The Caribbean is an art and artisan lover's paradise. The hot sunlit hues, fragrant foliage and surrounding seas inspire everyone from painters to craftsmen who create body lotions, botanic edibles and model boats from local materials. Here is a sampling of eight artists and their treasures worth the hunt:
BILLFISH PAINTINGS by Carey Chen
Paintings of blue marlin so real that the fish seem alive and fighting is what has made Jamaican-born artist Carey Chen famous. While there are hundreds of wildlife artists, Chen is one of an exclusive few known for his marine art, specifically billfish, with anatomical details and amazing depictions using acrylics on canvas that are correct, highly collectible, and sought out by celebrities and everyday customers.
You have to be both a fisherman and an artist, says Chen, who worked as a mate on sport fishing boats out of Kingston as a teenager. His big break came when organizers of Puerto Rico's Club Nautico de San Juan invited him to be the featured artist for their prestigious International Billfish Tournament. This set off up to 30 tournament invitations annually in the Caribbean and around the world where Chen produces event T-shirt designs and fine-art paintings auctioned to benefit marine conservation. His marlin art has recently expanded to clothing and beverage labels. (careychen.com)
NAUTICAL FINE ART by David Wegman
Walk down the street in Gustavia, St. Barths, to the eclectic eatery, Le Select. On the wall is a vivid mural of the establishment's first location nearby, with the owners playing old-time dominos and a young guitar-strumming Jimmy Buffett. This is one of the masterful works of Wegman, who paints annually in five studios in the United States and Caribbean.I don't paint portraits or telephone poles, I paint what happens in my life. Every painting tells a story, says Wegman, who counts Key West and Coral Bay, St. John, as inspiration as well as his eight-year circumnavigation in the 1990s aboard his sailboat, African Queen IV. Wegman's casual pieces like the Cheeseburger in Paradise sign he painted for Le Select are among the most photographed, while his fine art such as a storm-tossed sailboat at sea titled How Many Times I've Prayed are among his best-known. Wegman's works are available at galleries on St. Barths and online. (facebook.com/david.wegman.77)
LARIMAR JEWELRY by Angie Rodriguez
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but for Angie Rodriguez, who with her mother Cleo owns The Larimar Company, it's a light blue semi- precious gem that is their major amigo. On the Dominican Republic's southwest coast, the Barahona province is the only place in the world this crystallized mineral is mined. Larimar excavation started in earnest in the 1970s. For the last decade, the Rodriguezes buy stones direct from the miners and then work with local artists who fashion the Larimar into jewelry.
Each stone is so unique that every design, even if it's the same style, is one-of-a-kind because of the stone's different blue hues and bold patterns, says Rodriguez. The duo's most popular pieces of Larimar jewelry are earrings, bracelets and heart-shaped pendants. They have an online store, yet you can see Larimar close up at the Larimar Museum in Santo Domingo. Visitors can also book guided tours of the Larimar mines. (thelarimarshop.com)
HAND-PRINTED FABRICS by Caribelle Batik
The best way to transform into a tropical state of mind is slipping on a brightly colored, bold-printed shirt, skirt or sarong made at Caribelle Batik on St. Kitts. Located in the 17th century Romney Manor, halfway between the capital at Basseterre and historic Brimstone Hill Fortress, British ex-pat Maurice Widdowson started his batik operation here in 1976. Today, he continues hands-on with his wife and adult children.
