Seven of Cayman’s cultural practitioners and preservationists were honoured for their contribution to the country’s arts and historical legacy at the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s 26th annual National Arts and Culture Awards, which took place on Thursday.
Anne Walton, Conroy Ebanks, Debra Barnes-Tabora, George Jones, Isaac Jeralow Rankine, Phillip Smith and Wray Banker were recognised for their talent and expertise in the areas of culinary arts, fine arts, music, net- and thatch-making, and historic preservation.
National Arts and Culture Awards are given to those who have made a significant contribution to arts and culture or achieved a high-quality body of creative work. The honourees were presented with their awards at a formal, invite-only ceremony surrounded by family and friends. Presentations were also made to Outstanding Volunteers, Sponsor of the Year and the recipient of the Chairman’s Award for long-term support of CNCF’s work.
Cultural and heritage organisations, as well as the general public, were asked to submit nominations for the CNCF Heritage Cross awards, and arts organisations nominated individuals in their particular discipline for the CNCF Star for Creativity in the Arts. A CNCF-appointed committee ultimately chose the recipients.
CNCF Heritage Cross
The CNCF Heritage Cross award is reserved for individuals and groups who have a consistent and active, quality engagement in the preservation and/or celebration of Caymanian cultural heritage. The award has three levels: gold for a lifetime of high-quality engagement; silver (minimum of 10 years) and bronze (minimum of 5 years).
CNCF Star for Creativity in the Arts
The CNCF Star for Creativity in the Arts is awarded for artistic endeavour, achievement and excellence in the arts. Like the Heritage Cross, the Star for Creativity also has three levels reflecting the span of the artist’s work and/or its overall impact.
“Change is inevitable. Depending upon the manner in which change is engineered, it can bring great benefits to help us grow individually and as a community or it can do irreparable harm to our core understanding of self. This latter, we must ever guard against; we ignore our cultural heritage – tangible and intangible – at our peril. The work of these our 2020 honourees speaks eloquently to love of country, respect for traditions and a recommitment to the ever-elusive ‘quest’. For this, CNCF thanks them and is proud to recognise their work and worth,” said Henry Muttoo, CNCF artistic director.
Gold Heritage Cross awardees
Debra Barnes-Tabora’s passion for Cayman’s history was ignited during her high school years under the tutelage of Richard Tressider. She joined the Cayman Islands National Museum in 1989 following four years of central government employment and has dedicated her life to the collection, preservation, interpretation and exhibition of Cayman’s cultural heritage. As the museum’s curation and collections manager, she is proud to say she holds the best job in the world: collecting, caring for and handling precious objects from Cayman’s past.
She has a deep love for the traditional arts and was instrumental in leading a programme to promote and preserve Caymanian thatch-plaiting skills.
Isaac Jeralow Rankine is recognised as a culture ambassador of the Cayman Islands for his ongoing work in the net-making tradition, a discipline he learned from his father and by watching his elders.
Born in the district of East End, Rankine spent a lot of time as a boy near the sea in the company of the district’s elders watching the fishermen cleaning their catch or making fish and turtle nets. Once he completed his schooling, he began a successful career at sea, one that lasted 21 years. It was during this time that he developed his passion for knitting nets and hammocks.
Upon his retirement from the sea in 1966, Rankine joined his brother, drummer Stanford Rankine, as a member of the Happy Boys Band, under the leadership of Radley Gourzong. He played maracas made from small gourds that floated up on the beach which he filled with seeds from a licorice tree.
A retired seaman, respected musician and traditional net maker, Rankine is among the few remaining knitters of nets in the Cayman Islands. His cast nets, seine nets, trap nets and hammocks are all fashioned by hand.
Anne Walton was born at Booby Point, Spot Bay, Cayman Brac. Through her culinary practices and involvement with the community, she has excelled in the preservation and promotion of Caymanian heritage and traditions. A paragon of Caymanian hospitality, Walton has significantly contributed to shaping the cultural identity of the Cayman Islands, particularly Cayman Brac.
Her introduction to the catering business was through a fundraising initiative. Since then, she has cooked for numerous events in the community, including the Cayman Brac Agriculture Show, the first Legislative Assembly Meeting in Cayman Brac in 1968 and the 50th anniversary of the Brac Legislative Assembly Meeting in 2018.
Walton is one of the last Caymanian-bred cooks still using the outside caboose to prepare local dishes and heavy cakes. Maintaining this authentic method of cooking contributes to her popularity, but it is her friendly disposition and willingness to work with her local community that truly make her shine.
