When we contemplate ‘local art’ our thoughts are often drawn to the wide variety of talented painters, illustrators and sculptors our island boasts. From the artwork of Gordon Solomon, Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette and Charles Long, to the three-dimensional creations of Horatio Esteban and Avril Ward to name but a few.
But if we draw our attention away from those brandishing easels, paintbrushes and sculpting tools, we can also be blown away by other forms of artwork, such as jewelry, wearable art and household décor pieces.
Three such creatives shared the methods and inspirations which produce their art forms.
In Cayman we are sadly familiar with the destructive powers of the red-maned lionfish which began invading our waters in 2008. The community response has been awe-inspiring, with divers and snorkelers heading out to cull the fish, and willing foodies doing their bit by ordering them from restaurant menus.
Kelly Reineking has also been doing her part to minimize lionfish numbers for a long time, both by hunting and eating them, and by doing something quite unexpected – turning them into jewelry.
“Being an artistic person, I always marveled at their beauty and thought it such a shame to destroy such a pretty fish. Every time I cut their fins off, I’d think to myself, ‘I should be able to make something out of these beautiful fins.’” And that she did, forming the lionfish jewelry company Mermaid’s Touch just before Christmas in 2016.
Kelly took courses in marine biology and oceanography while her degree is in communication and the arts. “While the emphasis [of my degree] was in photography and graphic design, I did have some classes in drawing and painting and such. My training helped develop my artistic eye, for sure.”
This artistic eye runs in Kelly’s family, with her sister expressing her talents through woodworking, landscaping and sewing, while her mother is also extremely creative. “My mother has always regretted not following her heart and pursuing her dream [of art as a career], and I’m quite sure that is why she encouraged and nurtured my creative talents,” says Kelly.
While exposed to graphic design and painting, jewelry making was not on Kelly’s list of skills. “The only time I did any jewelry making was in a high school art class, so that part is all new to me.” She learnt through watching videos online, and through a lot of trial and error.
“The first time I dried my fins, I put them on a plate in the sun and nearly needed a sand blaster to remove them. I tried several different varnishes, and due to our humid environment, many of them never dried. Once when I hung the varnished tails on a line to dry in the backyard, I came back to find that my dog had snacked on them.”
Trial and error has since led to perfection, with Kelly’s collection showcasing the skills she has learned.
Kelly catches lionfish herself, spending five to eight hours at a time hunting. Some of the fish she catches do not lend themselves to jewelry due to size or shredded fins, but from one suitable fish she can make up to six pieces of jewelry.
Culling tournaments are another reliable source of materials – she’s a member of the team Neptune’s Wenches who often place first in culling categories – and she also makes use of the fins of fish that others catch.
“I encourage other teams to donate their fins to me by holding a free raffle for a couple pieces of my jewelry for those who saved me their fins. After tournaments, I’m really busy,” she says.
Kelly removes the fins, tails and spines in her backyard, unless the mosquitoes drive her indoors. She triple rinses them in fresh water and lays them out to dry in her garage. “I’ve pretty much gotten used to my garage smelling like low tide on a hot day.” The fins are then treated to preserve them and remove the smell.
All the creative work then takes place at her dining room table. “The hardest part is trimming the fins to fit into my settings. Once that has been done, and they’re adhered into place, I carefully pour a jeweler’s resin into the settings and allow them to dry. Pieces that are not under resin have at least three coats of jeweler’s varnish on them to seal and strengthen them.” Once everything is dry, Kelly assembles the pieces and packages them for sale.
Kelly, whose art was once a side hobby to her part-time job as naturalist for Jean Michel-Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment at The Ritz-Carlton, now pursues her art career full-time.
As well as her Mermaid’s Touch jewelry, Kelly produces polymer clay Christmas ornaments under the title “Kelly’s Christmas Critters,” and makes beaded bookmarks, wine glass charms, dreamcatchers (made with locally-sourced materials), window clings, door screen savers and glass grabbers.
She sells her jewelry at the Farmers & Artisans Market at Camana Bay on Wednesdays, and her pieces are also featured at Pure Art, Vivo Café & Restaurant, Lobster Pot Dive Center and the Cayman Turtle Centre. Other products are available at Captain Marvin’s, The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Atlantis Submarines, Jacques Scott Duty Free at the airport, Don Foster’s, Books & Books, Bon Vivant and Welcome Home, while her Christmas ornaments are sold during the season at many dive shops.
Fashion luminary Oscar de la Renta once said that “silk does for the body what diamonds do for the hand.”
Bulgarian-born and Cayman-based artist Plamka Evtimov knows this all too well and has been creating accessories from this luxurious fabric, much-loved by Chinese dynasties and Indian upper-classes, and the subject of much infatuation by the Romans, since she arrived on island.
Before settling in Cayman, Plamka travelled around the world, living in cities such as Chicago and London, and working jobs as varied as a teacher and prison social worker.
She grew up surrounded by textiles thanks to her tailor father. “Since early childhood I was exposed to a variety of fabrics and sewing machines, which inspired me to begin designing and coloring clothing and home accessories in high school.” She went on to gain a degree in fine art education, and spent some time teaching the subject, and was first introduced to silk painting while designing boutique dresses incorporating hand-painted silk pieces many years ago.
