[EDITOR: Suzanne Morlock is an artist who lives outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She is works in painting and more recently sculpture and installation involving more organic materials, paper and felt. Morlock has exhibited in the US and internationally. This posting is drawn from her experiences in the summer of 2009 with Cross Cultural Collaborative, Inc., Teshie/ Nungua, Ghana.]
This past summer I spent three weeks in southern Ghana working with a small non-profit focused on art, cultural exchange and working with neighborhood children. The stay in Nungua, a fishing village outside of the capital Accra was typified by many unique, poignant experiences. In August it’s considered Spring with cool temperatures in the low to mid 80s and humidity that feels like 100%.
Ghana is filled with craftspeople, traditional and innovative – weaving, ceramics, bead making, basket making, batik artists, textile artists and fantasy coffin makers to name a few. One side trip east toward the Volta River was to visit a local Krobo bead maker who has taken his artisanship beyond the neighborhood he grew up in.
Having successfully bridged the tricky divide between obscurity and the world at large; Mr. Cedi, as he is known (cedi is the name of the currency of Ghana, a nickname he wears proudly), is a bundle of energy. Always eager to give a tour of his artisan workshop and the process which takes empty bottles and turns them into glass powder beads — we were privy to a full review of his operation.
The tour forced me to suspend my Western notions of craft production. Within his artisan compound there were several areas reserved for the different phases of operation, all in the open air with shade structures of palm fronds with bamboo supports. The recycled glass is ground to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Glass powders of various colors are layered into clay molds and melted in a traditional kiln. After cooling, beads are polished by rubbing them together with sand and water on a smooth stone. The combinations of finishes are a feast for the eyes.
Mr. Cedi has been to various countries around the world to speak, give workshops and of course sell the multitude of beads that are produced at his “factory”. His extended family lives on the property where these beads are produced and everyone has a part to play in this large operation. It was an uplifting visit to see a local man reap rewards from hard work and a willingness to think creatively about his local beginnings and how his craft could spread to the world beyond.