Traditional Pitcairn Island
Nola approaches her artistic crafts in the traditional manner. Weaving baskets from local palm and thatch fronds, making grass skirts and traditional jewellery and her gorgeous handmade Pitcairn Island dolls.
Nola with an entire coconut frond (Pitkern – Fanui) ready to make a Niau basket. These are still very much used today as they have been for many decades and make great carry bags for anything. Almost all of ours have been gifts from Nola. Though Kerry is not so bad at making them himself. However, Nola's work is truely in the collectors' category.
Once upon a time they said "...you weren't the marrying type until you could weave the niau basket"
In asking Nola’s permission to feature her artwork on our website Nola referred me to this article which she wrote in 2010 for the Pitcairn Log. With Nola’s happy consent we have reprinted it here for your interest.
Making Baskets on Pitcairn
– By Nola Warren
There are three different kinds of palm trees growing on Pitcairn Island that are for making baskets. One is without thorns or prickets and two with sharp prickets. I first cut the leaf with a sharp knife, then scrape the centre part off – it’s harder than the two sides. The leaf is then rolled into balls and put into a big pan and boiled for 20-30 minutes. Afterwards the leaf is put into the sun to dry. The thatch is called ‘dried white’ or ‘off white’ if a different colour is wanted.
Then some water is put into a large pot of pan over an open fire. When the water starts to boil I add Rit dye (whatever colour is wanted) into the water. It is then kept boiling. The leaf thatch is then added and stirred with a stick until it has been dyed on both sides all the way from one end to the other. It is then taken out of the boiling water and dried with a rag, then put away to dry for a week. Then it’s ready to start making a basket.
Eight pieces of white thatch and eight of dyed thatch are needed to do the outside of the basket. Sixteen pieces of thatch are needed for the liner of the basket. Six are used to make a carrying handle which are then sewn in with a needle and cotton. Basket tops are sewn on a sewing machine.
Then it’s finished and good for carrying whatever is wanted. All different shapes can be made , for example long ones with handle for carrying , square ones, ones with a lid, fans and letter holders – all are made from the same thatch material.
"I've watched Nola throughout the process of making a basket.
She has preferred plants from which she harvests her thatch. Some are located on the other side of the island, taking a good mornings work to gather and preparing the freshly cut leaves can see the afternoon out.
The boiling, drying then dying can literally take days if not weeks depending on the time of the year. ... and this is just preparing for the job ahead!
Diligently she will then sit for hours, plating the thatch around a wooden block which ultimately decides the finished baskets shape and size.
From start to finish a small basket takes many, many hours of work and a great deal of patience.
Purchasing Nola's baskets
Each basket comes with an authenticity label signed by Nola herself.
TRADITIONAL - HANDCRAFTED BASKETED
Dimensions: 15cm x 13cm x 13cm
NZ$30.00 + packaging & postage
The Pitcairn Doll
Not long ago, we were all out visiting a passing cruise ship. There was a break in the crowds so I used the opportunity to peruse Nola's trading table.
Amoungst her wares an object being used to support and show off postcards and the likes, caught my eye.
I didn't disturb Nola at the time, rather I questioned her once we were back on island. I asked "...what was it exactly...", trying to describe the thing mostly hidden on her table. It took continued discussion until she finally clicked as to what I was on about.
"OH, YOU MEAN MY DOLL...!"
She insisted on, taking it out of her basket and showing me right on the spot (we were still down the landing after being out on the ship).
It was beautiful. Over my lifetime I thought I had seen most of the variations of curio from the island, but never the doll.
The upper body is made of timber from the tree we call 'Pulau'. It's a light timber a little like balsa, white in colour
and typically used for making the sails of the Bounty models.
Th Doll's face and hair is hand painted and to this, a ponco fabric wrap and grass skirt completes the look. The grass skirt is made from the bark of the Pulau tree. It is soaked for many weeks to remove the cellulose, leaving just the fibre. The traditional hula skirt uses the same bark and method of preparation.
From the base to top of the Doll's head she stands approximately 35cm. Including the grass skirt, 50cm.
Nola explained she had stopped making them years ago, but for some unknown reason made this one on a whim. It became a handy prop for other items on the trading table.
I paid Nola immediately, it was Heather's birthday present back in December 2010 and she loved it.
Nola has kindly allowed us to make this wonderful piece of Pitcairn history available on Big Flower's website.
Each Doll is uniquely different in hair colouring and clothing and each comes with the following authenticity label signed by Nola herself.
PITCAIRN ISLAND TRADITIONAL - HANDCRAFTED DOLL
Hand carved and crafted from the timber and bark of the ‘Palau’ tree. The Doll’s features and hair are handpainted. Her arms are movable and she wears a fabric poncho wrap and a traditional grass skirt.
Approx. dimensions: 35cm (with grass skirt 50cm)
Price NZ$60 + packaging & postage