radio and in the local papers of the visit to Barbados of the then Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Pierre Trudeau.

No one informed me of a visit to the gallery, as was normal for such an Important International Head of State; but in walked Mr. Trudeau one day, alone, no bodyguards in sight; he had requested a day alone to visit the Bridgetown shopping area.

We spoke for about 15 minutes about my life in the UK and my return to Barbados. He was humble and very comfortable with his surroundings.

It was not long after The Prime Minister’s visit that I experienced my one and only robbery by someone other than a staff member.

The Robbery

A group of 4 youngsters walked in the gallery one day, one of them was carrying a large shopping bag; I became suspicious, so decided to keep a keen eye on the four youngsters.

The concept of the gallery has remained almost the same from inception, Art and crafts were always prominent, but there was also a display of gift items for both locals and Tourists,

With the help of a local garment manufacturer, I had introduced the shirt Jacks for office wear, which was given the nod by the then Prime Minister, when he opened the house of assembly wearing one of my designs, announcing the new Office look. Up until then office workers wore jacket and ties in the blazing sun. I had done a similar thing in England as a teacher the year before(1968). I hated the Jacket and tie, when I approached the headmaster for permission to dress casually, his reply was ‘the day you see not wearing a jacket and tie, you can follow suit.

The following week I boldly dressed in casual wear and announced -Sir I dreamed last night that you had abandoned the Jacket and Tie; It was not long after that that Teachers were neat but casually dressed, nothing to do with me of course, just the wayward sixties; teachers are still  casually dressed until this very day.

Three of the boys tried to engage me in conversation at the Reggae display, while the fourth boy moved towards the Shirt Jacks, I happen to see him putting one more shirt jack in the shopping bag and started walking towards the door; as I shouted at him, they all took off on foot. Well ! applying the number one sprinter at Teachers’ College experience , I followed suit with focus on the chap with the shopping bag, he did not even get off Marhill Street which was a relatively short street.

The young thief was apprehended and handed him over to the nearest street Cop; he gave the names of the other three boys to the street Cop.

To cut a long story short, the case never reached the courts, the police lost the stolen shirt Jacks, no case could be brought to court without the evidence; I was never compensated.

On another occasion a very attractive young lady came into the gallery on a quiet day and engaged me for almost half a day.

Was it an Attempt to Seduce?

She had fallen in love with one of my sculptures, but since she had loved the sculpture so much, I should give it to her for free, since she could not afford it. For free, not even at a reduced price.

I thought she was joking, but she was sincere, then the thought crossed my mind that she was trying to seduce me into giving her the sculpture for free; as beautiful as she, was I finally conceded that I loved the sculpture more than she did, and could not afford to give it away. I was even single at the time.

She finally exited the gallery, still pleading unsuccessfully.

Soon Come-

Memories of a career as a Caribbean Artist contributing to place Carribean Art on the Global map

Over the past 50 years as CEO of the Devonish Art Gallery, there have been many changes and numerous interesting and some unusual experiences.

One of the earliest experience occurred during the early seventies in Barbados, one that I don’t think I will ever forget, the experience has never repeated and I don’t foresee it ever happening again.

One day an American Tourist came to the gallery and bought the most expensive sculpture in the gallery, it was the most expensive because I considered it to be one the best of my creations. My prices were never high.

Once in a lifetime experience

The gentleman looked me in the eye and said-“ I have a collection of sculptures and none of them are below a certain price, I love this sculpture, but price is below my lowest accepted price. Do you mind if I pay you more than you are asking, that is the only way I will add it to my collection.

He paid a lot more than what I was asking for the sculpture, There were no cell phones during those days, I wish there was a photo to refresh my memory of the image more so than of the occasion.

The other incident is a stark contrast. There was a cruise ship in port; one of the passengers off the ship was in a wheel chair pushed by his private nurse as I later found out.

A Man Of Principle

He too fell in love with a sculpture I considered to be the best on display. Another tourist was in a couple days before and told me he was coming back to make the purchase, but he wanted his wife to see it first.

He offered to purchase the sculpture but asked for a discount, it was just after two pm when the couple came into the gallery.

I informed the gentleman that I would not offer a discount, partly because it annoys me, us starving artist are always challenged because we need the money and we are reluctant to lose a sale.

My mind was made up, no discount, the man allowed me to know that he wants to buy the sculpture and he is not leaving without it, furthermore he is not buying it unless he gets a discount.

Closing time was 5pm,at 4.30 pm the gentleman was still sitting in his wheel chair making small talk and reminding he is not leaving unless he gets a discount.

