Published on: March 17, 2014
Our lives are made up of odds and ends. They are the products of memories gathered and experiences lived; snatches of conversations and places visited; meals enjoyed and laughter shared; days we made do with less and days of plenty. The lives of makers are woven into every element of their work, and to us they are just as important as the work they share with us. We’re glad Jade opened her home to us and chose to share bits of her story over coffee and arepas. From her upbringing between Venezuela and Trinidad, her days in Boston and Florence to what brought her back home, we’re glad to share it with you.
(see interview below)
DI: Where did you grow up and where is your family from?
JD: My mom is Trinidadian but lived in Venezuela and that’s where she met my dad. He was Italian and they lived in Venezuela for many, many years and had me but he died when I was 10. I can’t remember how old I was when he got sick but he went back to Italy and he died right after he went back so my mom came back to Trinidad and I was raised here, in Barataria. First she sent me alone so I was raised in a house where everyone was speaking English and I was the only one speaking Spanish but then my brother came and he made it easier.
DI: Are you still fluent in Spanish?
JD: No, but my mom is. It’s funny: I met my brother and sister,(my dad’s children), when I was in Italy but we communicate in Spanish. But my Spanish is not great. It’s basically like what a child would say. I can’t have a political conversation in Spanish; I couldn’t even have one in English. When I moved to Italy I replaced all my Spanish with Italian because they’re so similar that I felt like I had to pick one.
DI: What did your dad do?
JD: He was a painter. He painted the horses you see on my wall.
DI: And your mom?
JD: She’s a hairdresser. But I think she doesn’t want to do that anymore. Now she’s singing and playing the pan – she’s in everything. She’s learning the guitar! She picks up everything! And she wouldn’t tell me so itsurprise me somehow. My brother is a musician, a guitarist. He’s into rock and rock bands.
DI: What made you leave Trinidad?
JD: I just tried to leave when I was 18 or 19. I just tried to figure out how to get out of Trinidad. You know when you feel that you’re not somebody so you need to leave to become somebody?
DI: How did you end up in Italy?
JD: I went to school in Italy at Alchimia in Florence. I wasn’t going to go there but I lost my job in America. All the jewelers did. People say construction got hit hard during the recession but who’s going to want jewelry when the economy goes bad? So we all lost our jobs. I wanted to make my resume look better. I was good at stone setting but I wanted to get stronger. The school I first looked at, the school that did a lot of stone setting was not answering emails, which is typical Italy, but Alchimia did.
I just wanted to visit and do a short programme there but when I went this woman came running to the door and it seemed like this happy magical place so I decided to stay after a while. It was the best thing I could have done. I previously went to a technical trade school where you were always thinking about Mrs. so and so’s emerald or diamond and if you break it, oh god! But Alchimia really freed me and taught me that you don’t just decorate something, you wait, and you let the piece talk to you.
DI: What was the experience like in Florence?
JD: Florence was the most magical. I had a very unique experience, meeting my sister and brother for the first time, my father’s children.
Then my time at Alchimia was great also as a teaching and learning experience. Overall the experience was very interesting.
What happens is, people don’t stay long there. It’s a big touristy place so they’re not going to bother to be your friend. I was fortunate to make some good friends there though.
I had some weird experiences. One time I went into a shop and the salesman said to me “Don’t bother to try anything on, nothing will fit you.” Another time I ordered a sandwich somewhere and they thought I was begging. Italians were all in their leather jackets and pointy boots in September. I had a cardigan, a school bag, a bag with my ballet shoes, a bag with my dog and plenty flowers so they probably thought I was a gypsy.
DI: And you’re of indeterminate ethnicity…
JD: Exactly. They’re not used to this in between brown. They’re used to dark-skinned Africans who are bouncers or security at expensive stores or nightclubs. One time it was in between school and class and I ordered pane e formaggio (bread and cheese) because it was just my favorite thing to eat. The guy looked me up and down. I don’t know what he thought, but he took me to the back, back, back of the restaurant and he just dropped the sandwich in front of me. I was trying to order properly to tell him what kind of bread or cheese but my Italian was really bad at the time.After I ate it and I asked for the check, he was wiping the table and he just looked so surprised and shocked and gasped. And then he came over and said ” 2 Euro” and winked. Italy was so weird.
DI: So after Italy what happened next?
JD: After Italy there was this thing I had to do called electroforming but it was too expensive in Alchimia. But another school in Germany said they would help us and let us do it hands on so I went there for 3 months to do that, then I went to Boston for 3 months and then came back home to Trinidad.
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DI: You have a very specific aesthetic. Where does that come from?
JD: I think it’s how we were raised. My father would have had the wall even more covered with things than I have now. You probably wouldn’t have been able to see the wall for all his paintings and collectibles including one very old pistol.
When I was little my dad used to paint and he would put out buckets of beads for me to pass the time. I used to wrap driftwood with wire.
Then in Boston, I lived deep in the woods in New Hampshire and there was a really pretty antique store. I got a lot of things there and then a lot of things belonged to my dad. These picture frames and the old batik stamps belonged to him and then I started finding things in other places.
