Friday, 29 March 2013

People/Places in Spotlight-Bunty O'Connor: Ajoupa Pottery

Bunty works on "Mother & Daughter", inspired by Pat Bishop (photo courtesy
Bunty tours the garden barefoot, staying connected to the earth.
Google the name Bunty O'Connor or Ajoupa Pottery and you're met with a slew of articles, blog posts and imagery of the artist's work in clay. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Bunty, the artist behind Ajoupa Pottery; she is an elegant, insightful, free spirited, nature enthusiast who just happens to be an amazing artist. Bunty has experimented with different types of media from fabric to watercolour and glass but I'm inclined to believe that clay is her favourite. Ajoupa Pottery opened for business in 1987 as a workshop located in the hills of Carapichima, Central, Trinidad and Tobago run by Bunty and her husband Rory O'Connor.  The main focus was on experimenting and creating beautiful thrown, pressed and handmade terracotta wares and ornaments for sale. That particular workshop is no more but Ajoupa Pottery has been invigorated with new life and a new vision. 

Bunty and Rory sit in their home surrounded by Bunty's beautiful art.
In experimenting for over 20 years with Trinidad and Tobago's local terracotta Bunty discovered that the fragility and consistency of the clay only allowed for mosaics and smaller pottery such as urns, bowls, vases etc. Not one to be bound by limitations in her art, she expanded to internationally sourced clay which allows for the creation of larger figures. These variations in form and material can be found throughout the interior on every wall and floor of the O'Connor home and in the exterior on walls, floors and dappled throughout the garden as sculpture. 
Bunty's work gracefully adorns their abode, floor tiles, mosaic tables, ornaments and sculptures.

After the couple decided to close Ajoupa Pottery's main door Bunty's classes moved to a portion of her garage. While the artist enjoyed making other people's visions come to life she is now at a stage in her life where she needs to share her own visions with the world. Her pieces are inspired by her spirituality, connection to the natural environment and her sense of the history which abounds in it. She creates art at her leisure and hosts open houses at her home for sale of her pieces (by appointment) throughout the year.

Bunty has fine tuned the process for a new clay with which she has been
experimenting and is ready to hold classes with this particular material.

The kiln for firing the pottery and work in progress
Conservationists at Heart
The O'Connors practice responsible, environmentally conscious living: recycling, reusing, composting and conserving wherever they can. Greywater is collected and reused for garden irrigation and rainwater is collected for household use during the dry season. As often as possible laundry is dried 'en plein air' conserving electricity, lengthening the lifespan of clothing and bedding and naturally killing large amounts of bacteria through the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Line drying laundry conserves electricity and more.
A large cistern collects and stores rainwater for use.
Salvaged antique doors from an old building
find a home in the new studio.

New Studio (in progress)
The new design studio, its storage and workspaces are being constructed by Rory, using salvaged and local materials and in some cases cedar wood from their own backyard.  
The new studio comes complete with slab roller and large workspaces.
Storage solutions above and around the sink

Rolling storage housing paints, glazes, moulds etc
The Ajoupa Pottery studio offers classes in ceramics, glass fusing and slumping and the Japanese technique of Raku ware.

Raku Kiln and Cooling Bin filled with sawdust.
Raku Method - followed in Bunty's classes
  1. Bunty takes the participants through an exercise with the clay that releases them from preconceived ideas about what they want to make. They have to work spontaneously and quickly.
  2. After this the pieces are made left to dry over 3 or 4 days.
  3. In between the 2 weekends the clay is fired and then...
  4. On the 2nd day, participants glaze and do as many firings as necessary. In the case of raku, each firing takes about 2 hours.
  5. The soot from the fire is then scrubbed off and the fabulous artwork revealed. This is the point that Bunty describes as the "OOO and aaah moments"

