CREATIVE SPACE #15 of 2020 (uploaded September 9th 2020)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. There are plans for its continued evolution across multiple media platforms. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, and freelancer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on September 9th 2020 in the Daily Observer: Made of Clay in the Daily Observer
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.
If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the jhohadli.wordpress.com online edition of CREATIVE SPACE, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
CREATIVE SPACE: MADE OF CLAY
If you look up the village of Sea View Farm on Wikipedia, you’ll find a reference to my grandmother, Mama.
“Sea View Farm is known for its pottery. Elvie’s Pottery is the oldest pottery still in operation in Antigua today, where traditional handmade pottery can still be seen. The pottery was founded about 200 years ago.”
Mama died when I was in secondary school. I wonder as I write this how she would feel about her name being written in to the Wiki-history of her village. I wonder if she could imagine it. My aunt, Hyacinth, owner of Elvie’s Pottery on the Sea View Farm main road, has become a matriarch in her own right, keeper of the flame. The one who drops folk history about the village’s original location up in the direction of Stony Hill and ghosts at Stone Spring and how they came to be there with equal verisimilitude; who reminds me, much as I truthfully insist that my novel Oh Gad! is fiction, that the image of Mama in the open yard under the date palm tree is all too real.
During our most recent impromptu chat as she readied the clay works she made for firing, I told her about US professor Patricia Fay’s book. She knew of it but hadn’t yet held a copy; neither have I but I have read excerpts.
Creole Clay: Heritage Ceramics in the Contemporary Caribbean is not Antigua specific, and, arguably, Nevis gets the lioness’ share of attention in the chapter entitled Nevis and Antigua: A Tale of Two Villages. Factors-in-Common include the cottage industry built up around clay being women-run, compared to say tin smithing which, per Papa Sammy’s To Shoot Hard Labour reflections, succeeded it in in-demand for houseware repair. “Before the tin smith trade reach here, whenever the pans, cups, bowls, basins and so on was leaking clay was used to patch them up,” he is quoted as saying. To this day, though not as essential as back in the day, the clay, or “muddy”, is used to make coal pots, pots, jars, vases, jugs, trays, lanterns; it’s shift from function to art, evolutionary.
Fay’s book names Mama, Elvie Steven, and gives some of her history, including the fact that she was herself the daughter of a potter, Anna John, and references that iconic image of her under the date palm tree, dating it somewhere in the mid-1970s. It references how the market has evolved from the people of the villages to the resorts and tourists and Rasta; how Hyacinth, a 2009 National Award recipient, has expanded the brand from the days of her mother. The text references how Elvie’s Pottery has become a fixture of local tourism marketing. I’ve written before about how Mama didn’t want her children going in to the family business and how Hyacinth rebelled by doing the very thing her mother didn’t want her to do – making it her life’s work. Fay’s book covers that ground in addition to giving a step by step of her pottery making, and the ways she has innovated.
One example, “Hyacinth Hillhouse introduced the practice of covering the burning kiln with sheets of galvanized metal to better retain the heat, as well as firing the biggest pots together for more efficient use of the larger pieces of wood needed to bring these more substantial vessels to temperature.”
What I read of the book touches vaguely on the African origins of the clay pottery style found here, but also the way the story of clay is shaped by our unique experiences –Emancipation, the rise of free villages and of industries to meet the needs of those villages, and intra-island migration. There is clearly much more room for research and documentation, and/or creative exploration.
Cousin Lynda was quoted by barneshillcdo.org in conversation with the late Timothy Payne for an article (A Strong Case for Local Cooking Utensils) earlier this year, as advocating for knowledge transference re traditional pottery making. I do think funding should be made available or in some way sourced for the documentary project she envisions. So, I’ll just leave that right here.
I don’t know how they decide these things – this is the second CREATIVE SPACE image to make the front page (after CREATIVE SPACE 9 OF 2020: Chavel Thomas: Breaking Boundaries). It (the opening image of this article) is a picture of my paternal grandmother whom we called Mama. It was startling to see her on the front page of the Daily Observer though perhaps it shouldn’t have been since the article is about her life’s work and touches on how much this picture in particular has traveled. That image of her in the yard under the date palm tree has been conjured in my imagination in my novel Oh Gad!, in non-fiction books like Agnes Meeker’s book on Antigua-Barbuda plantations and, of course, Creole Clay.
The function and fragility of clay pottery is at the heart of my use of it as a motif in one of my books, Oh Gad! (making use of clay pottery’s colloquial name).
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