Locals Strive to Save Rare Seedwork Handicraft

The headline of this story could easily read: “Two Local Women to Meet Queen Consort in London.” The Queen is, however, a footnote, albeit an awesome one, to this fascinating story.

It’s true that Monica Davis and Kiara Brummel will be traveling to London on December 2 and will indeed meet Queen Camilla, but there is a larger and more important story here. Monica and Kiara are part of a group of five women who are taking part in the critical task of educating the masses about rare seedwork unique to the twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. It’s so rare that there are only five master artisans in the world who are carrying on the centuries old artwork and passing on this heritage.

Modeling the jumbie and tamarind jewelry, Kiara Brummell (right) and Monica Davis are eager to travel to London this month to tell the powerful story of jumbie and tamarind seedwork of the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. They will attend a seedwork workshop with master artisan Louise Edwards.

A few of them will lead a seedwork workshop in London, sharing their skills on a global stage at the Garden Museum, which is currently showing a major exhibition of landscape and nature paintings and sculptures of Antiguan artist Frank Walter. The exhibit on display through February 25, 2024, was guest curated by Oxford resident Barbara Paca, Ph.D., O.B.E. In conjunction to the exhibit, the museum is hosting workshops related to Antiqua and Barbuda on such topics as food, Empowerment Dolls, climate, and the rare wild tamarind and jumbie bead seedwork.

Serving as Cultural Envoy to Antiqua and Barbuda to the Ministry of Culture, Barbara has long been fascinated by the seedwork and the connections that exists between slaves that arrived on the Eastern Shore, bringing with them the seedwork from the island nations. In her work, Barbara met Anne Jonas, Private Secretary to the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda. In 2017, Anne was instrumental in starting Botanique Studios, which sells this traditional artisanship, one of the few remaining intangible cultural skills that keep the islands’ heritage alive.

Barbara has supported Anne’s mission to buoy the entrepreneurial spirit of these women who produce wild tamarind and jumbie bead seedwork. Barbara is founder of Water’s Edge Museum in Oxford where she works together with Monica, who is director, and Intern Kiara, to in part educate the public about the seedwork and its cultural importance.

Queen Camilla will visit the Garden Museum to view the seedwork and Frank Walter exhibit where Monica and Kiara will meet her. That leaves the two a little speechless, they admit. But at the same time, Monica explains, “It also validates the importance of the seedwork on an international platform and to ensure that is it not erased.”

The skill is being erased because younger generations have not continued the seedwork’s legacy. Currently a college student, Kiara describes it this way, “When you are unfamiliar with the origins of your history, you take less pride in it. By educating these men and women in Antigua and Barbuda on how powerful this symbolism is to their culture, it’s more likely that they want to keep this culture alive.”

Even Anne didn’t fully appreciate initially how culturally important the seedwork is and how close it had become to dying out. The jumbie and tamarind seeds are native to Antigua and Barbuda and are invasive. By harvesting these seeds, it helps keep the balance within the ecosystem and in turn the seedwork employs women on these islands whose economy is 80% driven by tourism.

The Palmetto Coin Purse is named after Palmetto Point in Barbuda.

A small collection of seedwork is on display in the Oxford Museum and showcases how elaborate the jewelry, belts or purses can be. A pair of earrings may take an hour to create once the seeds are boiled for 24 hours, then dried. Countless hours will be spent on something like a placemat or purse. The brown and black jumbie seeds and the red tamarind seeds are often paired with beautiful African beads as well.

Since slavery, these seeds have been sewn by hand into pieces that held a “talismanic value” as these women spent hours making the pieces. As Botanique Studio’s mission statement explains, “The entirely organic work has miraculously survived for centuries and has a power and beauty that speaks for itself.”

To view the seedwork, visit botaniquestudios.com.

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