    The process is an exciting one which seems to be in demand and loved by all who attend these workshops. The process of removing the glowing form from the kiln surrounded by flames and heat then swiftly but precisely dropping it into a sawdust filled drum, to the sounds of crackles, smoke and more flames must be thoroughly gratifying. Sign up for Bunty's classes and let me know how it goes!
Ajoupa Pottery's Class Schedule for the remainder of 2013
  • Apr 7, 14, 21 Making Ceramic Mosaic, start to finish
  • Jun 9, 16 Glass Fusing and Slumping
  • Jul 7, 14, 21 Making and Using moulds for Ceramics
For further information on classes, give Bunty a call at 868 673 0605 or email her at

The couple's love of animals and nature is evidenced by their environment and the variation of domesticated animals on the estate. During my visit, I saw a chicken that lays on a table in the garage, another hen with several chicks following at her feet, several cocks parading about the place, a cat sprawled lazily at the top of a flight of stairs in the main house and I heard anecdotes about two squirrels that had been rescued as pups, that now believed that the dog Dingo is a larger version of themselves. I was very fortunate to make the acquaintance of Dingo, a friendly, beautiful dog with the most amazing coat I have ever seen. I must admit I was smitten by her wonderful disposition the first moment she bounded in my direction. She stayed at Bunty's side throughout the majority of my visit with the O'Connors, ensuring their safety and affirming her position as a worthy companion to the couple.
Dingo keeps Bunty and Rory company at every turn.
If you're a nature lover, a lover of fresh air, cool breezes and a good view or simply a lover of art and good people you should make your way to Ajoupa Pottery for some good ole relaxation and rejuvenation. In that one visit, I left feeling revived and ready to take on the world! 

Friday, 22 March 2013

People in Spotlight - Simple Master Weaver: Millington's

Milton John of Millington's sits outside his workshed weaving, surrounded by a few of his craft pieces.

Remember those mats and rugs your grandmother used to own? The woven rattan or rafia ones that greeted you at the doorway or graced the living room floor? I've noticed that you don't see many of them anymore in Trinidad and Tobago. It seems the amazing artform of weaving grass into exquisite baskets, rugs, seating and furniture has been replaced by imported blends of unnatural, chemical filled rayon and polyester blends of madness. Or on the other hand, when you do find a grass woven product, it was imported. Hmmmph!Why do we seem to prefer imported items to our local riches? There are about 6 people in our country that still practice this art, one such person is Milton John of Millington's.

Saltwhistle Bay Beach, Mayreau, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
(Photo courtesy
He is an easy-going, industrious Vincentian who learned this technique from his father at an early age while growing up in the tropical island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). SVG is made up of 32 island and cays and is well known for their pristine, powder white sand beaches. Milton moved to Trinidad and Tobago when he was about 20 years old and managed to keep his weaving a side gig until the usual construction industry jobs to which he'd grown accustomed, grew scarce. Since then weaving has been his life and livelihood. His workshed is located close to his home along the Lady Young Road. The Lady Young Road meanders through the mountains of the Northern Range and connects the Eastern Main Road in Barataria, in Eastern Trinidad and the Queen's Park Savannah (the world's largest traffic roundabout) in Western Trinidad.
A Partial View of the St. Ann's Valley from Millington's
I met Mellington almost a year ago and commissioned a rug of my own design. At one point I sat with him while he completed the last few turns of my rug and began chatting. That's when I found out about the type of grass (he calls it zettia) and that he had some planted in the back of his workshed. Of course, I had to go explore his backyard and was greeted with the wonderful view of the St. Ann's Valley in Maraval.
My commissioned rug
Milton stands in the midst of his zettia grass.
The zettia grass must be dried a bit before weaving and this may take a few days after cutting. As the grass dries and ages, the colour changes and the weaving creates additional texture that makes the rug come alive. Shades of green, brown and yellow abound in a freshly woven rug. The dried grass is woven using varied techniques. One of the techniques I observed was to plait the grass as you would hair, using three distinct groups of grass and then weave one long plait into itself, rolling and tacking with 'twine' or rayon thread (for longevity).

Dried grass for weaving stands next to the beginnings of a round,
plaited rug and a completed hat. 
Some completed chair seats flanked by freshly cut bamboo stalks for drying.

