Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Everybody knows that Jamaica is a hotbed of talented artists, evidenced by the never ending string of talented musicians the island continues to produce. Less known is the impressive number of internationally successful visual and performing artists, who at some point have studied or taught at the Caribbean’s most prestigious institution, the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston.

The importance of culture in a nation’s development was always known to Jamaicas leaders and in 1939, Norman Manley stated: “National culture is a national consciousness reflected in the painting of pictures of our own mountains and our own women-folk, in building those houses that are most suitable for us to live in, in writing plays of our adventures and poetry of our wisdom, finding ourselves in the wrestle with our own problems…...around our very eyes are stirring the first shoots of a deeply felt national artistic and intellectual life.”

Born in England to a British father and a Jamaican mother in 1900, Edna Swithenbank married Norman Manley and moved to Jamaica in 1922. The marriage was blessed with two sons, Michael, who was to become a union activist and eventually Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Douglas, a sociologist and minister in his brother’s government.

When her husband, Norman Manley, became leader of the People’s National Party in the wake of the 1938 worker uprising, Edna evolved into a public figure as a Jamaican artist and a promoter of culture. Promoting Jamaican literary culture
through her editing work for the journal ‘Focus’ in the 1940s and 50s, the social activist also contributed to the local art scene as a symbolist sculptor. An artist for much of her life, Manley also taught at the Jamaica School of Art.

The school started as a workshop conducted by Manley in the 1940’s at the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica, and was given full-time status with a Board of Management, its own Charter and its own premises at 4 Central Avenue in Kingston in 1950.

The next twenty years brought about new departments and an increased student population, which lead to the school being split between two locations. While the centre of three dimensional studies was based at 4 Central Avenue, the centre for two dimensional studies was located at 11 North Street. Master painter Cecil Cooper, ceramist Gene Pearson and sculptor Christopher Gonzalez are just a small fraction of great artists who have wandered the halls of the famous institution.

In 1976, the Government of Jamaica amalgamated all Schools of the Arts into one campus, which was designated the Inter-American Centre of Caribbean Cultural Development by the Organization of the American States (OAS). With the mandate to enrich the aesthetic sensibilities of the entire English-speaking Caribbean, the school earned recognition as a regional cultural resource institution in 1983.

The school was reclassified as a tertiary institution and renamed the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) in 1995, leading to the consolidation of the College under one administrative structure. Today, the College has a population of 1200 full-time and part-time students, and an academic staff of 137 highly qualified lecturers.

Study programmes at the School of Visual Arts include Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and Art Education as well as Diplomas in Fine Arts and Art Education. Areas of study are painting, sculpture, printmaking, jewellery, ceramics, textiles and visual communications.

The School of Dance was founded in 1970 by members of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) and trains performers and teachers in a wide variety of international and Caribbean dance forms, theatre education and production. Programs include a Bachelors of Arts in General Arts and several Diplomas and Certificates. Recently crowned Miss Jamaica World, Yendi Phillips, studied here.

Emerging in 1969 as a part-time training ground, the School of Drama operated under the umbrella of the Little Theatre Movement and became a full-time institution
within the Edna Manley College in 1975. Programs include a Bachelors of Arts in General Arts and several diploma and certificate courses.

Founded in 1961, the School of Music has established a reputation of international standards and attracts students and teachers from around the world, including the Caribbean, North America, Europe and the Far East. The School of Music
department offers a Bachelors of Arts in General Arts and several diploma and certificate courses, and the high standards of it’s teachings were again demonstrated by the engagement of celebrated bass singer Sir Willard White to the world-wide opera stages.

Managed by a small cadre of educators and overseen by a lecturer who ensures the implementation of the programs as they relate to the specific art forms, the Department of Education and Liberal Studies serves both, students and faculty in all four schools pursuing a Degree and Diploma in Teacher Education with its Joint Board of Teacher Education Programme (JBTE).

In addition, the School of Continuing Studies offers part-time and leisure courses in painting, photography, jewellery, dance, music and drama. Visual arts, music and drama classes are offered for children between 6 and 18 years and each summer, an integrated Arts Programme is provided for children 4 years to 11 years (Kaleidoscope), teenagers 12 years to 18 years (Artscope) and adults (over 18 years).

The school is particularly proud of its collaboration with overseas institutions such as the Ohio State University and the SUNY Brockport Exchange Programme which was introduced in 1986 to benefit the students of the School of Dance.

For entry requirements and further information please contact: The Registry, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, 1 Arthur Wint Drive, Kingston 5. Tel: 960-6171/ 920-7400/ 929-2350-2 E-mail: emcregistry@hotmail.com, or visit www.emc.edu.jm.


