A man enjoying the comfort of a hammock between two coconut trees.

John Mark Riley with a few of his wire sculptures.

Local craft helping to market B’dos overseas

Do not underestimate the impact of local craft persons.

That’s the view of John Mark Riley, who for the past 26 years has made countless wire sculptures which are not only found in Barbados, but in many homes around the world.

When The Barbados Advocate caught up with him recently at Tamarind Hotel, Riley was showcasing his talent and skill which he said is tedious but is a labour of love.

He believes that local craft persons, who may seem like small contributors to the tourism sector, are actually allowing visitors to take home a little piece of Barbados with them and should therefore be given assistance wherever possible.

A former president of the Beach Vendors Association, he said he started out selling jewellery but wanted to increase his product offering. He actually learned by watching another craftsman. Since then, he has graduated from using the bright “calypso colours” to more neutral colours with an eye-catching gold finish which can fit with practically any decor.

He does this with a 12 foot piece of wrapping wire to make the man, a 21 foot of wire to make the tree leaves, fly mesh screen and plywood, he expertly captures a piece of Barbados with his hands and a few wire bending and cutting tools. Furthermore, he has found a way to recycle cardboard, with just some tape and a scissors by making a custom made box within which a visitor can pack their piece of art to safely take back home.

According to Riley, “People always come back and tell me that one of the things that they realise is when they get them home that people ask them ‘where you get it from’ and that is a very potent question where marketing is concerned.”

“When they are saying ‘I got it from Barbados’, they are actually marketing the country for us. We spend a lot of money on marketing Barbados, but we do not look at the souvenirs which are actually a memory. And it is mainly the talking point that tourists use when they get home to talk about their holiday.”

“For over 20 years I have been asking my clients what brought them to Barbados and nobody has told me they saw an ad and like it, everybody says a family member, a good friend or work colleagues. What that means is what we are doing for that tourism product is mainly dependent on word of mouth advertising,” he opined.

He believes that most of the souvenirs on sale in Barbados should be created on the island and stressed the importance of ensuring the quality is of a high standard.

“We have a few things that are not quite up to standard. They would need a bit more improvement. I believe, those persons who are doing it should get some assistance to get the products up to standard because we need those products.”

The craftsman said he was recently informed that one of his pieces created in 2005 was being auctioned on e-bay. “I am proud to think that my work is so good that it has some resale value. And I think it speaks well for Barbados,” he said.

Noting that the pieces are very time consuming, taking anywhere between seven hours and a day, he stressed that in order to get good quality, the length of time should not be a consideration. He said while others believe that his products, which depict aspects of Barbados culture should be sold at a much higher price, he does not fully agree.

“Art in itself is a labour of love because in a lot of cases you cannot get to what you put in. When you are focusing on the real factor which is not only to make money, because money is secondary in any business. I believe credibility is the leading factor, if you have credibility, you will attract the money.”

“I think that we need to get it right where local stuff is concerned because through this we can market this country from right here. And I think that some of the money that we spend on marketing abroad should be spent right there in creating the right atmosphere that will cause us to excel with our tourism product.”

Barbados Advocate

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