I share Milton's belief that the craft is vastly underappreciated. At this point he is struggling to pay his bills and must seek alternative employment. He believes that his craft is an old one that the Trinbagonian populace would rather forget and replace with what they believe to be the newest products on the market. Is this true? For me, I look to the past for a certain beauty and uniqueness that can be only achieved by the perfect imperfections of the handiwork of man.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

DIY - Easter Egg Tablescape

Today is a wonderful day on the sunny islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Since we have only two seasons here: wet and dry, we don't have Spring but that doesn't make it any less fun. We do celebrate Easter and it's just as great! I've been seeing many posts online for Easter decorating ideas but they don't exactly match my style. So I've decided to do one of my own. It's a tablescape idea that can be used on any table or console in your home. Of course, you can amend parts of the design to suit your personal taste, just like I did.

Things you'll need:
  • 6 to 1 dozen eggs (dependant on the size of your vase)
  • Push pin/thumb tack
  • Glue: Sobo, Elmers or fabric glue, any glue that dries clear or white
  • Acrylic paint, poster paint or food colouring
  • Small paintbrush(es)
  • Dried plant vines or dried twigs
  • Clear large vase, apothecary jar or cloche

 A.  Eggshell Prep
  1.  First, we're going to remove the egg from their shells without cracking them. Gently cup the egg in the palm of your hand with the top or bottom of the egg facing upwards. Press the push pin into the shell and bore/punch a hole. The hole should be about 1/8". Repeat this process on the opposite end of the egg. 
  2. Hold the egg over a bowl and turn it upside down with the larger end facing up. Place your mouth over the hole blow out the egg white and yolk into the bowl.
  3. Rinse the inside of the eggshell by filling it with water, shaking and draining until the water runs clear. Place shells upside down on a napkin to air-dry.
  4. Cover/Fill the two holes with glue and let dry. Squeeze out a bit of glue and let it slightly coagulate before applying to the holes.
B.  Egg Decor Time!

  1. Use acrylic or poster paint to paint eggs. You can add a textured look or patterns to the shell. This part is entirely up to you and will determine your style and the style the tablescape will follow. For my 'scape I wanted a more natural, delicate but whimsical look. My overall design inspiration for my living area is the seaside and the accent colours are navy, aqua and rust. So these are the colours I used for my eggs.
  2. For marbelized easter eggs using food colouring follow the instructions from Martha Stewart found here 
  3. For splatter (my choice): Mix paint to your colour of choice and add enough water so that the colour is very evident and the paint will splatter when the brush is shaken. Cover area with paper towels, newspaper or old magazine pages and place egg ontop. Hold paintbrush over egg and shake. Alternatively, use an old toothbrush dipped in paint and run your thumb briskly over the bristles to splatter paint on eggshell.
  4. Allow eggs to dry. Place on bottle caps for easy drying with the least amount of damage. Note: If you are painting the egg then applying a layer of splatter, let the coat of paint dry first before splattering or you'll end up with a mess.
C. Adding the Nest and Eggs...

  1. Cut branches/twigs, vines or anything you can find that looks like birds can use it to make their nests.
  2. Arrange branches in an overlapping, entwined/woven design in your vase/vessel of choice, until you have a nest like formation, you can add moss ontop the nest or mix it in between the branches for additional colour.
  3. Arrange eggs in vase. Here you have many options, you can add a bottle or thin cylindrical vase filled water and a long stemmed flower such as a lily or add additional branches to the center of the 'nest'. Have fun with it!
D. Let the tablescapin begin!
  1. If the 'scape is for a dinner table center your Easter egg vase on your table and set your table with coordinating colours. Add party favours for guests and place them in or next to the dinnerware. I added DiDa's own origami butterflies ornament as my personal favour. You can also display additional eggs around the table or add a smaller vase with a similar arrangement.
  2. If it's for a console, place the vase closer to one end of the table and add additional decorative items: pile three books together and place candles or Easter egg decor ontop, vary your objects and make an odd number of odd groups e.g. three groups of objects: the first group showcases 3 objects, the second 1 object and finally the last group 5 objects of varied heights but similar colours. Survey your tablescape and rearrange until you're absolutely in love with your handiwork. 

Let me know what you think! Have a great Easter everyone!