A Tribute to Barbadian artist, Jill Walker B.C.H, B.J.H, my mum
Who passed away at home on Saturday 6th November 2021, aged 94
The next generations in Barbados, Australia and UK will miss her, as mum, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-granny, very much as we so enjoyed her in our lives and our very many visits between Barbados, Australia and the UK
Working quietly amongst us for the last 65 years has been a very accomplished artist. Most Barbadians will know her distinctive artwork through the five “Best of Barbados” gift shops that she and her husband, Jimmy, started in 1975. The word “Best” set the standard for the design work, as Jill and her husband put enormous energy into creating outlets for high quality Barbadian craft alongside Jill’s own distinctive designs. At one point, they had 13 Best of Barbados shops on the island and exported to other islands.
Jill found her design work extremely absorbing. As Barbados has so many returning visitors, each season required numerous new products and Jill was so creative that this constant stream of new projects delighted her. Her designs for their screen-printing studio were sophisticated, often fun and always colourful, and sewing-up the numerous products employed many cottage workers. As well as the products created in Barbados Jill and husband Jimmy eagerly searched out manufacturing companies abroad to make her “Jill Walker” products, exclusively for Best of Barbados. There were beach towels from Brazil, trays from Italy, mugs from Scotland, tablemats from England and fabric from Japan. Each product was a new design challenge, often of considerable complexity. She was still involved in designing new products as recently as 5 years ago, at the age of 89.
In the 1980s, Jill, Jimmy and their daughter, Sarah, also started “Walkers’ World”. Then on St Lawrence Gap, the shop immediately became the notable destination for stylish homewares and gifts. Its interior was quite breathtaking and the stock was sourced with the Walkers’ usual meticulous flair. Walkers’ World was sold in 2008 and continues to this day.
Although Jill was usually frantically busy producing new designs for Best of Barbados, she occasionally entered design competitions. Notably, in 1989, she won the Government competition to design a logo for the celebrations of the 350th Anniversary of the Barbados Parliament, (the third oldest in the Commonwealth). Her logo can be seen, reproduced in bronze, in the handsome monument in the grounds of the Tom Adams Financial Centre off Roebuck Street.
Around 2000, she also won a competition for a poster to encourage appreciation of Barbados’ gullies. Her artwork was an intricate layout of the islands flora and fauna. Back in 1964, she won another Government competition for a set of 14 Barbados stamps based on sea life. Their attractiveness and thus popularity with philatelists meant they were used from 1965-69. Prime Minister Barrow once told Jill that they had earned Barbados considerable amounts of foreign currency.
Barbados had a distinctive traditional architectural style of its own. Jill valued the details and charm of these buildings, considering many of them works of art. Her detailed architectural paintings of them show the galleries, louvered doors, balusters, fretwork, window hoods, push-out louvered windows and porches that were once part of almost every building on the island. Her architect husband, Jimmy, (for many years Vice-president of the Barbados National Trust), also appreciated the skill and artistry shown in these buildings and greatly encouraged her to record them. By the 1970s, these buildings were slipping into history and inevitably, Jill wished she had painted even more.
For her, the highlight of her career came when she was selected to be one of 100 people awarded the Barbados Centennial Honour on 1st January 2001. It was to acknowledge those “who had contributed to the building of the nation of Barbados by making an outstanding contribution to national or community life”, and Jill’s was for her contribution to business and art. The medal carries the words “Nation Builder”. In 2016 she was awarded a Barbados Jubilee Honour, presented to 50 people on the island’s 50th year of independence in recognition of their contribution to the island’s development over the last half century. Jill remembered proudly being at the Garrison on 30th November 1966 when at midnight the Union Jack was lowered and the new Barbados flag raised. She loved Barbados and “couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Barbados was her adopted home. She was born in south-west England and from the age of 17 trained in London during World War Two, experiencing the nightly blackouts and bombings. She completed a four year National Diploma in Design (with long working hours), then in 1948 entered the Royal Academy School of Drawing and Painting for a further year. There she won a competition for a mural to decorate the foyer of a theatre, perhaps signalling her next move, to the Old Vic Theatre School.
She worked with several of the major London theatres and in 1952 set up her own business with a friend, to make masks, jewellery, props and models, commissioned by top-level productions. Alongside of all this she was commissioned to paint portraits of eminent people and illustrated children’s books. Then, in 1956, she sailed to Guyana to visit an art school friend, planning to sail on to America and make her fortune. Luckily for Barbados, she meet husband-to-be, Jimmy, on the first night in Guyana. It started their life in the Caribbean, which transpired to be a lovely story of great enjoyment, hard work and considerable success.
With the help of their family, in 2002, the Walkers wrote the story down in “Jill Walker’s Barbados” illustrated with a collection of 400 photographs and reproductions of her work. Chapter headings like, “A Record of Buildings”, “The Coast and Sea” and “Landscapes and Gardens” reveal her greatest subject interests. Her numerous paintings from other islands appear in her book “Up the Islands” and “Jill Walker’s Chattel Houses” collected together numerous paintings of these small gems she loved. In 2016 Jill’s family commissioned a Barbadian film producer, Penelope Hynam, to make the documentary ‘Jill Walker: An Artistic Life’, which won three awards at the Barbados Visual Media Awards.
Jill and Jimmy’s energy, enthusiasm and high standards were admired by all who knew them and will be remembered particularly by their three daughters. The youngest, Susan and her husband Chris Trew, joined Best of Barbados in 1989 and they continue to run the Best of Barbados Gift Shops. Susan and one of her daughters, Holly, followed Jill as designers and artists and it was a thrill for her to see the continuation of her life’s passion through their flair and ability in producing designs for Best of Barbados. In March 2012 the three generations put on a marvellous art show in Speightstown. Jill was thankful to be able to continue painting into her 90s, when failing eyesight caused her to lay down her brushes. Sue and Chris continued to care for Jill at her home, as she wished. Middle daughter, Sarah, lives in Australia and her eldest, Charlotte, lives in the UK, both with families. Jill’s husband, Jimmy, passed away in 2016.
For any further information on Jill Walker our mum, or permission to use this material, please contact:
Sarah Cobb in Australia: +61 412 618 723 firstname.lastname@example.org