Seeds of revival: old St Helena crafts move into the classroom

Lacemaking is one of St Helena’s oldest crafts

Traditional St Helenian craft skills are to become part of the curriculum in St Helena’s schools, as the island gears up for a tourist boom in the next few years.

Cathy Hopkins, of the island’s crafts association, said: “Heritage crafts like lace, seedwork, embroidery and those wonderful bottle lanterns all require teaching to the next generation.”

Artist Danny Coutts exhibits in the new gallery

Craft skills are to be included in the new Traditional Industries Campaign that is being launched by Enterprise St Helena and the education department, to inspire young Saints to take up skills that helped shape the island’s culture.

New crafts are also being introduced. “We’ve got a flax trainer coming in October to work with us on a project called New Ways with Flax,” said Cathy – “a talented craftswoman and teacher from New Zealand, Veranoa Hetet.”

Weaving with flax – the same kind that grows on St Helena – is a traditional skill among New Zealand’s Maori people. It is often used to make brightly patterned bags.  

Cathy said the project had been worked up with Enterprise St Helena, the adult education service, and SHAPE, the island charity that helps disabled people to work.

Hessian bags feature island imagery

Teachers had shown a good level of interest, she said. “The education department is keen to support the traditional crafts but it is, as always, a balancing act when it comes to curriculum and exams – and finding people to teach these crafts too.”

St Helena Arts & Crafts Association gained a higher profile on Saturday (28 July 2012) when it moved into a new home at The Canister, at the top of Main Street in Jamestown. It had previously been in a back room at Broadway House.

Jessica March, one of the island’s few remaining lace makers, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the new shop.

She told how she was taught her skills as a girl. At one time, the island had a lace-making school.

Craftsman Joseph Scipio at work

Mike Dean, head of tourism on St Helena, said giving arts and crafts a higher profile was important. “Every visitor wants to take home a souvenir of their time here,” he said in the Enterprise St Helena newsletter.

“Many of the suppliers to arts and crafts are skilled people who are working in a green and sustainable manner, which aligns with the whole thrust of our tourism and economic development.”

The new shop would help people earn money from their talents, he said. Goods accepted for sale are marketed under the Uniquely Saint branding.  

The shop will also provide a space for holding workshops and idea-sharing sessions.

  • Seedwork is a traditional island craft. Acacia and thorn seed pods are picked, then “shucked” and boiled. Once cooled down, waxed thread is used with the seeds to make items such as coasters, belts, bags and bracelets.

SEE ALSO:
Back to the land? School campaign promotes traditional jobs

LINKS:
Veranoa Hetel, Maori flax weaver

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