A historic landmark and major tourist attraction that educates visitors on Jamaica’s rich past, The Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay is also home to Dean and Sheldon Watson, a father-son team of wood carvers that has produced outstanding, 100% Jamaican carvings for many, many years. If you are on the hunt for authentic island art, be sure to visit the Rose Hall Great House to have a look at their outstanding pieces.

The legend surrounding Annie Palmer, known locally as “The White Witch”, is an important part of the island’s history which incorporates all the elements of a captivating novel: a beautiful heroine, unrequited love, black magic and revenge.

Built in 1770 by plantation owner John Palmer and his wife Rosa, this landmark is set in a gracious old plantation tucked amidst the green hills of Rose Hall. One of the most important Great Houses on the island, most tourists pay a visit to this attraction to travel back in time and learn about the island’s rich history. The fascinating tour of the mansion ends at Annie’s grave, but don’t let the ghost scare you from visiting with the outstanding, resident artists.

You will quickly notice the fine craftsmanship and attention to detail, which make Dean’s and Sheldon’s pieces of art some of the most outstanding on the island. Real Jamaican woodcarvings produced by the duo include countless motifs and designs, including fishes, eagles, turtles, people, fruits, cats and dogs.

Dean, who is the son of a carver, was born and raised near Cinnamon Hill in Rose Hall. Like most children who don’t listen to their parents, he was not interested in his father’s trade at first. It took the influence of friends to get Dean interested in learning the trade and become a real professional carver. “My first piece was a small owl and after a while, I came to love carving,” recalls Dean who became the first artist to showcase his work at the Rose Hall Great House about 20 years ago. He remembers, “My stepfather worked for Mrs. Rollins at Rose Hall Developments and that is how I got to come to the Great House.”

Today, Dean and the 30 year old Sheldon make a fantastic father-son team. Says Dean, “Sheldon has been under my guidance since he was three years old and has learned to love the trade like I do.” The carver is proud of the fact that all his 5 children are artistic. Sheldon, he explains, is excellent at drawing sketches when custom pieces are ordered.

“When I was eleven, I started to play around with the chisel,” says Sheldon, who has since developed into a very talented carver. His father whispers with a smile that his son’s skills may even have surpassed his own. One of Sheldon’s artsy creations, a palm with a flower and a Doctor Bird, was even presented to Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain during her 2009 Royal visit to the island.

With cedar wood as his favorite medium, Dean enjoys creating fish the most, coincidentally, their best selling item. “People have called me from New York, Tennessee and other far-away places to order pieces,” says Dean proudly.

Ten years ago, when the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & Spa opened, Mrs. Rollins asked Dean to branch out to the new hotel, where he currently spends six days a week. Sheldon remains based at the Great House, where he showcases a great array of carving, self-made bead necklaces, bracelets and cute little flip-flop key rings.

Look for Dean close to the beach at the Ritz-Carlton in Rose Hall from Sunday to Friday or call him on tel. 489-6672 to place orders. Sheldon is at the Rose Hall Great House every day except Tuesdays or on tel. 436-5535. The Great House is open for guided tours daily from 9:15 am with the last tour at 5:15 pm. Tel: 953-2323.

Friday, June 17, 2011


In the search for Jamaican made shopping ideas, we came across some uniquely looking hand embroidered potholders. After further investigation into who manufactures these handmade souvenirs, we found ourselves on the rocky road to Gutters, in the parish of St. James, to visit Ms. Elma Thompson.

At the edge of a steep valley of luscious jungle we managed to maneuver our vehicle into the only possible parking spot on the hill in front of Ms. Elma Thompson’s house. Guiding us down a rocky path to her welcoming home with panoramic views, Ms. Elma served us a glass of chilled soursop juice before filling us in on the nitty-gritty of the sewing and embroidery trade.
The enterprise of hand embroidering pot holders, bags and detailed, handmade quilts started over 16 years ago, when a lady called Ann Mills passed on her skills to a group of interested women. Today, Ms. Elma carries on her legacy with the help of a few ladies, using the original stencils showing Jamaican fruits, vegetables, birds, flowers and other Illustrating the appliquéd bird, the words ‘Jamaican Doctor Bird’ was embroidered onto the fabric, followed by perfectly stitched bordering of the bird.

Opening her treasure chest again, Ms. Elma pulled out samples of quilt squares and proudly showed us photos of the numerous quilts the team has made over the years. “A quilt can take up to 9 months to make.” Pointing to a picture, she added; “I remember this particular one, which had countless narrow strips of cloth, which we had to assemble.”

