Caribbean Front Room I
Created on June 10, 2021
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Flowers were a specific part of the aesthetic of the front room space. While in a abundance across the Caribbean, real flowers were considered a luxury in the UK. The bright blooms and colours of artificial flowers were dusted every Saturday. Every six weeks, they were taken from there jars and crystal vases and gently washed by hand, dried and rearranged.
Books were the sign of being well read, and were also the sign of the importance placed on education both inside and outside of the home. The books would range from the family bible to the encyclopedia Britannia. Newspapers were recycled by my mum for use as paper patterns for her dressmaking. Andrea Levy's Small island is set on the island of Jamaica beforeWW2 and in the UK at around 1924. It tells the story of the generation that would return to England, now known as The Windrush Generation. It tells of how protagonist Hortense and her friend found time to knit; how Queenie visited the 1924 Wembley exhibition; how Caribbean men fought in the war.
Crochet was a hobby, entrepreneurial and community activity. Crochet was often sold to raise funds to support the wider community. Female networks such as Dorcas Clubs, or groups like the Purple Ladies (A reference to Dorcas or Lydia in the Bible often referred to as dyers of purple), would meet in the front room to plan activities, share notes and patterns. It was also the place where women could showcase their skills as a maker. Much of the finer crochet work was often stiffly starched so it would stand up. Fine pearle crochet would be the thing for all front rooms. Ideally when made they are starched so they stand up to attention, looking straight. Many women were either taught by their mothers, at school, by nuns, or in local women’s groups such as Dorcas Clubs.
Family portraits showcased lifecycle events: births, weddings, first steps - how you were getting on in life. They transported people back and forth between the lives of those in England and those back home on the Caribbean islands. Find out more: Image Matters by Tina M Campt and Eulogy by Susan Pitter.
An Aladdin paraffin heater and hot comb. The paraffin heater could be moved from room to room as heat was required and was also used as a mobile hairdressing unit, heating the hot combs that many black women used for hair styling. It was sometimes even used for cooking! The paraffin was often blue or pink in colour and had to collected from a petrol station.
Cushions provided comfort and were made in a myriad of patterns. The most popular was the 'Lattice' also known as either 'Canadian' or 'North American' smocking. These cushions were often made in velvet. Colours such as gold, deep crimson and deep ivy green were popular.
The Blue Spot Radiogram was the entertainment centre for the home. There were several models and the lining often held rum, glasses, babycham, Cherry B and ginger wine. The record deck could hold up to six records. The mid-50s sounds of Goombay music and jazz played alongside hits like 'My Boy Lollipop' from the early 60s. But the tunes of singers such as country and western star, Jim Reeves, could be heard across the airwaves on a Sunday morning. With its dark veneer it was a treasured household object. It provided a soundtrack for all types events and offered entertainment via radio before TVs were common. Families could listen to cricket and sporting news, as a well as Caribbean radio via the BBC world service. The sounds of home.
The pineapple ice bucket has become a kitsch emblem of the Caribbean front room. We needed something for the ice for all the drinks! It became synonymous with the drinks trolley and hosting guests, supplying them with ice and cool drinks when they arrived. It was a must have item and a symbolic reminder of home. It represents one of those 'ahh' moments ("We had one of those!"). The pineapple has its origins in the Caribbean and South America. In the 16th century it became a symbol of wealth and fame.
I designed this bespoke wallpaper, which has been a signature for all the installations I have created since embarking on my PhD research. It was inspired by research into wallpapers of the late 1960s and early 70s. I also wanted a design that could be used to reflect a range of furnishing and textiles in the space. We have had the opportunity to play with the design in terms of scale and even made it portable! The design is able to transport people and participants in our many workshops back to their own front rooms.
Anti-Macassar - so named as they prevented 'hair-oil' or hair treatments from staining the back of the sofa. They and can also be seen on the chair arms. You can see them looking back at images of late Victorian room settings. One of the things we are often asked is what is missing - 'why are your chairs not covered in plastic?. This was often done to make the furniture last longer!
Vinyl record collections were played on every Blue Spot gram. Jim Reeves' country and western music was extremely popular, as was religious music. By the mid 1960s the Hawkins Singers 'Oh Happy day' was the gospel song played on a Sunday morning.
Artwork as wedding gift. Made by local craftsman in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Circa 1989.
Garments made by a dressmaker, ready for collection. The front room was often used as the place to receive guests, but also as the space to fit garments. It was the space where the woman of the house could showcase her textile skills and her prowess as a hostess.
The Murano glass blow fish became a status symbol and the larger the better! Sometimes you could get the family set. They were prized processions, but the worst job of all was Saturday dusting, as you knew you would have to move the prized fish, which could not be dropped!
Pattern books for crochet, knitting and even dressmaking offered many women the chance to explore new ideas. Many knew the stitches that had been taught to them at school, but pattern books allowed them to see new ideas. Paper was a scarce back home and for many a pattern book would be a luxury.