In the chain of the uncountable islands which, of Ha”ti to Venezuela, close in the East the Caribbean Sea, Martinique occupies a place privileged for the wealth and the variety of its vegetation.
     Since soon a half-millennium,it tied up economic and cultural links with Europe. At present French territory, she lives in the French taste.
    In the North of the ile, an ancient plantation was fitted out in complex hotelkeeper: the Plantation LEYRITZ. Nothing or almost indicates here, to the guest of passage, the hotel vocation of the site. In the heart of a bananery, on a hill dominating by far the sea, at random flowery roads either through green lawns, we find, here the house of the planter, there the sugar refinery, somewhere else " compartments Negros " or still the oratory, or the garden " a la Francaise "
     It is there that lives, works and relaxs Will FENTON. Its life and its work are not the object of our curiosity. They are the leisure activities, quite complete dedicated has an artistic ideal which he explains to us. WILL FENTON'S FIGURINES In this day of janvier where we felt a little disturbed by the heat,
     Will FENTON, with all the kindness of the people antillais, and all the simplicity which is the dominant feature of hisperson, tells us what was his life. Is he French, is he English? It doesn't much matter. He is himself, he is "antillais".
     Here, in the plantation Leyritz, among the hibiscuses red or salmon that assail under our eyes hummingbirds in the bronze head, between two enormous brass cauldrons where from delicate water lilies with the started flower appear and where the small black and grey blackbirds quarrel, Will, with his noble voiceof baritone, a big purity sentence, calls to us his youth in the ile of Trinidad near an english greatmother . Trinidad, in 20 km of the Venezuelan coast " On 4828 km2, Europe, Africa, East and America gave themselves meeting. By going through Port-of-Spain's streets you will discover, in a glistening colours, the suits of the whole world: Fes, turbans, saris, madras, tunics, tissues of islands, silk of China, etc. " ( the Blue Guide).
     Which geographic determinism already could better guide our artist ?
But there is more :

ill reveal us with an amused smile that his mother, native of Martinique and needlewoman of whom he is the unique son had dedicated many of leisure activities forced by his pregnancy to the consultation of carvings of fashion of any times. For her, Will's inborn science for the drape, his passion for the garment, revealed very early in his childhood, would have there their origin. He calls it to us on a tone rather sceptic. Sceptics, we are not as much as him. In his case, the atavism is a certainty. Parental inheritance concerns him all the more someone, besides his father was a painter, a musician and a sculptor, at the same time as naturalist. Everything is so gathered to make this very original creator that is Will FENTON.
     Because - we have not yet said it to you - Will FENTON creates figurines, quite from 20 to 40 cms. All dressed exclusively in vegetables. Never of animal products, and it is exceptional that tiny jewels and manufactured fineries come to complete the sets. If you say to him that he makes DOLLS, he will not bear you a grudge. If you speak about models of fashion, he will think in himself that you did not well understand his work. But he would want that his small persons were rather called FIGURINES. And we understood why throughout the explanations that he gave us on the genesis of the creative step.
     It is the plant building material which is the point of departure. Who had had the chance to contemplate vegetation antillaise will understand this inspiration, and will understand also the abundance of the remnants which constitute the foliages of several metres in length. Flowers so praised by the columnists of any times and the tourist guides, are only an element of the palette. Stalks, foliages, sepals and bractŽes, peels of bulbs everything should material be draped (as this shrub that one calls here the "underskirt - gossip" ") to prune, to bend or to twine.
     Of his skillful fingers, our artist collects a red sheet of latanier fallen near his seat and facts in an instant a rose, clarifying that his first vocation is that of a decorator; that the first realization was - paternel inheritance obliges - an impossible bird makes of feathers of peacock artistically planted in an avocado . Short-lived realization (avocado rots fast !) which ended in a big spot on the table that the filial consciousness blames still him for little. To the ,avocado - peacock succeeded different animals, in particular of these cocks fighters who are a speciality of the isle.
     But rather quickly the choices went almost exclusively on vegetables and human figurines. It is, one understood it, the vegetable which, by its colour, the thickness or its relief, creates inspiration. Subject itself is borning during manipulations, when the vegetable revealed its possibilities. That is why Will FENTON never works on model, ever reproduces an image, a drawing, a photo. The confusion was big a day when having created Elisabeth of England, only by imagination (or better, as he says himself of "visual memory ", from images maybe suspected in his childhood), to find a posteriori the real image of what he had wanted to make.

