EASY MAGAZINE: Weaving his own story fibre by fibre
SYLVESTER CLARKE’S HANDS are talented. And so is his mind. You see, Sylvester is a master weaver and that skill is an ancient, intricate form of artistry and those who perfect it should be recognised as national treasures.
The patience, craftsmanship and creativity required to construct a single textile suggests that the mind that conceptualises and the hands that create fabrics are imbued with a divine aptitude. A master weaver creates fibre art almost as instinctively as a spider makes a web but it is not an easy process.
The path Sylvester took to attain this expertise is more than just a success story – it’s a journey to freedom.
Sylvester was only 17 years old when his mother passed away and he was left in the care of an abusive father. His father did not understand the condition he suffered from and subjected Clarke to tons of physical and verbal aggression. Thus Clarke’s later teenage years were the beginning of an afflicted past. However, he was gradually able to grapple with the pain of losing his mother and the abusive conduct of his father.
“I have dyslexia and during the period I grew up in people could not really understand what it meant to have this condition,” he said.
“I feel that was the reason why my father could not understand me but he never really made any attempt to either. Reading and spelling are not my strong points. At school I could not spell ‘the’ but could spell ‘apple’. I couldn’t understand why at that time, but now I do.
“A person with dyslexia sees the picture before they see the word so when I was told to spell the word apple I would see the picture and then the word. But words such as ‘there’ and ‘they’ give me difficulty spelling even now. I do not know the difference between them. There are 37 certain characteristics dyslexics exhibit and most of us have at least have ten; so I had to learn a lot about my condition in order to understand myself.”
Sylvester was a student of Princess Margaret and said that was a challenging time. He had fared better in primary school.
“At primary school I had someone helping me to read and write so it was not that difficult but secondary school was more challenging although the same fellow that helped me in primary school went to Princess Margaret with me. Jefferson Eastmond was my good buddy. He would read out questions to me but with the workload he couldn’t help me like before.”
After completing secondary school, Clarke travelled to Trinidad and Tobago for a fresh start – he said to get away from his father and the negativity. During his stay, he fell in love with Julia and got married at 21. Children came along and Sylvester found himself paying them more attention than he did his marriage.
It went downhill.
“At that age I was still carrying around the bottled up anger in me I had for my father. I saw him treat my mother badly and I found myself imitating that . . . . I would tell my wife to do something now and she would not and I could not understand why. I thought that a man was to head the household and a wife was supposed to do exactly what the man said. I wish I could get the opportunity to do right by her.”
With the breakdown of the marriage Sylvester returned home in 1986.
“I did taxi work, a bit of masonry, gardening and carpentry but arts and crafts was always at the back of my mind.
“While I was at secondary school I always knew I wanted to do art. I used to do a lot of painting and craft at home and I also liked making jewellery.
A career showcase at The St Michael School opened his eyes to weaving.
“I saw a young lady doing weaving. I asked her where to go to learn how to do it and she said the Industrial Development Corporation. The classes were held at Pelican Village and I was the only male who attended and the only one to graduate out of a class of seven. I remember the other six girls saying that this was too much hard work. Threading up a loom is very difficult and depending on how big it is it can take up to two days to get it done. And if you make a mistake while you are constructing a fabric you have to start over.”
The 59-year-old also makes the looms himself instead of importing them. His background in carpentry allows him to understand the dynamics of what is required to build a weaving machine. He has a huge 64-inch wide machine at his St Philip home, where he does his work from.
“Weaving has so much potential. Overseas they would pay an arm and a leg for this. The people in the fashion industry are always looking for unique fabrics and that is exactly what I produce. One day I would like to get my stuff out there and show the world. That is why I went to Britain in 2014 for a workshop on tapestry. It is not that different from what I do but it takes more time and calls for more details.
“There used to be a big market for weaving. I would go around to hotels, craft markets and Bridgetown Market and sell my work. I made purses, clutch bags, mats and comforters and I made a lot of revenue from it but I could not do upholstery because it was not feasible to the average customer. However, sales are really dead. Sometimes the problem is not getting the items sold but transportation. Sometimes it is difficult getting to the right places. People buy my work because it is different and tourists often tell me what I do is real craft. But getting around can be a task.”
He is currently taking a non-governmental organisation management course to help him run his charity, Bajan Stars Dyslexia Support Organisation.
It is very important to him because he wants to help children who have dyslexia understand their condition and live their dreams. Sylvester has written a book about his life, and his children do not show signs of the condition their father has. His daughter Abigail Clarke is a teacher and his son Absalom Clarke is a medical nurse.
“Every day I see children, young adults and adults like myself who are hurting and crying out for help. We need to feel good about ourselves and build strong self-esteem but to this day I still feel less than a person because of all the physical and emotional abuse.” (SB)