Gombey costume maker brightens Harbour Nights
A “champion” of Bermuda's Gombey tradition is once again a fixture of Hamilton's Harbour Nights: costume artist and folk art historian Janice Warner-Tucker.
Ms Warner-Tucker, a celebrated creator of Gombey dolls and hats showcasing her skills as a costume maker for the Gombeys, has presented her wares at Harbour Nights for years at the request of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.
After dedicating almost 70 years to costume making for the Warner Gombey Troupe, Ms Warner-Tucker spoke this week to The Royal Gazette on her love of the trade.
“You'd be surprised to see how many people love the Gombeys but don't understand what they are and know nothing about the history,” Ms Warner-Tucker said, adding that she often visits the Island's schools to share Gombey lore with schoolchildren.
Local talent at the weekly venue, held on Front Street every Wednesday from May through September, ranges from handmade jewellery to handcrafted cedar clocks.
The skills behind Ms Warner-Tucker's speciality began with her father, John Warner, leader of the Warner Gombey troupe, who eventually passed down his role to his son Llewellyn.
Ms Warner-Tucker found her start as a small girl, helping her mother assemble costumes for her father and brother.
Now ranked as a priceless addition to Harbour Nights, Ms Warner-Tucker has a name as the “grande dame of Gombey Costumes” and “cherished champion of Bermuda's Gombey tradition”, according to Community and Cultural Affairs.
Her traditional and intricately made Gombey dolls are tourist favourites, and Ms Warner-Tucker often receives calls from travellers requesting their own unique versions.
And, when the Gombey Dancers make their appearance at Harbour Nights, Ms Warner-Tucker isn't above dancing on the sidelines with her wares — cheering on the same troupe that she dresses.
The costume maker's talent has been commemorated through awards such as the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour, the Bermuda Arts Council's lifetime achievement award and a host other accolades from Bermuda's schools.
Asked for her secret, Warner-Tucker said she believes that “God put my spirit here so that I could dress the Gombeys, and every costume I make is a joy to my heart”.
Other Harbour Nights figures who shared their stories with The Royal Gazette included mother-son vendors Bernice and Javon Burt.
Assisted by Mr Burt’s cousin Hammad Sabir Taalib Din, the family sell handmade fragrances, creams and oils from their stand Khayr’s Paradise.
Their Ewing Street business of the same name commemorates Mr Taalib Din’s two-year-old son Khayr, who died in 2006 from premature birth complications.
Driven to use “compassion and a unique perspective to develop natural goodness”, New York-based Mr Taalib Din supplies the Burts with the essentials used to create their wares.
Meanwhile, clock maker and cedar carver Roderick Raynor is enjoying his third year at the weekly shopping and craft festival.
The former Belco worker, whose cedar clocks are his top product, explained that he “sort of fell into cedar work — I had no training, and I’m not a carpenter; it was just something I enjoyed.
“I saw a piece of cedar, I liked the grain, so I cleaned it up and began to do more with it. It was something I found fascinating.”