Looking For Art In All The Right Places

By Melissa Zuniga
Edited by Naturalight Productions

A recent invitation to attend the Placencia Sidewalk Art Festival (Feburary 14-15) brought back childhood memories of cool breezes wafting across the sea to where I would sit on the beach with my toes buried in the warm sugary sand. It was a hot sunny day and I geared myself up to bake on what I knew was an unshaded concrete sidewalk running down the center of the village of Placencia. Starting off down the world famous sidewalk I was in for a surprise as it was a mass of color AND shaded booths with artists from all over the country and a large variety of art peeking out to welcome the steady stream of visitors. It was going to be an exciting half mile and the small group I was with decided that at the end we would choose our favorite artist.

The very first booth was manned by Lita Krohn, director of Institute for Social and Cultural Research. Lita is a painter, poet and writer and had brought along several paintings for this occasion. Her intricate and colorful designs portrayed the woman, her inner beauty, and the many different faces she can have. Right beside her lounged the handsome and smiling Gilvano Swasey, Curator of the Museum of Belize and an accomplished painter in his own right. Gilvano had brought along several of his inspiring pieces. With the challenges of his day job he ruefully admitted to not having enough time to paint.

On the right two rows of huge canvases beckoned; I moved in for a closer look and to identify the artist among the small group nearby. The paintings of Cuban born artist, Manuel Gonzalez Daca, depicted the faces of men. His subjects reminded me of the guys I pass on the street, near the foot of the bridge or at the market.

The sparkle of sun on glass and ceramic caught my eye and I was drawn to the colorful tray by Carrie Paul who had traveled from San Ignacio. The piece I liked, she explained, was made of marbles (the kind that kids play with) molded into the clay. As it bakes in the kiln the marbles partially melt into the attractive patterns that emerge. She had a wide variety of pieces hued in neutral tones.

Next were the Usher girls, Debbie, Jessica and Amy, a mother and her two daughters who had brought out their collection. The youngest, Amy, was 13 years old and cheerfully put aside her homemade tacos to pose for the artistís family portrait. The day's events were truly a family affair as they were accompanied by the men in their family who helped set up the booth and now chatted and cooled off with ice-cold beers.

Sharing their booth was a friend, a retired dentist from California, Dr. Greg Patchett who runs a small resort and makes complex and exotic wooden, jewelry boxes under the name of Sittee River Woodworks. The intricate designs and complicated structures were amazing and I kept finding nooks and crannies that weren't obvious at first glance.

Down the road was Fiona Macfarlane and her appropriately named productions - "Fishy Business". Wine glasses, beer glasses, juice glasses and then some were carefully decorated with tropical fish themes. Inspired by the sea, her glasses are a favorite souvenir of tourists who take them home as a reminder of their tropical vacation in the midst of winter.

The delicate, colorful and creative designs of Fishy Business were a delightful compliment to the paintings of Anton Leslie, a Placencia native. His paintings depicted the idyllic, relaxed, and undemanding life that tropical village life tends to evoke. (That got a laugh from the tour guide who had been up at 5:00 a.m. and wouldn't be done for the day until 7:00 that night).

Charles Miller's carvings, shells, and boats were next. He is a local artist who traveled from Dangriga just for the festival. He also makes Garifuna drums which he explained, takes him 3-4 hours to create depending on the size. He had been doing this for a long time and hoped the art festival would be repeated annually.

Near the end of the line was the organizerís booth, Placencia Peninsula Art Association, manned by Barbara and Bianca who explained that the organization's purpose is to raise the stature of artists and to provide training opportunities for local talent. They also hoped that this festival would be only the first in a series of annual events. Not only did the Festival showcase the works and pieces I had seen displayed but there was also an all day children's art workshop going on at the primary school a few steps off the sidewalk. Also, the children of the neighbouring Garifuna village of Seine Bight got a chance to display their creativity in the booth they shared with quilts and jams from the women of the Mennonite community, Spanish Lookout, in Cayo.

Besides the organized booths there were lots of other activities including: Mayan villagers with their craft and some Central American wares; bystanders relaxing in the shade and local bars and restaurants offering cold refreshments and local delicacies which made me realize that art absorption makes me hungry. Our party met up and headed to the beach towards the smell of barbecue. Lounging under the coconut tree (a hammock would have been perfect) I felt like the subject of Benjamin Nicholas' painting myself as we watched children and families cavort in the water.

Too soon it was time to head back home and, maybe it was the mood that had been set, but it seemed like the whole village was a work of art - from the sidewalk signs with their catchy slogans and comic illustrations to the naturally enhanced houses and even the keeled-over water tank "sculpture", the only evidence of Hurricane Iris which hit in 2001.

On the way home, we had a hard time coming to a consensus on the "best art" we had seen. Everyone had a different favorite and that in itself aptly described the festival artists with different artistic styles and media, something for everyone. I can't wait for next year's Sidewalk Festival!


For More Information, click on the links below:

Placencia Lobsterfest
Placencia Belize Tourism Industry Association

Images Courtesy of:

  • Tony Rath Photography
  • Dreddi

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