Soon however, the business of adult life pushed artistic pursuits to the side, until she arrived in Cayman.
“In April 2016, after settling in Grand Cayman and receiving some basic supplies for silk painting from my sister in London, with the great support of my husband, I rediscovered my long-standing passion for fine art.”
Plamka combined her “deep appreciation for the inherent beauty of silk,” with her fine art skills and the inspiration gained from colors found in her island surroundings, and created ArtsySilk. “By the following August I had a collection ready to show to the public.” She now produces silk necklaces, silk bracelets, silk neckties, small silk paintings and cards.
Plamka uses a variety of techniques and products to create each silk creation. “In most cases I stretch the silk material on frames that I construct from plastic pipes bought from A. L. Thompson’s or Kirk Home Centre. In creating my art pieces, I use batik and free-hand techniques incorporating wax, silk paints and dyes, and resists.”
As silk is a natural fabric the same result isn’t created every time it encounters paints and dyes, and Plamka says sometimes there are unexpected results. “Each technique involves advanced treatment of the material, painting (at her dining room table) and time for drying and fixing to make the wearable art washable.” On average, the entire process takes between 12-24 hours.
Plamka’s main stimulus in her silk design is the beauty of the island which reignited her love for art. “I draw my inspiration from the natural beauty that we have the extraordinary chance to be surrounded by here in the Cayman Islands. The colors of the sea, flowers, trees, sunset and skies all unlock my desire to express my feelings through my art.”
Where to find her
Plamka’s silk creations span necklaces, bracelets, neckties, paintings and cards, and she has recently been working on a collection of other silk accessories, souvenirs and clothing representing Cayman.
She is a member of the Visual Arts Society and displays her work at the Farmers & Artisans Market at Camana Bay as well as at a variety of events. “I also have some pieces on display in the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands and the National Trust,” she says.
“I really love what I do and want my art to be an example to my kids and others and show that even after 30 years of putting a passion aside, it is possible to open your heart and do what you really want and love to do.”
One of the most beautiful and intriguing finds for many beachcombers is a still-intact sea fan. An underwater scene would be incomplete without these waving Anthozoans, described as the “blooms and the palms of the ocean” by 19th century novelist Charles Kingsley, and as “gothic windows” in the cathedral of the sea in Derek Walcott’s more recent poem “The Sea is History.”
Jennifer Goddard provides a way for landlubbers to take the beauty of these sea fans, uprooted by storms and thrown onto the shore by waves, inside the home in a stylish and sleek way.
Jennifer began making sea fan art three years ago after coming across some fans on the beach and deciding to paint and frame them for the living and dining rooms of her new home.
“When friends and family came to visit, they always admired them and kept saying I should try selling some, as they would be such a pretty and unique souvenir of Cayman.” Jennifer took their advice and hasn’t looked back. “I started selling them the following year, and they’ve been popular ever since.”
Jennifer now creates her sea fan art on the side of her job as photographer for her company Willowdale Photography, and says that what started as a whim has turned into a remarkable success, despite no formal art training.
“I think I mostly inherited a natural flair for creativity. Growing up, I spent a lot of time making crafty things and pouring through craft magazines for ideas and inspiration.”
Many of Jennifer’s relatives share artistic talents, in areas such as photography, painting, dressmaking, pottery, and woodworking. “I grew up always feeling so inspired by it all,” she says, “and have delved into many creative pursuits over the years.”
Creating the art
The first step in her artistic method is to source the sea fans. Jennifer and her husband scour East End’s shores for washed up fans, including their “secret spot” which is a usually lucrative source. “Stormy weather brings great treasure,” she says. Friends and family also contribute fans they have come across on their own beach walks.
Next comes preparation. Jennifer rinses the fans in fresh water and dries them in the sun before shaping them. “Sometimes I need to trim a few pieces off here and there but I try to leave them in their natural shape as much as possible.” Her balcony serves as the location for the sea fan sorting, cutting and drying.
Once they are dried again, she hand paints each sea fan with acrylic paint – her home office now gets converted to her studio for this. “This is the fun part, as I use all different colors, but I find the blues and turquoise are the most popular and really give it that coastal art look.”
She chooses how to frame each individual piece depending on the size and shape of the fan. “Some are framed flat in a gallery frame and others that have a bit more texture, I mount in shadow boxes to really highlight their beautiful and unique shape.” Jennifer then cuts canvas to mount the fan on for added texture, and carefully glues the sea fan to the background. The rest of the frame is put together once the glue has dried.
Each phase is usually done in batches, but each finished piece carries a couple of hours of work behind it – depending of the size of the sea fan.
Find the fans
Jennifer sells her art at Pure Art Gallery & Gifts, at annual art exhibitions, and at the weekly Farmers & Artisans Market at Camana Bay as a member of the Visual Arts Society.
“During the holidays, I make Sea Fan Christmas Tree ornaments and I also recently started making art with Sea Glass. The sea is so inspiring!”