Walton has welcomed many visitors to observe and learn her special talents and has hosted several school groups in association with the Cayman Traditional Arts programme.
Bronze Heritage Cross awardee
Phillip Shibley Smith is the most recent artisan to join the Cayman Brac Heritage House thatch rope-laying team. Currently a nature tourism guide at District Administration, he has proven himself to be a great asset to the civil service.
Always willing to share his zeal for culture and heritage with his colleagues and audience, Smith has been involved in many Cayman Brac Heritage House programmes and cultural community events. He has participated in various traditional demonstrations such as making peppermint candy and thatch rope, has conducted guided tours of the Heritage House grounds and buildings, and led sessions on how to construct rosemary brooms. Whilst he may be the youngest of the artisans, he has quickly mastered traditional methods and techniques that often take many years to learn.
“Having the opportunity to show my island through my eyes and personal experiences of living here has allowed me to create unique experiences for visitors to our islands. I love fulfilling their tour requests and creating one-of-a-kind-memories for them,” said Smith.
Gold Star for Creativity awardees
Wray Banker from West Bay has been drawing artistic inspiration from Caymanian culture for over 20 years. Banker, who formally studied graphic design, incorporates his training into broader artistic skills. Often thought of as a painter, he also does fine crafts, industrial and graphic design, photography and hand-printing techniques of collagraph and lithograph, learnt at Taller Experimental de Graphica in Old Havana, Cuba.
Banker’s humorous take on life is depicted throughout his work, though there is always an underlying serious message that speaks to Cayman’s culture, a rallying cry to ensure that this culture is constantly identified and celebrated. He is a founding member of the local artists’ cooperative ‘Native Sons’, launched in 1996, which pays greater attention to the cultural and socio-economic context of the people of the Cayman Islands.
He is currently the exhibits coordinator at the National Museum.
Conroy Dalmain Ebanks was born in Cayman Brac. He attended the Creek School, and then moved to New York and went to Boys High School, studying art as a minor. He was awarded scholarships for the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Pratt Institute and also received a grant to attend the Pan-American Commercial Art School in New York City.
After serving in the US Army, Ebanks relocated to Florida where he attended Miami-Dade Community College, majoring in printing, photography and drawing. Post-graduation, he became a business owner, and upon retirement in 1999, moved back to the Brac.
When his father died in 2004, Ebanks realised that he did not have a good photograph of him, so he painted a scene of his father fishing from the Creek Dock. That piece rekindled his passion for art. Since then, Ebanks has volunteered at several National Gallery art camps and a few YMCA culture camps. He also became an art instructor for the Cayman Traditional Arts Heritage Arts Programme in Cayman Brac, which allowed him to go into the schools to teach Year 6 and 7 students.
In 2018 he was asked to exhibit his work at the Cayman Brac Airport, and it remains on display in the Arrivals hall. He is also a volunteer for AiR, an artist-in-residence programme in the Brac where he oversees the exhibits, gives tours to locals and tourists, and conducts workshops.
Silver Star for Creativity awardee
George Jones has been resident in the Cayman Islands for the past 15 years. He is a founding member and keyboard player for one of Barbados’ and the Caribbean’s top soca bands, Square One, and has recorded, arranged, produced and performed on at least 15 Square One albums, as well as collaborated with other local and regional artists.
Since migrating to Cayman, Jones has performed with several local groups and in 2012 formed a new band with Brent McLean and Vashti Bodden called CAY-NRG. The band has performed at numerous local festivals and carnivals over the years and represented the Cayman Islands overseas.
Since 2013 he has been the musical director, arranger and accompanist for the annual Rundown Comedy Revue, which is produced by CNCF. He has also provided backup music for both local and visiting storytellers at the annual Gimistory International Storytelling Festival.
In 2014 he was honoured by the Honorary Consul of Barbados in Cayman for his leadership, contribution and service to the community. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Barbados Music Awards in 2013, and in 2015, Square One was recognised by the Barbados Music Awards as one of the greatest bands of all time.
Sandra Watler has been actively involved in all areas of volunteering with the CNCF for the past four years. She sees the foundation as a fundamental and integral part of the Cayman Islands in the preservation and showcase of Caymanian culture and delights in any opportunity to assist. To that extent, she has served as chaperone, driver, coordinator, assistant, box office attendant and stagehand. Though she does not identify herself as an artist, Watler actively demonstrates her love of the arts and inculcates this love in her children and others in her support of the work of CNCF over many years.