There's a piano necklace that I bought at a school in a small town in Sweden. The school took pianos that belonged to rich people who bought houses
but the pianos couldn’t fit they would donate the pianos to the school. The school had an entire wall covered in piano necklaces.
DI: Where do you find these places?
JD: Just wandering by I guess. I pass by antique stores. Even in Trinidad, on Charlotte Street there's a store that’s closing down — I get some of the nicest things there. I got a pair of earrings that I put in my shop and within minutes it sold. Or the old books that I cover, I got them there. I gave someone an old Kitchener record that made their day that I got that there to. You just look and you find them.
DI: And you have the most fantastic and unique fashion sense Jade, where do you find your clothes?
JD: That too! Shopping all over the place! It was my stress relief back in the day. Because I lived in the woods alone for a long time so what do you do? I worked in a mall for 7 years. You have an hour lunch break so what else you do besides walk around and buy things? This is when I worked at Banana Republic.
At Banana Republic I was a client specialist and then I got tired of that and asked to be transferred to the GAP and I moved from New Hampshire to Boston and it was so much more laid back. I met one of my best friends at the GAP.
DI: How was the transition coming back to Trinidad?
JD: I wasn’t really present where I was. Everywhere I went it was “Ok this is nice but I want to come home”. I was always thinking about home. It was kind of sad. People were always telling me to forget about home that I’d be all right and they were right. I wish I had really taken in things a little bit more but everyday I’m reminded that I’m glad I came home. The only problem with coming back home is not being able to get things done fast enough or sometimes well enough.
DI: When did you decide to open your shop, 'Duck Girl' and how would you describe it to someone?
JD: I was preparing to open a shop when I moved back home. My stuff was in my mother’s house and it filled her living room to the roof. She was not pleased. 'Duck Girl' is like your Granny’s bedroom, like your home. I really wanted it to be hand made by the craft people here. Where you can find the right gift for the right person.
DI: How do you describe your process of creating? Do you wait for a feeling?
JD: At first I was working with bone and brass. Then stone setting, fine jewelry construction and then any material at all you can find and work from the gut, with more research and creativity.
I did a dog project called Min Hund. Min Hund means ‘My Dog’ in many languages. The oldest dog and man remains were found in Germany and it’s the first animal to be domesticated. First you draw for 6 weeks then you use rubbish, trash, anything and make any number of pieces everyday, turning it into jewelry.
A lot of times it’s a battle of choice between sitting and waiting for the piece to unfold or me 'interfering'.
DI: CHANGE – Is there something nice about that? How much do you think the idea of ‘always moving’ has influenced your work?
Because of the length of time I’ve moved it almost feels like nowhere is really home yet and it shows in the work. The jumping around shows and it’s also affected by what I have access to. I think my strength is the electroforming so in some of my new pieces I can see that I’m trying to get some of that strength back in there but at the same time I just let it be, let it work and relax. One of the benefits of the last school I went to was that it really taught me how to relax, let go, let the work happen. I wouldn’t work if I feel like I’m not ready; I just wouldn’t work. I’d take a couple days off and then bam! Something would come or going through a magazine I would see something and I’d cut it out and stick it at the back of a stone or something like that.
DI: Your ability to keep the store and your work and everything in this environment is so admirable. Which is why I think I like stopping by your store and seeing you when I have a bad day!
JD: Thank you. But It’s hard and if I had a penny for every person that says that they’d come to my store but hasn’t… But I really enjoyed the space. It will get better. I have to think that way.
I’m from Barataria, I collect aprons, and I’ve collected aprons all my life. People say nobody wants an apron because it is a symbol of servitude but they actually sell really fast!
What that shows me is that if you have a passion for something, it’s contagious. You have to stick with it.
DI: Who inspires you?
JD: People inspire me all the time. The strongest would be my mother and my grandmother.
My mother would never watch a show like ‘What Not To Wear’. She’s the most stylish person.
My grandmother would make clothes with one colour on one side and another on the back and she would send me to church in them and I would be so upset! But it’s about not listening to rules and not listening to magazines that tell you what to pair things with and you know, just being yourself and not caring.
My mother would wear some of the best outfits! She has this umbrella. She went to Kitchener’s funeral and later a gas station attendant says “Marilyn! You was at Kitchener’s funeral?” and she’d say, “Yea how you know? Yuh was there?” and he’d say “No ah see yuh umbrella on TV!”
She has this normal black umbrella but she doesn’t want to sun to come through it so she covered it with pieces of cloth! It’s her signature. It’s who she is.
I admire anybody who is who they are and couldn’t give a shit about what other people think or say.
That is my goal to really not give a shit. To be completely and comfortably me and I think I’m almost there.
DI: That’s a good place to be. We’re still working on that.
"If you could just free yourself in every little corner of your life, in every little way, it would be so nice."
Interviewees : Tanya Marie & Ayanna
Designer, Brand Consultant and Founder of Designer Island.
Writer: Ayanna Gillian Lloyd
Writer based in Trinidad & Tobago.
Photography: Designer Island