The nurse was getting anxious, she pulled me aside and whispered –we are due back on the ship, he will miss the boat and charter a plane to the next port if you do not give him a discount, give him $5.00 off he will take it.

The sculpture was sold with a $5.00 discount. The buyer breathed a sigh of relief. –“For the first time in my life I felt someone would have gotten the better of me; I have never purchased anything in my adult life unless I got a discount; at which time the nurse hurried him off to catch the ship which was only five to eight minutes away.

Never Underestimate Your Customers

On another occasion, again involving a cruise ship passenger. The passenger was an old bent over black man; I happened to walk in to observe that the sales lady was ignoring the gentleman as a walked from display shelf to display shelf.

I walked over to the gentleman and started a conversation; it turned out that he was a businessman with over 400 employees, and would like to take some local gifts back for his senior staff.

The sale was the largest sale we had for the entire year, we should never underestimate our customers, regardless to age, color or creed.

Always assume every customer is capable of purchasing your most expensive item on sale.

Soon Come.

On February 23rd we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Devonish Art Gallery, operating in Barbados for 18 years and in my current residence the tiny Island of Anguilla for 31 years.

Carrolle and I would like to thank the many patrons, some old friends who were happy to be back after hurricane Irma and some new ones, who were visiting for the first time.

We must thank the few local supporters and encourage others to begin appreciating the visual arts; we hope the numbers will grow steadily. It took 15 years to grow the numbers in Barbados, given the history of Anguilla, 31 years still seem a poor statement.

It was a wonderful evening, both with attendance and financial support, we were very thankful, considering 2018 was a total financial write-off due to the powerful Hurricane Irma.

As usual with the gallery exhibitions, the work never stops, new creations will be added as they are created during the coming months. The gallery is also featuring a new collection of giclees by Sheri Erickson, noted for their colorful depiction of life in the Caribbean.

The exhibition is also featuring a small collection of sculptures from the oldest existing mahogany wood in Anguilla; The last piece of the trunk was bought from a leading local businessman some 30 years ago for a hefty price. The bill to transport the trunk was also hefty, a crane and a flatbed truck was needed to transport the 6 foot diameter trunk.

Unfortunately the mahogany tree must have died of old age, I was told that it fell; but some parts of the tree must have been still alive, considering the richness and beauty of some of the wood. Much of Anguilla’s history was associated with that mahogany tree; Two other tree trunks were subsequently bought, they were the offspring of the old tree. Wood from all three trees will continue to be featured in the coming days of the exhibition, as there are completed.

50 years in the life of an artist and entrepreneur was never easy, but there were memorable and incredible moments of success, and some very sad and unforgettable moments of failure, but we got up every time, dust of the sand and dirt and continued. We will continue to do so.

I would like to thank the many people who have accompanied us some of the way along the journey, there are many, and I am afraid to mention names, in case I leave out anyone. Unfortunately some have gone on. Many of the Barbados Hotels featured greatly in my journey, offering opportunities to set up pop up shops at no cost; most of the hotels were on the west coast but some of the south coast hotels played their part.

The Hotels must appreciate how big a part they play in the success of Artist/craftsmen, and continue to provide opportunities to showcase their work. There is one very important recommendation that was included in every report I wrote as a consultant for the Canadian Training Awards Project in the eighties, CTAP.

The reports were handed to different Caribbean Governments; but given the nature of politics, and election procedures, I am sure they are all lost and forgotten; but they are crucial to the development of art in the Caribbean.

 
  

RECOMMENDATION

Every hotel should be mandated to provide retail space for the sale of local Art and Crafts.
A crucial time to implement this mandate is in the MOA for new projects.
It does not matter who owns the business, artists and craftspeople should not care about the retail prices, once they are paid their agreed price. They should not let the retail prices affect subsequent wholesale prices.It is very hard for a craftsperson to see his $10 creation sold for $50.This is one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the sale of local crafts.

The best solution is for the retail shop or gallery operate on a consignment basis with and agreed commission, be it 50/50; 60/40 or whatever. I am proud of Zemi Beach here in Anguilla who has adopted this practice. I am confident tourists prefer to see local products. I also learn that a USA university professor who played a major role my life as an artist, coincidentally  and indirectly might have played a role in the Hotel’s policy

This system works for both parties, particularly since more than 70% of hotel guests never leave the properties to go shopping.

If you plan to visit Anguilla this year, please visit the Devonish Art Gallery or visit us Online–devonishart.com

Soon Come–