I'm a mental artist, but rotten with my hands. For example, in batik, you usually can't go from darker to lighter. But I had an idea and we worked and worked and today the starburst is one of our most popular designs, says Widdowson, who adds that palm fronds and pineapple are other popular patterns. Ladies' wear, men's apparel, kid's clothes and accessories such as bags, fans and cushion covers are all part of the collection. You'll find a Caribelle Batik store at the Port Zante Cruise Pier in Basseterre as well as online sales. (caribellebatikstkitts.com)
BEQUIA MODEL WOODEN BOATS by Timothy Sargeant
A tiny yet mighty armada of boats, some just hulls and others fully rigged, sit in the wood shack workshop that is Sargeant Brothers Model Boat Shop on the Grenadine island of Bequia. Far from kid's toys, the intricate made-to-scale detail of the vessels built by Timothy Sargeant and his half dozen fellow craftsmen, are indeed works of art. Sargeant's two older brothers, Lawson and Winston, started the shop in 1966. Nearly two decades later, Lawson presented his handcrafted version of the Royal Yacht Britannia to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the island en route to see her sister, Margaret, in nearby Mustique.Whale boats fashioned out of coconuts is how the Sargeant brothers first started. Today, they use local gumwood for the hull and imported mahogany, white pine and red cedar to make everything from Oyster- and Hallberg- Rassy-brand cruising yachts to Windjammers and J-Class America's Cup boats. Buy one ready-made or send Sargeant your vessel's specs and he'll create a mini-me in up to six months. (bequiatourism.com)
SOAPS, HAIR & SKIN CARE PRODUCTS by Aquannette Chinnery
Bay rum bar soap, orange vanilla hair conditioner and passion fruit hand lotion are among the hand-made, small-batch products Chinnery crafts in her small workshop on her native St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Chinnery, who earned a master's degree in biochemistry from MIT at age 21 and JD from Rutgers 15 years later, is also a gospel recording artist, painter and was a TV personality before her creativity and scientific curiosity lead her back to the lab to start JD Natlady's Creations a decade ago.I am inspired by local scents and incorporate those scent profiles into my products, especially lemongrass. I grew up loving the smell of lemongrass bush tea, says Chinnery of her customer-favorite Lemongrass Hand and Body Lotion. One of my popular locally inspired soaps is Coconut Sugarcake Soap, which smells just like the popular local candy. Chinnery's products are available in St. Thomas stores, resort gift shops and online. Next up, she'll be re-introducing art candles, body scrubs and lip butters. (jdnatladyscreations.com)
RECYCLED SAILCLOTH BAGS by Annie MacPhail
The British Virgin Islands boasts one of the largest sailing communities in the world, from private to charter yachts and the sailmakers who serve them. U.S. native, avid sailor and 20-year BVI resident MacPhail embarked on a plan to turn old sails -- Dacron and high-tech sail, kiteboard kite, and other materials -- into fashionable bags. I wanted to design products for everyday use, using the cloth but not pointing directly to the fact that the cloth is used sailcloth, says MacPhail.Success is evident in her burgeoning business, of which popular items include a beautiful white clutch with a bold interior, wristlets made from black carbon fiber stylish enough for a black-tie event, and laptop bags with colorful kite pockets. New for 2022 is a line called Eco-Beach Cottage featuring khaki cotton weave and recycled sailcloth door stoppers, wastebaskets, trinket trays and more. MacPhail's sailcloth wares are sold at her Nutmeg & Co. boutique across from the ferry terminal in Road Town, Tortola and online. (anniemacphail.com)
CONFECTIONARY by Grenada Chocolate
Known as the Spice Island of the Caribbean, Grenada is now emerging as an award-winning, tree-to-bar chocolate producer. Earlier this year, The Grenada Chocolate Company's 100% Dark Chocolate, 71% Dark Chocolate and 60% Nib-A-Licious Dark Chocolate bars won silver and bronze at the Academy of Chocolate Awards in London.What makes Grenada's chocolate unique is that the plantations grow with a mixture of plants, not just cocoa, so the flavors of nearby oranges, passionfruit and herbs naturally enrich the flavor, says Magdalena Fielden, founder of the annual Grenada Chocolate Fest and owner of the True Blue Bay Boutique Resort. The Grenada Chocolate Company, started in 1998 and now encompassing 200-acres of farms growing organic trinitario-type cocoa, is one of six small-scale producers on the island. Their six products, available at Grenadian stores and online, include the three award winners plus 100% Dark Chocolate, 60% Dark Chocolate and the 71% Dark Chocolate Salty-Licious made with Caribbean Sea salt. (grenadachocolate.com)