Thursday, 11 December 2014

MADE IN JAMAICA: Diane Sutherland creates stunning craft items in the tradition and spirit of her forebears

HER OWN CREATIONS: Sutherland's hand-made wares were a big hit at Market on the Lawn.

'I have become my mother.' That could very well be craftswoman Diane Sutherland's adulthood refrain, now that her life and livelihood have taken on exactly the same contours as her old folks. "I born come see my parents doing craft," she tells TALLAWAH, reflecting on her artisan roots. "It put a lot of us through school and we're still in it, even though times are hard and buyers are scarce."

But buyers weren't in short supply this past Sunday at the Devon House-hosted shoppers' affair Market on the Lawn, where Sutherland's lavishly decorated vending area stood out from everyone else's and quickly became a star attraction.

A treasure trove of expertly handwoven bags, baskets, beads, key-chains and straw hats galore (several embellished with the national colours), Sutherland's multi-textured creations are easy on the eyes — and reasonably on the wallet — and are all the more noteworthy thanks to their any-occasion appeal. "You can wear them to weddings, parties, to church, for many different occasions," explains the 47-year-old who hails from St. Catherine. "These are all handmade designs from start to finish."

In Glengoffe, where Sutherland was born and raised — and still lives to this day — you'll find an overabundance of jippi-jappa straw (sourced from palm trees) that provides the raw material. "This is what my mother, my father and a lot of people in the community were doing back in the 60s," she recalls. "And nobody had to teach me; I just sat and watched and learned."

Her intuitive style has brought her much fruit and longevity. She's been a fixture at the on-the-mend Kingston Craft Market for over 30 years and, along with her husband Michael, who does the most alluring wood carvings, they've become something like a dream team.

In spite of the challenges — and there are many to speak of — the Sutherlands, who travel by public transport to the downtown-based market every working day, exude the optimism of spirited troupers, the kind who just made appearances in a documentary filmed by the Jamaica Craft Institute to shed light on the plight and passions of Jamaican artisans like these humble, hardworking folks.

Looking ahead, the mother of seven, who possesses the warmth and bonhomie of a cherished family friend, is holding fast to her dream of raising the profile of her business come 2015. "I would love to see things turn around for all craft vendors in Jamaica. 2014 wasn't a good year for us," she notes. "The UDC is now trying to help us get more customers, and they're fixing up the waterfront. So there is hope."

> Contact Diane and Michael Sutherland, Kingston Craft Market, 1 Coco Course; Tel: 347-7790. 

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