Something magical can happen when innovative manufacturing meets art.
Isabel Brash, originator and chocolatier of Cocobel Chocolate, had a dream to marry art and chocolate at the chocolate house on Fitt Street, Woodbrook.
Three years ago, the idea for mosaic murals to cover the walls of what would be the Cocobel Chocolate Cafe took shape in discussions between Brash and Bunty O’Connor, pottery maker at Ajoupa Pottery for over 30 years.
A series of murals was commissioned and on June 26, the third mural in the Monstera series was installed at Cocobel.
The first two were installed in July 2020.
“The murals took shape in my head as a wild forest where cacao trees originated; cacao plantations remain somewhat wild since the trees grow below towering immortelles and still encourage an understory of forest plants, vines and small animals.
"So you enter the Cocobel shop with the cocoa estate on the left and gradually move deeper into the primeval forest as you turn,” O’Connor said.
The artist started making mosaics for table tops and murals as a way to create clay pictures with colour and texture and depth.
Traditional mosaics are created with tiles or pieces of glass or rock, roughly the same shape and size. Tiles or pieces of glass of different colours are assembled to create the picture. Mosaics made from these small tiles were created in ancient cities for walls and floors in temples and public buildings.
For O’Connor, manufactured tiles were not an option. She wanted to use clay as her base, particularly the rich, warm, local clay. So she developed a technique to use clay by rolling it out in flat slabs and then cutting it into the organic shapes featured or suggested in the picture she might be creating.
This worked wonderfully for table tops, flat pieces to be mounted on walls, even curved around a wash basin and flowing up the wall. Her work is featured at the Top o Tobago resort and the Magdalena Grand, as well as private homes around the country.
O’Connor said she started drawing in and around Brasso Seco in September 2019 with this commission in mind – breadfruit trees and Northern Range forest scenes.
The Cocobel murals are each nine feet high and four feet wide. Each drawing was traced on slabs of clay rolled to the size of the wall.
O’Connor said, “When you have rolled out your clay slabs, you have eight days to transfer the drawing, map areas of colour with basic slips, and cut the clay into the organic shapes that become trees, leaves, flowers, butterflies and animals.”
She has the benefit of years of experience with clay, glazes and techniques. The task of such artworks would be inconceivable outside her decades of making bowls, ajoupa houses and sculptural art pieces.
She said for this project, her husband Rory and young artist Safiya Hoyte provided moral support and were willing assistants in the process.