Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bunty O'Connor

Bunty works out of her literal pottery barn. It is at once a quiet and serene place but it is also a place of activity with the presence of the big kilns in the background. The BBC radio rumbles along in the background while everyone works quietly.

On one of the work tables lie two large cannon ball fruit. Bunty is trying to propogate the cannon ball tree by seed. Because this is another passion; the propagation of trees. A large jacaranda tree guards the entrance to the barn and everywhere one looks there are large trees.

I could spend days here observing the magical alchemy that transforms pliable clay into pottery. Ever generous, her garden is dotted with not just her work but also with pieces done by other artists that have worked with her in the studio.
The piece below was done by Bunty's talented sculptor friend Dharmbodh ( also known as Westmaas).
He did a few others around Bunty's garden such a the fluid one below.
Bunty's own work change from show to show as her upcoming ouvre will illustrate. Visiting a Bunty show is always a joy because you can see where she has explored new territory. The work is never the same.
I was lucky a few years back to get my hands on one of her paintings- while she is known for her pottery and sculpture, she is also a gifted painter. Her painting of the Black Madonna of Montserrat now hangs in my living room where it gives me immense pleasure every day. To walk in the garden is a privilege. Bunty is doing tremendous work with seed collecting and propogation of indigenous trees. The family hikes regularly and much of her inspiration and creative spirit comes from this close connection with her landscape. She is surrounded by five acres of slightly undulating land that looks northwards up to the northern range and throws a backward glance to Tamana in the central range.
Bunty in her space
And Rory, kiln engineer extraordinaire.
The patio that opens out onto the garden and which can be populated at any time with chickens, cats, dogs, grandchildren or an assorted mix of the above.
A calathea flower that I came across in Bunty's garden. Being sorrounded by such tropical abundance must have an impact on the creative process and Bunty's determination to channel this process and follow the artistic impulse represents the best of our spirit here in Trinidad.
And as if organic eggs were not impressive enough, here are her fresh healthy lettuce. YUM!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Visiting Chickland

I consider myself fortunate to know Bunty O'Connor. She is a remarkable artist whose medium of choice is clay. She lives with her husband, Rory, on a picturesque ridge in central Trinidad known as Chickland which is found in the borough of Chaguanas. This has been their home for the last two decades and daughter Nan and her family still live on the family compound. Bunty pioneered a distinctive style of pottery in Trinidad that began with her Ajoupa houses in the 1980's. These Ajoupas (simple thatched Caribbean houses) were the beginning of an exciting business venture, Ajoupa Pottery.
The piece below is from an earlier show and is just one of the many pieces that dot the large garden.
The house is a world away from Port of Spain.

When I arrived for lunch, this is the scene that greeted me in the kitchen. Freshly baked bread and anthuriums.

We had organic eggs with our lunch and they do taste very different. These wild eggs come with bright yellow yolks. As the chickens lay the eggs all around the garden, finding fresh eggs is an adventure.
I had a really lovely day with them today. Bunty is putting together a new show that will debut at the Art Society in Federation Park on Feb 3rd 2009 and it was a chance for me to get a sneak preview of all the creative work that has been going on for the last sixteen months.

Bunty's older pieces still hold a timeless charm. And I still hanker for ones like the one below. But her newer work is more whimsical and shows the influence of her frequent hiking and forest adventures. It is peopled with creative figures that celebrate much of Trinidad's melting pot of culture with a large dollop of folk lore and fanatasy thrown in for good measure. Her last show in 2006 ( introduced many of these fantastical figures and introduced a streak of humour and playfullness to her work that added a whole other dimension to her exisiting canon.

More tomorrow.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Mainland

I am sure that these photos have been posted before but I wanted to remind myself how beautiful down -the-islands is at this time of year. The photo below shows Venezeula, a mere seven miles away. It is so strange to look at this continent and imagine that we were once part of this land mass. When looking at the maps of Trinidad and Venezeula, it's possible to actually see where the island slipped away like an awry jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps it would not be so odd if we shared cultural similarities but the language barrier is a major deterrent to the easy ebb and flow between the two states. But the tie to landscape is strong. It's difficult to separate the "them" and"us" when the land is almost the same.

The dolphins have become much more common in recent years. As children we rarely saw them but now we are fortunate to see them almost every time we go down. They will entertain themselves by running along the side of the boat and crisscrossing in front of the boat,

I am a dusk girl. It's my hour, the hour of the gloaming. And my favourite dusk day has always been Saturday. There's something about Saturday night unfolding that is magical. Especially when we are down the islands.

Friday, 16 January 2009

In the garden again

It's January in the garden again. This means blue skies and cool nights for at least another month. This is our spring. The weather is beyond gorgeous and the plants are the very first to respond. The orchids have also begun to come into bloom with the dendrobiums throwing several spikes at once.

I will soon be moving house. Not permanently but just for a while to complete renovations on my photogenic but very derelict house. Bolan and I will continue to work on the garden while the renovations are taking place so that I don't come back to a jungle in a year's time.
The thing with living in the northern range is the jungle in on my doorstep. If I turn my back for a second, it will run me over with sheer greenery. The heliconia below is a welcome shot of red in the banks of green.

The petreas are coming in as well and I have planted two jacarandas behind this bed of petreas. The jacarandas are yet to bloom but I am waiting to see how the two shades of lavender/indigo complement each other. As children we called petrea the helicopter plant as the dried petals dry up and float to the ground like little spiralling helicopters.

I will be blogging more regularly in the coming weeks as I am coming out of a very dry spell. I will also be moving to a large (even larger than my own) garden with the greatest trees. There is a sapodilla, a mango, a cedar and a few others. The new garden is virgin territory so it will be fun setting up new beds and working out the new floor plan of a different gardening space.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Museum of Natural History

This shell is an ammonite, a marine animal that became extinct about 65 million years ago. Just around the same time the dinosaurs disappeared. The shell's unusual colouration is found only in ammonites from Alberta, Canada and is a result of millions of years of high temperatures and pressures which account for the iridescent effect.

Ammonites were named for the Egyptian God Ammon whose horns resemble the ammonites spiral-coiled shell. When the animal was alive, it stuck its tongue out of its shell with long tentacles protruding from its mouth. It sucked in water and squirted it out using jet propulsion to get around.
I did not make this up; it is taken verbatim from the plaque at the Museum of Natural History. I really enjoy visiting museums because the very concept of 65 million years makes me feel very happy and very sad at the same time.

We were also lucky to see a live display of snakes and lizards. I am not a reptile lover but there were some very interesting specimens. According to the map this boa is native to Trinidad and Tobago but I can't say that I have ever come across it. He was, like me, a long way from home.

I was also able to see a green mamba. Green mambas have assumed mythic proportions in my mind. There is that awful scene in Barbara Kingsolver's novel "The Poisonwood Bible" where the green mamba strikes and kills the child.
But this green mamba was surprisingly innocuous looking. It lacked the menace of the vipers and the garish-ness of the coral snake and other poisonous creatures that alert us with their vibrant, too-bright hues.
The mamba was innocent looking. Gentle almost. If I had to cast the part of the snake in the Garden of Eden, my vote would go to the green mamba.
All that poison in one small package.