A straw craftsman will launch the book “Bahamian Straw Craft”
Doongalik Studios is honored to announce the launch of the first comprehensive Bahamian Straw Handbook, titled “Bahamian Straw Craft”, written by iconic straw craftsman Barbara Jesubatham on Saturday April 18th from 3pm to 6pm.
A proud Long Island native, Barbara Knowles Jesubatham is known in the Bahamas and abroad for her unique and exquisite straw bags, handcrafted to perfection. She is the owner of Barbara’s Straw Designs located in Tuckaway Road, Nassau.
Barbara’s progression in the straw industry was a natural occurrence as she came from several generations of proud Bahamian straw artisans, including her grandmother who, like many other artisans on Family Island, visited in Nassau in the 1900s with the braid as a traditional currency. with which to exchange and barter for other products, such as food and clothing. Barbara’s mother, the late Mrs. Merrith Knowles was a master craftsman in this field and was well known for her “trendy braid”, having learned to braid straw at the age of five. Her mother carried on the family tradition throughout her life, as did her father, the late Willard Knowles who was also a farmer. The family realized the economic viability of the craft which was able to generate a significant economic reward and they both pursued their craft with pride and passion, a knowledge and respect which they lovingly passed on to their children.
“Bahamian Straw Craft” is dedicated to the honor and memory of Barbara’s parents. Over two years of preparation – 18 months of writing and 6 months of production – the author described it as “a labor of love” very similar to the process of delivering a baby. It was a revelation that came to her one morning several years ago and has been a constant driving force throughout the process leading up to the next launch.
Pam Burnside, in an interview with the author, said that “you can immediately feel and recognize Barbara’s absolute passion and excitement when she talks about her book – she literally ‘shines’ when she speaks straight from the heart. and we are honored that it will launch in Doongalik, which is also home to Creative Nassau, the non-profit organization behind the recent designation of the City of Nassau as a Creative City of Crafts and the Arts. popular UNESCO, based on our traditions of straw and junkanoo. We are also excited about Barbara’s book which is the first of its kind, and so necessary because it emphasizes the importance of recognizing, promoting and celebrating again this craft for the benefit of the development of the country, not only economically but socially.
Barbara’s life story is fascinating. She remembers making bags and purses from cereal boxes and using Top ropes to make handles. She remembers being ten years old when she started using her mother’s sewing machine to sew boat sails for her father’s sailboat. She and her siblings braid every day after they get home from school and head to Nassau during the summer to sell the braid at the Straw Market on Bay Street.
After receiving her early education at Mangrove Bush Elementary School and graduating from NGM Major High School on Long Island, seventeen-year-old Barbara left home and settled in Nassau. This move brought her to meet her husband, Ravi Jesubatham. The couple then moved to Eleuthera, Bahamas, with their two sons Julian and Jeremy, and as a result, Barbara took over artisanal straw making. She began sewing straw bags and hats for the late Mrs. Henrietta Knowles’ store, The Almond Tree, in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. Ms. Knowles realized her abilities and reminded her of her Long Island roots. She recounts how Ms. Knowles asked her to “go home, cut some tops, braid and sew a bag for her.” Six weeks later, the beaming Barbara brought her finished straw handbag to Ms. Knowles, and there began her journey into the world of straw crafts. Barbara also acknowledges the teaching of the late Mrs. Avis Cartwright of Berry’s, Long Island, who taught her how to make a hat and gave her many tips on how to make a straw sack.
Barbara and her family returned to Nassau, and during this time she gave birth to her third son, Matthew. Her return saw the rise of her craft, as she immersed herself completely in making straw bags. She was an active participant for fourteen years in the Bahamas International Cultural Festival, where she won several first and second place awards for her craft straw creations. In 2008, the Zonta Club of New Providence recognized her as a living legend in the field of cottage industry and crafts.
Barbara uses only the best materials to create her straw bags and boasts that all of her braid is from Long Island. She was the first to introduce leather and straw braid sewn together, as well as the black, brown and beige color combination. Twenty-two years later, Barbara has transformed what was once a means of survival in a then predominantly farming and fishing village into a distinctive, indigenous Bahamian craft. His business has thrived primarily on word of mouth and continues to thrive, as eager customers flock to place special orders. This industrious lady, with a skillful eye for detail and perfection, has paved the way for the annals of Bahamian history and is sought after nationally and internationally.
Now that the book is complete and publicly available, Barbara intends to expand her commercial offering to include personal instruction in this unique Bahamian craft so that this treasured tradition can be passed down to generations of Bahamians.