Ms. Elma, who is obviously not afraid of hard work, declared that; “Jimmy Cliff sings “’It’s gonna be rough’, but I am a firm believer in God and know that he will work it all out for me.”

Ms. Elma’s storage cupboards, which we caught a glimpse of in passing, contain countless boxes of embroidery threads categorized by color and perfectly arranged along with stacks of canvas looking fabric. Neatly organized metal chocolate and cookie containers filled with needles, threads and other sewing essentials, fill her airy balcony that serves as the workshop.

Assisted by her husband; “T”, Ms. Elma eagerly pulled necessary items from cupboards and containers to get ready for her demonstration. Using a solution of lead and kerosene oil, she stenciled the patterns onto a thick, beige canvas before neatly cutting out the shapes of birds and fruits.

We had to leave and approached the rocky path back to the road when “T” called down from the roof: “Can you catch?” Down came a rain of huge, rough skinned lemons. “Take a lemon from the country,” Ms. Elma said. Country people in Jamaica never let you leave without a gift.

Look out for Ms. Elma’s potholders in the following shops:
Montego Bay: Rita Simpson’s in Half Moon Shopping Village, the gift shop at Royal Decameron on Gloucester Avenue, the Tortuga Rum Cake Café inReading, Island Creations at MBJ Sangster Airport, Sunset Beach Resort and Sandals Hotels. Ocho Rios: Smile in Taj Mahal Shopping Center and Goggles Gift Shop at Royal Decameron, Runaway Bay. Negril: Sunny Side Gift Shop, Hedonism and Grand Lido Hotels.

All items, including handmade quilts, can be ordered directly from Elma Thompson on tel. 833-4214.


The island of Jamaica is home to an abundance of talent within the musical, performing or visual arts. The versatility and innovative talents among the local population is evident when strolling through craft markets and art galleries. Keep your eyes open, and you will meet some of the realm’s most unique characters in your very midst. Among these gifted personalities is painter and individualist Nelton Fisher.

A visual artist who today is able to make a living from his art, Fisher’s journey began in humble surroundings and led him along a rocky path which continues to be bumpy to this day. Born in Albert Town in 1965, Nelton grew up with his grandparents in the parish of Trelawny. The separation of his parents early in his young life permanently scarred the artist and even now, his eyes get watery and his voice full of emotion when he talks about his childhood.

Perhaps because Fisher never benefited from the stability of a family unit or financial security, the artist believes that the order, routine and guidance of a functional family is the most important factor in the proper upbringing of a child. However, Fisher is also convinced that the testing circumstances, in which he grew up, made him who he is today. He explains; “I was a very shy child, and I am still not at all eloquent. There is no way I could speak in front of a crowd of people.” And it is evident that Fisher is still an introvert. He marveled during our interview; “I’ve never heard myself talking so much, how come I am doing this?”

Fisher’s career started at the age of 13, when he attended the Anchovy Secondary School. There, he met the recognized Jamaican painter Errol Allen through his artistic classmate Phillip Higgins. Another self taught local artist, Allen quickly recognized Nelton’s potential. Recalls Fisher: “I was never good in math. When I got frustrated, I made ducks out of 2s and a line below it would become the water of the pond.” He adds: “I began to see things with the eye of an artist and turned calculations and formulas into scenes.”

Determined to get him painting, Allen took the young Nelton under his wing and began to nurture his talent. Thus, the boy who had to send himself to school by selling tie-dye t-shirts, was taken into the circle of artists. Remembers Fisher: “People called us ‘the mystics’ back in those days.” He explains that at that time, the average Jamaican was not very interested in art. “People did not understand why we were painting and how we looked at things in a different way.” But yet, they were recognized as the specialists in the unfathomable field of the arts, and so, they were labeled “The Mystics”.

Looking at the dreadlocked Fisher, one would quickly stamp him as a Rastafari, but even though he believes Haile Selassie to be divine, the artist is still in search of what he calls ‘reality’. Explains Fisher: “I always feel the need for prayer and was an active deacon in the ‘Church of God 7th Day’.”

The Fisher family has always produced talented musicians, including Nelton. With a grandfather who was a singer and a father who plays the bass at Burchell Baptist Church, Fisher’s three grown children have all inherited the gift of music. Says the artist; “My children are blessed with great musical talent.” Nelton’s son Sanoy, who appeared in the local talent competition ‘Rising Star’, currently works with musician Beres Hammond in Kingston while his daughter Anisia is a singer at Coral Cliff in Montego Bay. His other daughter Tashara has put music on the back burner in exchange for a steady job.

