Known for her flair in capturing bygone days of Caribbean life, Jill Tattersall’s paintings take the viewer into another world. Scenes of island life, a different era, give a wistful feeling enabling the viewer to mentally visit a slower and gentler style of life.
Born in Cornwall, Jill moved to Essex as a child and lived two miles from the sea on the River Chelmer, which becomes an estuary at Maldon, famous for its salt. “My mother taught me my love of art. I also took art at both primary and boarding school where they had a lovely studio so I really have been painting most of my life. When I was twelve I won a prize for a watercolor, pen and ink drawing that I did of children dancing in a circle. Amazingly, it is almost the same style I use in painting today.
“After leaving art school I began painting in oils. I used to watch the horse-drawn barges taking cargo down the river; they were painted all over in bright colors with beautiful shapes and flowers like gypsy caravans. We would look at them while they were going through the
locks and they were very much a part of my life as a girl. When I was older we would go to the Blackwater Sailing Club, which was quite tidal over the mud flats, and there for the first time I saw huge Essex sailing barges, rather like the gaff rigged Baltic ketches. They would
sail to Newcastle for cargo and could only navigate in at high water as they had huge rudders. I never saw the real sea for years.
“At eighteen I was taken on a trip to Wales and for the first time saw clear salt water that you could see through to the bottom. It was perfectly beautiful. In 1965, I came to the Caribbean with my husband Robin and my family on a banana boat. Our 28ft. sloop, A Summer’s Cloud, named after my first novel, was aboard. Woman’s Own, the largest woman’s magazine in Britain at the time, which had serialized my first novel, commissioned me to write an article on this adventure, and I was also appointed Reuter’s correspondent for the British Virgin Islands.”
“We stopped briefly in the Azores and when we left, the water turned into this incredibly deep sapphire that really left a lasting impression. When we reached Grenada I saw entirely different sorts of boats, so much larger than in England, and the lines of the wooden sloops were so beautiful that I started painting them. I chose watercolor as my medium as there was something about the light in the Caribbean that I felt was more like watercolor glazes than heavier oils. When we arrived in the BVI, I was still sketching. I was intrigued by the local houses sitting by the tideless sea and appreciated the lines of the Tortola sloop, with its long boom. I loved looking out at Galatea, our larger ketch, from the Bougainvillea Clinic where we lived. I sailed in the BVI for many years, part of the time on a small sloop with no engine; I was also one of the founding members of what was later to become the Royal BVI Yacht Club, of which I am now an honorary member.
“In the early 70s Maryanne Helm started teaching life drawing in the BVI and we had to sketch 20-second poses, which is an excellent way to draw ‘studies’. When she opened a gallery in Road Town, I sold my first ink and wash of a male torso. I have been selling internationally ever since. Roger Burnett, a famous artist living in the BVI, had a workshop at Treasure Isle and I attended with my son Johnny. Several other BVI watercolorists were there and we formed a painting group that has met weekly for 22 years.”
Also during this time, Jill successfully raised four sons and presented papers internationally on the origins of American Indian languages, a subject in which she is recognized as an authority. This accomplished woman is the author of 14 hardcover novels and of eight historical tales of the Virgin Islands. She has attended numerous workshops on painting and has exhibited her work throughout the Caribbean. Her watercolors hang in homes throughout the world.