A Caymanian artist living with a case of elephantiasis isn’t letting his condition get him down or stop him creating art from bits and pieces.
Evart Jackson, 59, who grew up in East End, likes the fact that he is reusing things that would normally sit in a landfill. He is also happy that other people aside from himself find many uses for the things he makes.
Working on a pair of concrete hand moulds to use as a plant pot, Jackson cheerfully discussed his disability as he poured white concrete into a pair of plastic gloves.
“This sat overnight for at least 24 hours to let it set before the gloves are removed,” Jackson said, as he gently peeled the green gloves away from the dry concrete. One finger suddenly dropped from the mould, but Jackson smiled. “I won’t worry about that, I’ll fix that later,” he said.
The garden in the front of Jackson’s house is his studio. Examples of his masterpieces decorate the porch walkways, walls and garden. Old furniture, bits of driftwood, frames, metals and moulds ready to be filled with cement litter the place, waiting to be transformed.
“I just made a little computer desk out of scrap wood for a friend,” Jackson said. “I put my heart into everything I do and make sure it comes out good and functional … it’s how I work,” he added.
Jackson does not believe in sub-quality work. He said he lives by the family motto: If it’s not going to be done right, we’re not doing it. “That’s something I live by all my life – I don’t cut corners,” he said.
He said he does not make a lot of money from his art, but he assures people that what he makes will last.
Jackson is a carpenter by trade. Even after the diagnosis of lymphedema, otherwise known as elephantiasis, that left him with a pair of swollen legs, Jackson continues to inspire others’ lives in his community through his artistic creations.
His friendly disposition encourages young people to seek out his company. They sit, talk and watch as he works. He tells them a few jokes, intertwined with island history and lessons about life.
When asked about his disability, Jackson smiled and said, “It is what it is; can’t let that keep me down,” and continued working.
“I have to keep busy since my legs gone bad … I’m not used to keeping still so I have to keep myself occupied,” he added.
A young man watching Jackson reminded him of the model airport he crafted for his son. “He likes planes,” Jackson said, as he showed off a television stand he made from pallets; a plant holder; and a huge lamp base made from driftwood.
Jackson said he was glad to have been born in East End back in the early 1960s. He caught a whiff of the olden days and knows what Cayman was about.
Jackson migrated to America at a very early age, travelling back and forth between the two countries for most of his life.
After living 18 years in the Chicago area, Jackson finally returned to his hometown of East End for good in 2002. He got sick after that.
“I grew up in a very poor family, but we were all happy,” he said. “We had no stresses, didn’t even know what stress was, didn’t know what strokes, heart attacks, cancer were all about, we had no problems with those kinds of things and people lived longer,” Jackson said.
“The older folks knew all the remedies for most of the sickness; we were healthy and never hungry.”
He remembered seeing a car driving along East End’s sandy roads, which was a rare thing those days. He recalled that East End had only one transport at the time – Goring Welcome’s old pickup truck – which went to George Town every Saturday to take passengers.
“Occasionally you would see a tourist, otherwise East End was peaceful and tranquil,” he said.
Jackson said he got his artistic skills from one of East End’s best – his grandfather Barrict Welcome. In Jackson’s opinion, Welcome was a genius because there wasn’t much he could not do.
“He was East End’s dentist, doctor, midwife, carpenter, fisherman, mechanic, boat captain, tanner, soapmaker, winemaker, farmer, treasure hunter, cook and witch doctor,” Jackson said.
He said people in East End would say his grandfather had a photographic memory and could remember almost anything. “He lost one eye when he was young, but that didn’t slow him down or stop him,” Jackson added.
It is a condition characterised by gross enlargement of an area of the body, especially the limbs. It is caused by obstruction of the lymphatic system, which results in the accumulation of fluid in the affected areas.