Although Nelton masters all mediums, he does not specialize in a particular one. Describes Fisher; “I started out with crayons, which I like to use very much, but acrylic paint is my favorite.” His art is full of surprises and emotion, as seen in one of his masterpieces, the self-portrait ‘I Cry’. The canvas portrays his face on a black background and exhibits so much pain that it almost hurts the beholder. Once a part-time art teacher at Maud Mcleod Secondary School, Fisher’s style can be dubbed ‘semi-abstract’. He explains; “I work from the back to the front. I start applying paint and, sooner or later, I have an epiphany as to what I am painting.”

Some of Nelton’s work was recently exhibited at the Ritz-Carlton in Montego Bay, and the modest artist’s pieces are somewhat of an insider secret among art lovers such as Michele Rollins and local families like the Delissers and Delgados. In 2003, the Chinese Ambassador and former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson were presented with some of his pieces as gifts. Nelton’s hope and aim for the future is to bring art closer to the ‘regular’ people. He says; “Art is always appreciated by the upper class who usually knows, understands, appreciates and is able to afford art. There is value in bringing art closer to the man on the street.” Continues the artist; “Art changes the way people see things, even their attitude.”

A man with a great heart, Fisher seems to look at people’s experiences from all different angles. Let us all hope that his dream of having a home with a gallery, art and music studios will soon become a reality.

Nelton Fisher’s art is available at Saba Art Gallery on Fort Street in Montego Bay (tel: 940-1011), the Gallery of West Indian Art in Catherine Hall Montego Bay (tel: 952 – 4547, galleryofwestindianart.com) and at Bohios at Fairview Shopping Centre in Montego Bay (tel: 979-8767). You can also contact Nelton Fisher directly by calling 868-6654.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


With rich colorful hues and heavy brush strokes in oil, pastels, acrylics and his favorite water colors, Errol Allen is the ‘Master of Light and Shadow’ portraying the Jamaican way of life. Described as ‘a man of many styles’, the talented artist does not have a set style or medium.

If you are on beach vacation in Negril, you might be lucky and bump into one of Jamaica's most prominent artists, capturing the landscapes, seascapes, still life form and the everyday ethnic scenes surrounding him with his paintbrush.

Born and raised in Granville near Montego Bay, Errol’s extraordinary talent came to light as early as the age of 3, when he was drawing on pieces of card board together with his cousin on a Sunday evening in 1964. “I drew a fireman and a cowboy,” he remembers.

Attending Granville All Age School in 1968, the painter recalls; “I did not understand what my teacher, Ms. Medley, meant, when she put me in front of the class and told the other children that ‘we have an artist in our midst’”. Once his talent became common knowledge, the burgeoning artist quickly became the school’s designated chart and sign artist.

Since Errol was also a good student and singer, it was widely thought that he was possessed by spirits; ‘Duppy deh wid you’, accepted by Jamaicans as the most likely reason someone is talented at many things. “Despite quite a bit of envy, I became a real celebrity in school,” Errol remembers.

Although born into a family of artists, his mother and father did not take young Errol’s work seriously at the time and wanted him to learn a ‘real’ trade, such as tailoring or carpentry. He remembers: “When my mother saw me drawing, she often hit me on my fingers and said: ‘Stop the foolishness!’”

Born with an extraordinary gift that no school can teach, it is a good thing that Errol did not follow his parent’s wishes, or Jamaican art would have been cheated of his genius. When the revered artist Phillip Higgins introduced Errol to another of Jamaica’s famous artist; Lionel Walker, in 1975, the aspiring artist knew that all he wanted to do in life was paint. Handed a paint brush at Lionel’s workshop in Negril Beach Village, now Hedonism II, Errol impressed everybody with his immense natural talent and later, Jamaican master painter, Barrington Watson, also became his mentor.

Inspired by French Impressionist painters such as Manet, Renoir, Monet and Pissaro, Errol embarked on extensive studies of various art-forms, while observing the artistic styles of other famous artists, such as Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Van Gogh.

Errol says it was an honor to be commissioned by the Jamaican Government in 2002, to do a portrait of ABC television talk show hostess Starr Jones for her 40th birthday celebration in Jamaica. Engaged in several local and overseas xhibitions, he sells his work to collectors from all over the globe, explaining; “It is the wealthier class Jamaicans who have come to value my work.” But he is not a man aiming for great recognition; “People need to humble themselves. Vanity is the root of all evil nowadays,” says the spiritual painter.