he artist well knows however fashion and times of the suit. The materials lead him to all the kinds, all the styles. The collection that he shows us as well contains ClŽop‰tre as Nana in the style of Zola (that he forgives for us: he does not like giving names to his " pandora ") an infanta of Spain or a "gar�onne" on 1920. But he admits that at the moment hispreferences go to the Second Empire and to the end of XIX-th century. He does not try to explain it, but we believe to guess that the big remnants which get the sheet of banana tree allows the long dragnets, the ample skirts, the forms "bouillonnantes", the faux-culs ".
    That one does not believe however that Will loves systematically abundance and excess load. Many of his creations are very strict. And it is in those that appears the other face of the talent. The bodies of his persons, who have no realism of detail (faces have no features) are of the perfect anatomical truth. Gestures, attitudes, positions have all the grace and the life for which one would expect from a modelling. It is that the garment needs a support, an internal body. Of what is made this one? We did not try to know it, it had doubtless been indiscreet, in every useless case. But we were able to notice that the dolls are at the same moment light and solid. Some of what we photographed in the garden were knocked down by a breath of trade wind, without damage.
     

     The vegetable, the alive building material, is not without talking to the creator inconveniences and surprises. At first for colours. Many become blurred or saw during the drying and as the ceramist or the enamel, the artist has to foresee it that will be the tone of the tissue on the finished object. So that these figurines are almost cama•eux where nuances spread out of the almost pure white in the frank brown. But there is from place to place, details of beautiful one orange-coloured faded, the others of a dark red, deep greens, and then the beautiful tint aubergine of the flower of banana tree. The set is of a very big harmony.  And then, the building material always has no stability of a weaved fiber.
    By drying the vegetable shrinks. In the debuts Will had succeeded a beautiful crinoline the dimension of which enchanted him; the next day, the figurine had only a miniskirt !      And the biggest problem which puts him the climate of Martinique is that of the pervading humidity, which is strong under this tropical climate. If it allows the conservation of a certain flexibility during the work of the vegetable, it is, on the other hand, generative of redoubtable molds. These last ones do not alter the figurine in depth, but they impose certain maintenance and sometimes treatments of surface by one varnished. These treatments of surface are not a part integral of the creation. The author uses only exceptionally the varnish as the ornamental element and repaints that in rare occasions.
   He is sometimes brought to spend some of his sheets in the oven.
    One knows that certain vegetable sheets, by drying, lose this sort of mortal coil, this skin which gives them the colour, and remain in the state of very fine nervures geometrically muddled, which makes excellent laces. Sometimes, this skin remains a member, by patches of any forms and dimensions, and it also gives variety show of very exploitable tissues. The other vegetables, still, become by drying of a sharpness and an extreme transparency forming delicate muslins. Those, it is necessary to double them by sticking, generally on the paper trace. There is, for this custom, no ideal glue; some are used, according to the opportunity. No detail is sewn. Sometimes the natural rigidity of the building material is enough for the preservation of folds. Otherwise, assembly makes only by the glue, the thread and the hairpins. WILL FENTON insists on the fact that the choice of materials is unlimited and that it is enough indeed to look around, to the heaps of waste to find an useful vegetable.He gained widespread acceptance and the circle of acquaintances got used to selecting at random walks or work all which " can be of use to Will ". He evokes for us some some of these vegetables - tissues. At first curious wood -cannon the very big profoundly cut sheet of which is brown on one side and, of the other, white with fine black scores; he makes beautiful "cotton fabrics" of it very adapted to the male garment and more generally to the colonial style. The banana tree by the dimension of the sheet and by the nuances which go from the pink in the mallow gets him numerous coupons.
     Of the Caribbean-cabbage, he happened to use more specially sheets stained with some weedkiller, which imitate beautifully the printed tissue. Le " jupon-cancan " ( underskirt-gossip ), naturally, is him of a good usage; the acaligua, which it is necessary to double; the flowers of " hortensia " ( hydrangea, they are blue here ), and even the skins of onions or of "?chalottes", about which one knows delicate degraded nuances...
     Statement would be endless, if one remembers that there are 600 or 700 botanical species counted in the ile. And one will not forget either barks, mushrooms, and even peels of fruits.
     Will's work is original. It is not maybe an invention in the strict senseof the novelty, because for a long time already and in all countries one made figurines without having appeal to the products of the industry; some of the origin animal, the others of vegetable origin, or mixed. Sometimes they are objects votifs, sometimes toys. Will's figurines are neither of them. For us, it is finally the term  of PANDORES, models of fashions, authentic creations, which countered the most adequate.
      Useless so to remind otherwise that by allusion, the uncountable realizations of the popular art, that they are for domestic usage or objects of a rudimentary and local business. However praiseworthy they are for the social plan, they are not generally objects of art, contrary to that makes Will. One so used apples which, by withering, give of touching faces of big mother wrinkled. One was able to also use gourds and cocoons of silkworm, pine cones, prunes ( pflaumentoffel).


