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Island Expressions: Sandra Michael

May 10, 2009 — If self-coined "scrap artist" Sandra Michael hadn't sustained a back injury in a 2001 car accident, she wouldn't be creating miniatures of the cultural West Indian stilt-dancing mocko jumbies.
The accident changed a lot in her life. She could no longer work as a corrections officer at the Youth Rehabilitation Center, and she couldn't dance any more with the West End Masqueraders.
"I was a person constantly on the go and staying busy," says Michael, mother of six and grandmother of 11. "After that accident, I couldn't dance anymore. But I was determined to bounce back. Even if you are broken you can still do dynamic things."
The masqueraders dressed up in "pitchy-patchy" costumes made of rags and tattered patched clothes, and traditionally danced alongside mocko jumbies in parades and cultural holiday festivities, Michael says.
"I decided I wanted to somehow preserve this part of our culture," Michael says. "I know this is what I want to do, I can do it and I have ideas of what to do."
So she decided to sew little lifelike masqueraders out of fabric scraps and appliqué them to pillows.
"I was in pain and had a hard time cutting the fabric, but I put myself in a different state of mind, got into my scrap art and then I didn't feel the pain," she says. "It was very therapeutic for me."
She began to put the cloth figures on cards and frameable art. She gave most of her first pieces away, but she also sold them at a co-op in Christiansted called Memories of St. Croix that went out of business a couple of years ago. Customers at the store asked her to create three-dimensional hard figures of mocko jumbies.
"At night I would lay in my bed and say, 'God, show me how to make a mocko jumbie,' and all of a sudden I saw how to put it together!" Michael says with a big smile.
She started out making miniature three-inch jumbies that made perfect objects to hang on a Christmas tree or a rear-view mirror. The jumbies' legs are made from shish-kabob skewers and the rest of the body underneath the clothes is a secret, Michael says. The colorful, one-of-a-kind figures are dressed in machine-sewn calico or madras pants or skirts and white-cotton-lace-trimmed "cang cangs" (slips). The cone -shaped hats with feathers sticking out are made of burlap that she has formed by hand, then hardened with glue. Added to that are details of glitter and sequins with a full-face mask of white cotton fabric. She is now making jumbies between 10 and 20 inches tall, with the larger ones standing on pieces of mahogany.
Michael has branched out more under the encouragement of Millie Calvin, proprietor of Cultural Creations in Frederiksted, which is the only outlet for the mocko jumbies. Michael is now making bright-colored T-shirts with patchwork appliquéd jumbies on them, and she is perfecting masquerader collectible dolls.
"Sandra is such a multitalented lady," Calvin says."I think the world should know about talent like hers that we have in the Virgin Islands."
Michael plays the triangle — what she calls the "steel" — with Bully and the Musical Kafooners at the Caribbean Museum Center for the arts and cultural events. Her grandfathers had talent, too: One was a stilt dancer and the other was a musician and quelbe songwriter.
Michael has acted in comedies and serious drama at Caribbean Community Theater, and recalled writing plays and acting in kindergarten, St. Patrick's School and St. Croix Central High School.
"I love being onstage and expressing myself," Michael says.
She has started to think it isn't coincidental the way things have happened in her life.
"The accident happened for a reason," Michael says. "Life is a journey full of experiences that help you grow. I feel empowered, and there isn't anything that I can't do with my art. I feel like the sky is the limit."
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May 10, 2009 -- If self-coined "scrap artist" Sandra Michael hadn't sustained a back injury in a 2001 car accident, she wouldn't be creating miniatures of the cultural West Indian stilt-dancing mocko jumbies.
The accident changed a lot in her life. She could no longer work as a corrections officer at the Youth Rehabilitation Center, and she couldn't dance any more with the West End Masqueraders.
"I was a person constantly on the go and staying busy," says Michael, mother of six and grandmother of 11. "After that accident, I couldn't dance anymore. But I was determined to bounce back. Even if you are broken you can still do dynamic things."
The masqueraders dressed up in "pitchy-patchy" costumes made of rags and tattered patched clothes, and traditionally danced alongside mocko jumbies in parades and cultural holiday festivities, Michael says.
"I decided I wanted to somehow preserve this part of our culture," Michael says. "I know this is what I want to do, I can do it and I have ideas of what to do."
So she decided to sew little lifelike masqueraders out of fabric scraps and appliqué them to pillows.
"I was in pain and had a hard time cutting the fabric, but I put myself in a different state of mind, got into my scrap art and then I didn't feel the pain," she says. "It was very therapeutic for me."
She began to put the cloth figures on cards and frameable art. She gave most of her first pieces away, but she also sold them at a co-op in Christiansted called Memories of St. Croix that went out of business a couple of years ago. Customers at the store asked her to create three-dimensional hard figures of mocko jumbies.
"At night I would lay in my bed and say, 'God, show me how to make a mocko jumbie,' and all of a sudden I saw how to put it together!" Michael says with a big smile.
She started out making miniature three-inch jumbies that made perfect objects to hang on a Christmas tree or a rear-view mirror. The jumbies' legs are made from shish-kabob skewers and the rest of the body underneath the clothes is a secret, Michael says. The colorful, one-of-a-kind figures are dressed in machine-sewn calico or madras pants or skirts and white-cotton-lace-trimmed "cang cangs" (slips). The cone -shaped hats with feathers sticking out are made of burlap that she has formed by hand, then hardened with glue. Added to that are details of glitter and sequins with a full-face mask of white cotton fabric. She is now making jumbies between 10 and 20 inches tall, with the larger ones standing on pieces of mahogany.
Michael has branched out more under the encouragement of Millie Calvin, proprietor of Cultural Creations in Frederiksted, which is the only outlet for the mocko jumbies. Michael is now making bright-colored T-shirts with patchwork appliquéd jumbies on them, and she is perfecting masquerader collectible dolls.
"Sandra is such a multitalented lady," Calvin says."I think the world should know about talent like hers that we have in the Virgin Islands."
Michael plays the triangle -- what she calls the "steel" -- with Bully and the Musical Kafooners at the Caribbean Museum Center for the arts and cultural events. Her grandfathers had talent, too: One was a stilt dancer and the other was a musician and quelbe songwriter.
Michael has acted in comedies and serious drama at Caribbean Community Theater, and recalled writing plays and acting in kindergarten, St. Patrick's School and St. Croix Central High School.
"I love being onstage and expressing myself," Michael says.
She has started to think it isn't coincidental the way things have happened in her life.
"The accident happened for a reason," Michael says. "Life is a journey full of experiences that help you grow. I feel empowered, and there isn't anything that I can't do with my art. I feel like the sky is the limit."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.