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Jill Walker’s legacy of art

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Jill Walker’s legacy of art

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When one walks into Welches Plantation, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the walls where painting and artwork of the years have taken up spaces of prominence, not only adorning the walls but telling vivid stories.
These are all works of art by veteran artist Jill Walker, who has spent the last 40 years making a name for herself showcasing Barbadian life in coffee table books, on canvas, postcards and a host of other products. She has captured the liveliness of Barbadian life through her vibrant use of colour and appreciation for beauty that often is overlooked.
 “It’s been over 50 years that I’ve been here,” she said smiling. “We were in Antigua for a couple of years and then we came here to build the first Sandy Lane Hotel.”
Jill would find herself painting while her husband worked, and she would enjoy the scenery and the people and bring them to life through her art.
“She actually goes to the studio every day as her normal working day,” says her daughter Sue Trew. “She’s no whimsical artist; she’s a disciplined artist. Now that she’s more a little more retired, we let her have the odd morning off. But a lot of Barbadians have Jill Walker pieces or know of her.”
That studio, which is upstairs in her home, has been her retreat into a world of creativity complete with canvas, paints, hand-drawn sketches, which she no longer does because of her hands shaking, but that studio has produced some of her best work.
Whether it’s a painting of a family sitting in a verandah braiding hair, or a mother and children dressed for church Jill’s attention to detail and use of colours have allowed her to capture aspects of past Barbadian life that seem to be slipping away in our modern lifestyles.
“I used to sit out there in the car and do all this drawing and watching people walking, or mothers interacting with children,” she said.
 She would simply capture people going about their everyday life.
“A lot of people would often say, ‘You don’t see this anymore’,” says her daughter Sue. “From the way people were dressed, to some of the items – that seems to be all changing.”
Perhaps Jill’s love of life in Barbados could only be told by someone who was foreign to these shores, and became enraptured by the beauty of the place, its customs and the people.
 “I think in the Barbados back then people were much more easily satisfied,” said Jill. “Now everybody is too busy, too fast to stop and think. They don’t relax.”
 The chattel houses, the old buildings, the sunsets, the seashore and all the different areas of Barbados she has captured on canvas.
 “I don’t mix very much with a lot of other artists mostly because I’m always painting, and then we started Best of Barbados, and I think a lot of people thought I was a bit of a fuddy-duddy,” she said candidly.
But Jill’s love and passion for art became her driving force, which she incorporated into her business and her everyday life. What she didn’t realize was that she was able to pass on her love of art to her daughter Sue and her granddaughter Holly.
   “I haven’t taken so much to the scenes as Mum has done, because I’ve only been painting for a few years,” Sue said. “I’m still recording Barbadian things but in a slightly different way. I think Mum’s fine drawing is very difficult to achieve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do anything like that.”
  “I can’t do that anymore,” Jill says of her fine drawing, “because my hands shake now.”
 Sue said that to accomplish that fine style of drawing you have to have some kind of peace.
 “Mum would park by the side of the road and draw,” she said. “Now there’s all this traffic and confusion, so it’s not conducive to relaxing and drawing.”
   Jill revealed that she would find someplace to park and would go back five times to get the right look.
  One thing Jill and her mother agree on is that there is never a shortage of material to paint here in Barbados.
 “My style is a bit bolder,” Sue says. “I started painting turtles early on for our business and then I decided to paint beaches, turtles and things that Mum wasn’t doing to fill the gap in our visitor market.