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Sally Henzell, Art at Jakes

According to Sally Henzell, “We all have our special gifts and mine is to make things pretty. It is my raison d’être and I can’t help it, whether it’s straightening a towel on a rack or picking up a bottle cap on a beach. We were given a perfect and beautiful world and it is ours & mine especially to keep it so.”

y earliest expression in architecture was making a Plasticine village, constantly added to and based on Treasure Beach on my desktop that Daddy so thoughtfully designed for art projects. That, and creating dresses for my paper dolls which were ordinary figures cut from magazines. So my first plan was to be a couturier. But then I thought appealing to the vanity of women wasn’t what it was all about, so painting, sculpting, potting complemented my dressmaking. My first foray into architecture came when I had to add another bedroom onto our tiny house in Kingston ‘cause Jason was on the way. I loved every aspect but humbly asked God to forgive me for replacing his sky with a zinc roof.

Then, when I was 50, I bought this little four-room Spanish-wall house in Treasure Beach. Deciding to make a restaurant forced me to add a large verandah, knock down a wall and build another little two-room zinc-roofed cottage beside. One room for me and one to rent out. That was the start of Jakes. The team of artisans I found in the village became my lifelong friends—we were both learning together as I didn’t want square rooms or straight walls. This was as new to them as to me and they would tease me before and behind my back. A dome, how to make a dome? Well, I think this is what we should do. I have one book, my bible of architecture. It is called: A Pattern Language, published by MIT Press. There is nothing else one needs to know. Being flexible is one of the tenets. (Imagine you couldn’t move a window one foot over to incorporate a tree!) So Jakes was born, one room at a time, and all my instincts for recycling and doing everything as cheaply as possible, came into play.

In my first room, the seats were cement and the table was a telephone spool. I found a turned leg and begged a piece of cedar plank for a table. The only thing I had to buy was the bed, which I had noticed when I saw it dangling from a tree, in the next village. I made buildings with my penchant for using discarded, empty wine bottles (they let in colored light) as well as shells and broken china (I love seeing them embedded in walls and floors). Voila, Jakes! Oh, and the colors: the brighter the better! No black and white for me.

Bit by bit, I built Jakes. It was like creating poems in cement, it was fun, it was what I was meant to be doing. I was happy and my writer husband, himself an artist, encouraged me all he could. So, the buildings and everything in them have become my art. The most precious compliment anyone ever paid me was when the great writer Chris Abani said: “We are all living in Sally’s imagination.”

Now, my next project will be to build a little art studio at Jakes. This will encourage the artists who live in the area. Also, it is my fervent wish that those like-minded guests will also use this space, which will be set up under a sprawling acacia tree. We will be providing basic art supplies and hopefully in time to come, a potter’s wheel. Jakes already has a mosaic artist who gives classes for adults and children.

—SALLY HENZELL

TREASURED SECRETS

“If in need of a dress for evening cocktails, beg Sally for two pieces of cloth. Get a needle and thread and sew four seams: Two shoulder and two sides. Kaftan making 101.”

Jessica Ogden

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