50 years of fine art

by Kimberley Cummins

A beaming Roslyn Watson.
A beaming Roslyn Watson.

To celebrate a golden landmark is an extraordinary achievement in any sphere.

To celebrate 50 years in business in the creative sector in Barbados could be described as an even more remarkable undertaking.

One individual who can boast of such a feat is Roslyn Watson.

Fifty years ago she got involved in a creative pursuit and has not looked back since.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY at her shop, Roslyn of Barbados, in Pelican Craft Centre in the City she credited this achievement to the sheer hard work undertaken by herself and husband, John.

This hard work has not gone unnoticed and over the years has been honoured by Elombe Mottley in the 1970s and most recently recognised by UNESCO, which presented her with their Award of Excellence for Handicraft. This award was presented particularly for her mats made from coconut rods and which have become a must-have commodity in many Barbadian homes on the island and overseas also.

These mats came about after she came back from pursuing her studies in Art. Trained in the art of utilising wool in various products, when she returned she wanted to utilise more local and natural fibres. Passing the highways and byways on the island she often saw vendors on the side of the road selling coconut brooms and the idea to use that material came.

Watson said they turned out to be a very good material to work with as they were durable and the mats were washable.

As a child, the last of three girls, said she was always passionate about art and knew it would be her future. However, on the island back then they were no avenues for aspiring artistes to pursue the field. Seeing that his daughter would not settle for a more “traditional” career choice, after graduating from Queen’s College, Evan Dottin made sure to “do what he had to” to ensure that she attend an art school in Scotland.

“He was a different kind of man,” Watson said, describing her father.

“We were not privileged but my father worked in Government and he was a ‘go getter’ and he made sure his children did what they should and it took some money but he found a way,” she added with a smile.

She was 19-years-old when she returned to the island. The support of her father as well as mother Nell, who was a needle worker, continued even upon her return. Though she said she wanted to start her own business her father advised her it would be best to make money first and in 1965 she began teaching a weaving class at the Barbados Investment Development Corporation.

The following year she married John and they started a project together.

“He met up with somebody from the Barbados Development Bank and he liked the product so much he told him come in and get a loan and that was when we really start producing them,” she revealed.

They went on to produce as well as the mats, walls hangings and other products made from the coconut rods. In 2013 they are now producing figurines, straw bags, hats and a variety of other products made from local materials and manufactured locally at the Exstrawdinary factory in Fontabelle, in St. Michael.

After 50 years, the mother of two is not even close to the end. She said she has many more pieces to create. However, she plans to stop creating them primarily to make a living and will instead be enjoying life and each piece she creates.

The future in handicraft is in good hands, Watson said, but she warned those young people who want to get into the industry that they should love what they do, be creative and “do not copy”, while always being mindful of the need to invest time and energy for success.

“It was an honour to be recognised because that made me feel great because I know how much hard work it takes. All the people who have called to congratulate said they know how hard we work to get it going and keep it going. Sometimes it is not easy but you have to work hard and keep going.

“There are many talented people in Barbados, in fashion, in jewellery creation and especially in pottery where there has been a resurgence. I even thought weaving at [Barbados] Community College and there is great work coming out of there. I am very proud of how far we have come in 50 years and how the future of craft is looking,” she said. kimberleycummins@barbadostoday.bb†††

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