Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Additional Pictures addded

New Pieces Added to Collection

Telling Tales

Dennis Sobers is a bundle of energy, the type of person that can look at a simple situation and come up with endless ideas. He loves to share, and that makes him a natural storyteller. It might be through the children’s stories he writes, the origami[1] he makes, his monthly publication for the building industry… or scraping stones.

Dennis sent me photos of his lapiscalpto, or scrape stone, and the first thing that came to mind was Scrimshaw - the art form from the 1800s performed by whalers as a leisure activity. They would carve intricate designs of whaling adventures or portraits of loved ones into whale bones and walrus teeth, and apply a pigment to bring the designs to life. Legitimate arguments against whaling and its contribution to the extinction of the whale population have seen Scrimshaw adapt to the use of more eco friendly and acceptable materials over the years.

It’s an interesting expression of art, and I’d never seen it done with stones. “I write stories for kids, and was thinking about publishing. They’re beautiful stories, but I didn’t have an illustrator. So I started trying to draw. Some days when I was really down or had nothing to do I would go down to the beach, and I realized they had these beautiful stones.”

Dennis brought some of the stones home, and started to begin using them as his artist’s canvas. “They say we have no natural resources in Barbados, but we have stones, so why not do something with them? My original concept was to put jesso on it, and then smooth it down. I would draw on it with colours, playing with acrylics.” Some of the earlier works he shows me are brightly coloured paintings of waves in blue and white.

“The rocks I was getting from Bathsheba were rough. And then, further down the East Coast, I realized they had other stones. They are in certain coves and locations where the stones can’t leave. Inside the cove it’s like a washing machine effect, where they just rub and rub, perhaps for hundreds of years, giving them their smoothness.”

Dennis was impressed with the natural qualities of the stone, and realized that its intrinsic beauty would not be served well by being covered with paint.

Applying ink to the stone would bring another dimension. “The stones are special, in that they are porous and suck up the ink. In order to get rid of it you can’t just rub it off with your hand – its not going to come off. It’s a special ink that is from Germany. In order to get it off, you’ve got to scrape it off. By scraping the right amount, you get the various shades and illusions, and the illusion of colour. And that’s what it’s all about.”

The first stone he ever worked with is quite large, with a detailed painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I tease him that there was no reason to look for an illustrator for his books when he had one inside him, and he laughs. “Yes, I suppose you are right!”

Although it’s apparent that Dennis enjoys the art form he’s discovered, it’s his desire to teach it and share it with others that makes his eyes light up. “My goal is not to sell these. I don’t have the time! But, you know what? My reality, what I’m trying to do, is I’m trying to teach persons how to do this. I want to teach the deaf in Barbados and the Caribbean. I’ve had discussions with the school for the deaf, and that it what I really want to do.”

For the last three years, he has been trying to organize a way to realize this dream, but is hampered by lack of free time. Dennis juggles family life with wife Judith and children Remya and Jade with his day job at Da Costa Mannings Shipping, the monthly Barbados Building Report which he produces, and his children’s stories. “I’m now on the school circuit. I read my stories to the kids and then I make origami little toys and whatever for the them. Yesterday I was at the Pelican Village, and here comes the National Trust with their kids. And I made a little butterfly for one little girl that was there, and all of a sudden everybody wants a butterfly! I was there about three quarters of an hour making butterflies! It’s interesting – I love dealing with the children, and not just my kids, but every kid that I speak to.”

He’s serious about sharing his lapiscalpto skills with deaf students, and envisions it going even further. “I want to create a company allowing them to actually benefit from it, and get some sort of salary. We’re looking to getting a piece of property. I want a build a nice little studio on a nice acreage of land where a person could come, sit down, relax, and do this. And also, people could buy them. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense and it’s viable.”

As with Scrimshaw, Dennis’ lapiscalpto tells stories – of Barbadian culture, in portraits of individuals and couples, even a carving that was used in a headstone to commemorate a gentleman’s wife after she had passed. He has what he calls his ‘tour’ items, where he inscribes ‘This is a piece of Barbados’ on the back. “It’s to let people know that when they take this away, they are taking away a piece of the rock.”

As is in his personality, Dennis is experimenting even more with his scrape stone. He’s working on a three dimensional piece, and shows me a way to groove out one stone to use as a base so that you can insert the decorated stone in a way that it can stand up.

We thank Dennis for exposing us to yet another Barbados treasure, and wish him well in his teaching pursuits with lapiscalpto. We’re also looking forward to hear about his next project, because I’m fairly confident that with his active imagination, there will be many more stories to come.
[1] Origami is the art of paper folding, which originated in China and was adapted in Japan

Monday, May 4, 2009

The art of Lapiscalpo

Lapiscalpo is an art form created in the island of Barbados.

The creator and artist is Dennis Sobers, a quiet and somewhat recluse individual. He sees and thinks outside the box by designing and implementing concepts based on the needs of individuals.

“Lapi-Scalpo” is Latin for Stone Scraping. Thus, the art form consists of three processes.
1. The selecting of the appropriate stones,
2. The applying of art upon selected stones
3. Scratching imagery unto stone.

Selecting stones is not as easy as beachcombing on a tranquil West Coast beach. Each stone is hand picked for quality and color, shape and size. As you will notice with each piece of work, they are extremely smooth. Each stone has been tumbled naturally in deep coves across the island. There are no mechanical instruments used to smooth the stones.

The imagery selected for each stone is based on what the artist sees. A nuance or imperfection on the stone can be incorporated into the art form. As you will notice that the color of the stone is reminisce of the ancient art of Scrimshaw. Thus, he applies no other color to the stone other than basic black ink. Each subject is hand drawn to each stone. There is no duplicating machinery or method of rubberstamping of the work.
In purchasing a piece of Barbados Scrape-Stone you own a piece of art as well as a small but real piece of the island of Barbados.

The real unique part of Scrape Stone art is the scratching of imagery onto the small stone. He endeavors to create realistic art but based in miniature. To achieve such a goal there are hundreds of minute scratches and scrapings to the ink applied to the stone. By a gentle or aggressive touch, features such as shades and contrasts are made possible.

Dennis Sobers was born in Hartford Connecticut but has spent the majority of his adult life on the island of Barbados. His other achievements include the conceptualizing of a national movement of health awareness (Healthy Lifestyles). Writing a number of children’s books and in particular reading such stories to children in various schools across the island. He also developed and produced a monthly periodical (The Barbados Building Report) enabling businesses in the island to take advantage of trends and new projects in the construction industry.

Enjoy your stay in Barbados and enjoy your piece of Scrape-Stone .

Portraits Available