Norris Jumeau is an artist, born and bred in Seychelles. He was only 29 years old when he crafted his first tortoise out of wood in 1989. At the time, he was living and working on Denis Island with his family, when it was suggested he should try and craft during his free time. Who knew he would be so passionate about it 29 years later.
Norris Jumeau studied at the Seychelles College and continued on to further studies in Kenya and the UK where he briefly studied art, not knowing his future would depend on it. On many occasions, he ventured into other careers and fields, a skipper, a chauffeur, a foreman, but in the end he always came back to the arts.
So how does Norris create these perfect exquisite creatures? Where does one even start? The usual question is ‘Is this wood?’ with a look of confusion and perplexion, followed by ‘But it looks like ceramic or porcelain!’ with another look of shock and awe. The simple answer is yes, each piece of art is made of wood. Mostly any wood can be used, only one was ever made using the wood from a coconut tree, we don’t know where in the world it is today, but the wood from the Calice du Pape tree is the ideal wood to work with and most readily available.
The process from start to finish for each given piece can take anywhere from a few weeks to almost 1 year to complete. The artist receives the wood in different sized cut pieces and each one has to be cleaned of the bark to prevent burrowing insects. The logs are then left to dry for about 3 months. When the time comes for carving, the shape and the size of the log play a role in forming the shape and size of each piece.
Whether a tortoise or a turtle, no two pieces are rarely ever the same. Each is given a unique identity of their own. Colours, patterns, styles, poses, depictions of landscapes or seascapes, fish, birds, clouds, stars, many designs are used to adorn each piece all coming together in the end to form a one of a kind masterpiece. The variety does not stop there.; some are carved others not, some are painted, others just left in their natural state. There is always one piece that will attract a specific individual. Norris diversifies in every little way possible, the sky is the limit. He even tailor makes to clients tastes and specifications.
Each piece is lovingly hand-carved by Norris, but everyone in his family helps in a way. His wife and children help by cleaning the wood or smoothing each carving with sand paper. Of course once the base colour is on, everyone tries to give an idea of what should be painted on there. Suddenly everybody is an artist, but Daddy is the only one left holding the brush.
After the paint has dried, the final step is lacquering, the coat that seals everything in. They then have to pass quality control before they get the seal of approval – the lady of the house’ job, Norris’ greatest admirer and harshest critic.
“At the end of the day, it’s the look on the clients’ face that makes it all worth it. It is always better than they ever imagined it could be.”
Norris Jumeau, These works of art are not mass-produced – it is what makes each work truly unique; that they are limited and almost hard to find. But anyone who has ever wanted one always manages to get one. Norris produces just enough to supply existing demand. Each piece goes at a price that he know will keep every client happy and it is the perfect way to remember their holiday.
So what does the future hold for Norris Jumeau? Growing up, Norris tells us that this is never what I would have imagined himself doing for the rest of his life, but now he cannot imagine anything better.
“The life of an artist is not an easy one. Making ones mark amongst so many other talented artists is a challenge but I have found my speciality, a work of art that is genuine and original only to me.
I could paint on canvas if I wanted to; make sculptures or small souvenirs if I wanted to, but what for! So many others are doing this already, copying or following the trend, doing and redoing what has already been done before. I respect them each individually for what they do as I believe that each has his own. Everybody needs to work to survive. Copying is how you not only destroy a quality product but also ruin ones name and reputation.
Today I am a little known artist and I am somewhat happy that way. I get by on enough and I have my wife and children by my side. If I had a chance to start my life all over again from scratch, I wouldn’t change anything, I am where I am now for a reason and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.”