Choiseul, outside of Castries, is the largest district in Saint Lucia, lying midway in the southwest between Soufriere and Vieux Fort. The area has been well known for its diversity in food crops like cassava and sweet potato and art and craft and has long been heralded as the creative centre of Saint Lucia. A number of naturally talented crafters from Choiseul have become renowned for their straw mats, children’s furniture, baskets and other furnishings as well as clay pots, stone and wood carvings.
Many of the products have found their way into homes across the island and overseas and once were a source of great income to the community. But in an era where online shopping, travel and development have marginalized local craft, (not seen as the “in” thing) and the traditions of Choiseul drew closer to a dying notion rather than a celebration of great artistic wealth drawing economic returns. It would seem that up until recently the craft traditions of Choiseul were seemingly lost on the minds of many Saint Lucians.
In an effort to change that mind set and reestablish Choiseul as the craft capital of Saint Lucia a project by the Office of Private Sector Relations OPSR has sought to revitalize the industry with training and organizational skills. And, as if to shout out loudly and boldly “we are still here, strong and alive” Choiseul crafters took their wares to the city last week to mark Nobel Laureate Week 2011 in a big way. The annual exhibition to mark the week was set up and hosted by the Choiseul Development Foundation and Choiseul Association for craft and Heritage Tourism (CATCH), under the patronage of her Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General of Saint Lucia. It was held from Friday January 21-Sunday 24, 2011 at the Derek Walcott Square.
The STAR spoke to Mary Clara Edwards, president of CATCH who said that her group was proud to be hosting the exhibition in an effort to show the rest of Saint Lucia what Choiseul had to offer.
“We have brought the best of Choiseul up to Castries to pay tribute to one of our best crafters Sabinus Thomas who was taken from us during Hurricane Tomas and to celebrate with Saint Lucia our two Nobel Laureates,” Edwards said.
She explained that since Choiseul has been rich in craft for a very long time OPSR saw it was necessary that they upgraded and revitalize the industry.
“So they had a skills training workshop and now I do believe that we have upgraded to international level. So now we have finer craft in all different items you can think of in a home. We took all of this up to Castries but we also brought with us our entertainers, our quadrille dancers, cultural groups, modern dancers, calypsonians, chak chak group and of course our local cuisine.”
She also revealed that the exhibition also allowed them to network with a number of purchasers and retailers in Castries who are interested in purchasing items in bulk.
Mc Arthur Phillip, head of the Choiseul development Foundation said he got involved in the project two years ago and was happy to see it come to fruition. “We saw the need to revive what we thought was a dying craft sector and thanks to OPSR persons were exposed to new ideas and techniques.”
The four-day expose showcased a number of neatly decorated craft stalls revealing practical craft and household items as well as paintings and souvenirs. Throughout the four days there were also performances by the folk band “Wo Wo band,” Dugard combined cultural group, masquerade groups, and Piaye unity band among several others. Saturday saw a heavy emphasis on the cuisine with a Creole breakfast and traditional food during the day. The final day saw good participation from schools, the general public and a few tourists.