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Janet DeBraga opens Times Past Gift Shop

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Janet DeBraga, owner of Times Past Gift Shop, with her creations made from natural fibres (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Decades ago, the shop under the St George’s Historical Society on Featherbed Alley in St George was filled with banana-leaf dolls made by the artist Marie Gleeson.

Half a century later, the banana-leaf dolls are back, and they have friends.

St George’s resident Janet DeBraga has opened Times Past Gift Shop, selling dolls, headbands, angels, wreathes and other items made from locally sourced natural fibres.

“The craft has found its way back to where it started,” Ms DeBraga said.

Some of Janet DeBraga’s dolls, made from natural materials (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

One of Ms Gleeson’s dolls has pride of place in the store.

Ms DeBraga taught herself how to make dolls from corn husk leaves, a traditional craft, then local artist Ronnie Chameau taught her how to make them using materials from banana trees.

“Ronnie comes in every Wednesday and teaches me something,” Ms DeBraga said. “She always says, ‘Now what do you want to learn today?’ ”

Part of the funds from Times Past go to the St George’s Historical Society upstairs which runs the Mitchell House Museum and Printery in the same building. In addition to the dolls, there are a number of Bermuda books on sale.

“I am a volunteer with the museum,” Ms DeBraga said. “I have always loved it. I grew up in St George’s, and would walk by the museum every day on my way to school. It is nice that it has kept its way of displaying how people lived back in the day.”

She opened Times Past a year ago.

“Last summer was busy, but we did not see as many tourists as we did in summers before the pandemic,” Ms DeBraga said.

But she did well last month, selling almost all her Christmas angels during the annual Bermuda National Trust Christmas Walkabout.

Now things are a little slow in the old town during the post-Christmas period.

The museum upstairs is open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the winter months.

“In the summer, it is open every day except Saturday,” she said.

The shop gets good foot traffic though, because people often wander in, trying to find the entrance to the museum.

Ms DeBraga sometimes gives them a little tour around the building, telling them about aspects of its history that interest her.

“At one point it was a girls’ school,” she said. “A room upstairs was also used to hatch the Gunpowder Plot.”

To make her natural products she uses dried flowers and other materials from Hideaway Farm, Bermuda Yard Farm and Windybank Farm.

“I like to support local,” she said.

And visitors seem to appreciate this.

“Why would you want to travel to Bermuda and buy something from somewhere else?” she said.

Sometimes Ms DeBraga makes her crafts while the store is in operation. It is a way to pass the time, and it also amuses the visitors.

It takes her about half an hour to do a small doll, not including time spent cleaning and trimming materials.

“Each doll has her own personality,” she said. “I had one that was going to be a witch because it was October. But as I was making the doll, she decided she was not going to be a witch. She carries flowers now.”

Items in the store range from $15 to $40.

Ms DeBraga said one of her challenges is getting to the level of Ms Gleeson and Ms Chameau.

“But they studied their craft for decades, and I have only been doing it for a year,” she said. “Each person brought their own personality into it. Ms Gleeson did a lot of work that involved knowing how to crochet. Ronnie does a lot of weaving. I had to learn how to weave palm fronds. For my own style, I like to use a mixture of different materials together, such as Chinese fan palm, banana leaf and corn husk. I like the colouring and how they look.”

The shop reopens in the first week of February, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm.

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Published January 23, 2023 at 8:08 am (Updated January 24, 2023 at 7:45 am)

Janet DeBraga opens Times Past Gift Shop

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