Although a Rastafarian by heart, Errol states that art is his true religion. He believes deeply in the bible and frequently quotes from it, stressing: “I am not here to praise man; it is the almighty who incites me. I have to give thanks to him. Every time I paint, I communicate with him first.”

The devoted family man has even named his children after artists and biblical figures, one of his sons carries the name of Rembrandt Picasso Allen and one of his daughters the name Rhianna. Errol looks at every scenery, object or person with an artistic eye and says that he works continuously, and is often inspired by the music of Bob Marley, Garnet Silk and Luciano.

His magnificent pieces are displayed in several art galleries, such as Saba Art Gallery on Fort Street in Montego Bay. Tel. 940-1011. You might also meet Errol at Negril’s Whistling Bird Beach Resort on Norman Manley Boulevard, where he is the resident artist. Other exhibitors of Allen’s fine art pieces include the National Gallery of Jamaica, The Jamaican High Commission in Toronto Canada, and private Galleries in London, Africa and New Jersey. 

It is with great sadness to have learned that 'The Master of Light and Shadow' has passed on on August 2, 2012. 


Jamaican visual art comes in many forms; the brightly colored façade of a house, a creatively designed shop or directional sign, a lone graffiti on a city wall or country fence or colorful pieces or intuitive art in one of the island’s many art galleries. Many locals are in the possession of incredible talent, whether self taught or trained at renowned institutions such as the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston. Some artists, though seemingly at a disadvantage, shine in their own special way. Meet exceptional painter and sculptor Roy Bernard.


Upon entering the Saba Art Gallery, I find a smartly dressed man with short hair, glasses and a million dollar smile, who is stretching out his hand in a friendly hello. A different kind of interview object, 44 year old Jamaican painter and sculptor Roy Bernard has had to learn to hear and be heard in an alternative way and we quickly establish communication through good old pen and paper and signs.

Born deaf and mute, Roy and his sister were raised in the small district of Orange near Montego Bay by their mother Yvonne. It appears that the happy, laid back country life and the setting of a small, loving family created the perfect environment for Roy to learn to live independently.

I point to a question on my note pad to find out how Roy discovered his love for art. Writes Roy, “I was a kid that always loved art.” Wanting to give her disadvantaged son a good start, mother Yvonne kept her faith strong and worked as a housekeeper in the Ironshore area to be able to send Roy to the St. Christopher’s School for the Deaf in Brown’s Town, St. Ann. From the ages of 6 to 12, Roy learned sign language and other essential subjects and discovered his talent and love for art. Luckily allowed to develop his love for art, Roy shows me his Grade 5 yearbook, pointing proudly to the line ‘Roy is very neat in his appearance and his work. He has shown exceptional ability in art’. The page also shows some of Roy’s novice sketches, revealing that he started his career as a visual artist with pencil, crayon and watercolor, painting faces, cars and buses.

At the age of 24, Roy got what he considers to be a big break. Somehow, his mother managed to send him to the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts, where he developed his artistic skills further. A karate green belt holder, he folds his hands and looks up into the sky; his way of telling me that he is religious. In fact, after 4 years of Bible study, he is a devoted Jehovah’s Witness.

While Roy works with acrylic, oil paint is his preferred medium, although he expressed his dislike of the paint’s speak for fumes by wrinkling his nose. His style is clear and simple and sometimes bears the characteristics of cartoons, which made him the perfect artist to illustrate the walls of the ‘Kids Club’ at the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort in Rose Hall. Painting from what he describes as a photographic memory, his works bear titles such as ‘A Day in the Field’, ‘At Sea’, ‘Coconut Vendor’ and ‘The Future’, which is a portrait of a woman holding a young baby. The artist has also painted an outstanding piece of the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt.

Roy expresses the fact that one of his pieces was given to the Bishop of York by the St. James Parish Council as a great honor, but his distinctive works of art themselves through exhibitions at the Retreat Guest House in Falmouth, the Tryall Club and selected art galleries.

When I ask if he is married, Roy vigorously shakes his head and points to a bare ring finger, smiling. Who would have known that this literally quiet man is a fantastic cook, not shy of doing housework and even built parts of his mother’s house all by himself? However, Roy is not satisfied with what he has achieved so far in life. He has thoughts of moving back to Kingston, so that he can advance his art to an even higher level and create a solid living. I look at him in awe, reflecting on just how much this gifted artist has been able to achieve, despite his challenges of not being able to hear and speak.

Roy’s artwork can be found at Saba Art Gallery at 3-5 Fort Street in Montego Bay, tel: 940-1011. You can reach Roy directly by sending a text message to 885-2271. heidi@jamaicatourist.net.