Interview With Ann Rudder, Heraldic And Textile Artist

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This post was first published by Gyal In A Gallery and reposted with kind permission on Bajan Art

Meeting Ann Rudder in the Cathedral

I met Ann Rudder in the Chapters Room of the Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels. It seemed a fitting place. Just a few weeks ago, some of Ann Rudder’s largest works hung in this space. The show, called “Come Celebrate We Caribbean Heraldry,” featured hand-made banners depicting the coats-of-arms of 17 Caribbean countries, and ran from August 17 to 27. I didn’t get to see it, but I heard about it, and I was curious to learn a little more about why someone would put together such a show.

Ann is all smiles when she welcomes me to the Chapters Room of the Cathedral. It’s a small space, filled with old books and pictures, and it’s hot there. We both comment on it. I suggest that it’s caused by the storms (because this interview was done right after Hurricane Irma) and she sighs, says that it’s horrible. Irma has just passed Antigua and Barbuda, and José was threatening them, and Ann says,

“Do you know the coat of arms of Antigua and Barbuda has a fallow deer on it?”

No, I didn’t.

She pulls out the banner of Antigua and Barbuda, and gestures to it.

“Do you see that fallow deer? It used to live to Barbuda. Only place you could find it around here. And now there aren’t even people on Barbuda any longer right now. It’s sad, how transient it all is. It makes you think.”

Ann does manage a smile for the photograph.

After that, we settle ourselves into the heat of the room. And it’s then that I begin my questions in earnest.

What technique did you use to make these items?

Appliqué. They’re all appliquéd.

Is it hand-done, or machine-made?

Oh, it’s done by machine. Elna, Viking, Bernina, and Pfaff. Don’t buy anything else, you hear me?

I hear you. What did you make them from?

German velvet and Belgian Tapestry.

And when did you make them?

Oh, in 1986. They were created in 1986 for the Commonwealth Institute in London. It was a collection of coats-of-arms for the British Commonwealth. I made sure to get the coats-of-arms all checked by the Heraldic Office in London toThe late clerk of Parliament, George Brancker, later commissioned the ones for Haiti and Suriname, and then later three more were commissioned when new countries joined CARICOM. In 1989 they came across the Atlantic, from England. They sat in a box for something like—18 or 19 years, I think.

From left to right: the coats-of-arms of Guyana, Haiti, and Jamaica.

That’s a while.

Yes, they were last seen in…2002, I think, for a CARICOM meeting at LESC [Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, once Sherbourne Conference Centre].

How did you end up showing them for CARIFESTA?

Well, it took a bit of doing. That’s getting a bit into CARIFESTA politics. And we won’t air that. And then it took some hunting them down. I wasn’t sure where they’d been stored. I found them eventually though, because I felt that they should be shown for CARIFESTA—that the Caribbean banners should be shown. Because you don’t really see them all in the same place.

And you can learn a lot about the islands by looking at them. Like, St. Lucia’s coat-of-arms features the Amazona versicolor, the parrot with a variety of colour on the back of the neck. And Dominica has the Sisserou parrot, amazon imperialis. Sometimes, if we take a moment in time, we can learn a lot about the indigenous flora and fauna.

From left to right: Coats-of-arms of Belize, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, and Grenada.

Oh, I’d never really thought about it that way.

Yeah, each of them tells you something. The only one there that really gets my goat is St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That one used to have a Carib person on it, but in 1850 they went backwards to two classically featured women making an offering an altar.

From left: the Coats-of-Arms of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the British Virgin Islands.

A bit odd.

Yes. But that’s how it is. And it’s interesting too, the influence that that brigand Christopher Columbus had on all this. At times, we do try to avoid him. But every place he made a port of call, his naming stuc. Like when he said St. Christopher and Nevis—St. Kitts and Nevis—”Nieve” is the Spanish word for snow, for the mountain. I suppose it looked like snow.

I hadn’t heard that story.

Oh yes. And then there are three ships on Trinidad and Tobago’s coat of arms. They’re his three ships, Santa María, Niña, and Pinta. And he really only stopped at Trinidad and Tobago because his ships needed caulking and he spotted the bitumen there.

From left: Coats-of-arms of Montserrat, St. Christopher and Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis), and St. Lucia.

So tell me–how did you get into heraldry in the first place?

Self-taught. I was working at the California Renaissance Fairs and they needed some props for the fairs—guilds and emblems of trading companies, you know. So I made a few, and then I made some more, like a 10 foot by 10 foot banner for a restaurant—something to do with innkeepers—and then I worked for Santana, so I did some for an album of his, and I kept doing it.

That’s very interesting.

Oh, yes, and I do other things, too. Different styles of quilting—I’m planning a quilt with 2,580 triangles. It’s going be the Jewish star, fading from blue to brown and brown to blue. For a king size bedspread. I also make waistcoats for men and women, paint, do graphics, and a bit of heraldry.

From left: Coats-of-arms of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, and Grenada.

I think I’ve heard you say that younger people don’t know a lot of these things.

No. There’s not really a study of textiles here, not a proper study. Janice Whittle used to teach it, when she was at Queen’s College. And they teach it at the summer camps some times. But there isn’t much research into textile history and their conservation—look at the banners for this show!

They had them in storage at sea level with plastic tarpaulins over them, which creates humidity, which ruins textiles. And right now we’re waiting for something to put these things in—they were packed three to a box and that way they won’t last. We’re trying to source an archival box for them to be stored in now. There just aren’t too many people studying this kind of thing.

Would you say—like some I’ve spoken to before—that a National Gallery would help make these fields more appealing?

Oh yes. It’s time to get this thing out of the stages of words on paper. Tell them Ann Rudder said so. The artists of Barbados would do the work. We could get mature artists and apprentices to work together to restore somewhere, like Block A of the Garrison, and we’d do the work. And maybe it’d give this the sort of thing the respect it deserves.

Ann Rudder shows off the coat-of-arms of Barbados.

Indeed. Is there anything else you want to add?

Yes. I’d like to thank Mr. Eddie Abed; Ms. Christina Simpson (Angela Simpson’s daughter); Andy Tenpiro–he’s an auctioneer who helped me get some poles together, can you believe a single one was $78 at Carters? without brackets and finials? He helped me get some for $70 that already had brackets and finials, thank you–and I’d also like to thank Dale Hoyte. I’d also like to thank the new Dean, the Very Reverend Dr.  Jeffrey Gibson, who stood by the project. They really helped pull this show together. I was also grateful to have Sarah Layne as my production assistant, and now my BEST “I’ve got your back” sister!

What’s next for this collection, do you think?

Hopefully they won’t go back into storage for another twenty years! It comes down to if I can get the proper doors. Let’s see if we can get these banners to Trinidad and Tobago for CARIFESTA XIV.

Ann Rudder packs up the banners to get them ready for storage again.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. As always, please consider giving generously to those affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. CDEMA is a good place to start. The photographs of the banners in situ were provided by Ms. Rudder.

Corrections: On October 5, this article was changed to accurately reflect the dates of the show. It ran from August 17 to 27, not July 17 to 27.  In addition, this article was changed to add appropriate thanks to Ms. Sarah Layne, her production assistant.

Here are the backs of the banners. Ann explained that the banners can be carried in processions, so she made the backs look pretty. Each back has some sort of relation to the banner–for example, Trinidad and Tobago’s features red, to match the coat of arms.