Anyone visiting Bequia, Union Island, the Tobago Cays or Grenada, has sailed past the creations of a cottage industry known as Fidel Productions. Breezy clothing adorned with a child's view of scampering geckos, jovial sea creatures or careening island buses are trademark images of this small company based in Carriacou.
The tale of this tiny enterprise began two decades ago when a serendipitous trip took owner/creator Sandra Preisig from her home in Switzerland to visit friends on Carriacou. Since the island is all about boats, she soon became the owner of a 28-foot wooden sloop despite the fact that sailing had been a dream but not a reality.
As many young sailors, she fancied the idea of sailing around the world alone. Grinning at her youthful innocence, she says, "I was determined. I thought that Carriacou was the place to learn. But first I had to change the inside of the boat. That was very important to me."
A designer by trade, she set about altering the boat's interior and bought all kinds of gear in preparation for the maiden voyage. The first short sail from Tyrrell Bay to the Sisters' Rocks and back was telling. "Sailing out was not a problem for me," she laughs. "But once around the rocks, I only could carry the jib on one tack. The winch was broken and I had to start the engine."
Undaunted, the challenge continued until, at the height of her sailing career, she single-handed to Union Island and back. It was around this time that Preisig discovered diving and the little boat became an anchored home. However, she continued to sail on other peoples' boats. "I love it," she confessed, "but I'm not the one who is going to be responsible."
A move from sea to shore was precipitated by the arrival of her first child. To make ends meet she put to use a cache of art skills and set to work as a sign painter and fine artist. "That's when I made all these fish designs," she said, motioning to a rack of postcards in her Paradise Beach Gallery in Carriacou. "I painted on canvas and wood and sold them through the Grenada Art Council."
Her first child was followed by another and, luckily, talent didn't fall far from the tree. Preisig's boys have been part of the art business since they were old enough to hold a crayon. Top selling T-shirt creations, like the Felix Turtle and the latest whale designs, were created by them; the oldest drew the speeding buses at the tender age of seven. Each is now a skilled sailor having logged many miles and hours with the Optimist fleet of the local sailing school.
In 2000, Fidel Productions began officially with a couple of best selling T-shirt and post card ideas. David Goldhill created the popular Jack Iron design; Preisig produced a string of attractive fish creations, and it took off from there.
A chance meeting brought cruising sailor and bead artist, Virginia Mann into the mix. "Virginia wanted to pass on her knowledge of beadwork to women who wanted to make a living," said Preisig. Mann's line was called Mojo, so, after a week long workshop in Carriacou, she passed the skill and the name to Preisig and her Grenadian employees. Fidel Mojo earrings, bracelets and necklaces, made with local seeds, sterling silver and semi-precious stones, are designed by Priesig and hand replicated by her talented crew.
Currently Preisig's home doubles as a workshop, where four employees work to create each piece by hand. "It's a sweet little crew," she comments. Others run the Paradise Beach Shop, and the newest one located in Grenada's Port Louis complex. Local youth occasionally join the team, gathering seeds and other materials.
Fidel Productions proudly showcases the work of artists and artisans from throughout the Caribbean region and Preisig says she is always on the lookout for concepts to promote. "If someone comes in with a good craft skill but not such a good product, I work with them – give design ideas, just to make it look contemporary." Her goal – to support the growth of indigenous arts and crafts – led her to join the Caribbean Artisans' Network, a group committed to marketing regional talent.
Preisig rarely paints these days but she's plenty busy with ongoing design work and managing the business end of Fidel Productions. Standing in the middle of her gallery, surrounded by the energy of color and creativity, she adds, "Here, it's a mix of social work and creative design, all in a beautiful setting – Carriacou."
For information visit: fidelproductions.com
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end. Visit: brucesmithsart.com