traw subjects braided or in sheet of palm tree, do not have anything to see with our subject. To braid is already an industry, the first step towards the weaving mill: the vegetable material changes aspect.
     There are all the same three sorts of realizations which have a relationship with those of Will.
     Relationship of intention: -In France as somewhere else, one knows how to make many dolls with ears of corn. A natural material so predestined for this usage that the ear itself is often called "poupee" by the farmers. Either one uses all the ear with its grains(beads) which constitutes the body of the doll, and "beards" of which drape all the possible variety show of heads of hair, the light-blond in the brown by way of the red, and the sepals, beautiful easy to drape . Either still, one sets, what sepals and one is more in the ease to create the suit. It is moreover the material that WILL knows and uses: a "material" naturally frowned which keeps for a long time, at the same moment, its shape and its flexibility.
     -In Countries Scandinavians and in Russia, lichens and mosses are used gladly, and only. The small dolls lapones which we can see in Montbrison's museum {France), the Russian " sylvains ", have a very rudimentary speed, but they loosen a rather fascinating impression.
     -Finally, stay the figurines which one made for the XIX-th century in Sweden with the bark of birch. The bark of birch is the vegetable-type which allows this working kind. Fine, supple, smooth, it presents a whole drawing surface made with spots and lines on white bottom.
    WILL FENTON makes original and interesting work in the sense that he rehabilitates the vegetable material. One would there manage almost to wonder, by seeing the clothes which he realizes, why , in the course of times, the man was incensed to treat and to mistreat the vegetable fiber to make cords which it was necessary then to braid or to weave by creating a more and more heavy industry !
     But it is true that it was necessary since the origin of times, to protect himself more than to adorn himself, and the vegetable is of a very disturbing weakness in front of cold, of the rain or the sun, and the wear and tear. One will notice however that the tissues which the civilized man uses for his protection are especially of animal origin: furs, wools and downs. The tissues of vegetable fiber, silk, linen, meet more gladly in the finery. And it is of the finery that works Will FENTON.
    It is not forbidden to think that a day, a Parisian couturier eagery for innovation, will introduce maybe the flower of banana tree or the onion skin into his creations ....If it happened, no doubt that merit of the invention would return to Will FENTON !

 

Anne-Marie and Jacques POROT

 

P.S. Read also: " Will Fenton un artiste martiniquais " ( Will Fenton an artist from Martinique ) Ingeborg Riesser, Magazine de la Maison de Poupée ( Magazine of the Doll's house ), n°48, Summer, 1999 and a mail from Laurence Alvado op. cit. page 7.

As well you can consult :

< www.caribin.com/martinika/fr/Ecotourisme/bassepointe.html >
<ww.ace4you.com/things_ martinique.htm >
< //lamartinique.free.fr/nor_atl.html >
< //geor.jon.free.fr/french/martinique/tour/museum.html >
Or, evently, go to :


 Since the first publication of this site we found this Max L.Salvon's photo, entitled..... " Vegetable Figurines "!





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