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History retold at Tower Isles, Couples Jamaica

Cultivating the vision at the Couples Tower Isles, are two murals dating from 1949, that bring visitors to a place of appreciation for Jamaica


The renovation of Couples Tower Isles, formerly Couples Ocho Rios, and before that The famous Tower Isle, is now complete and the hotel in operation.

As with the other hotels in the Couples chain such as Couples Swept Away and Couples Negril, it has fallen in line with the desire of Interior Decorator Jane Issa’s heart. That of indulging visitors in Jamaica ’s culture tourism, through the vehicles of local skills and craft at the hotels.

Cultivating the vision at the Couples Tower Isles, are two murals dating from 1949, that bring visitors to a place of appreciation the country’s rich history.

The murals, which until recently were hidden, are located in the “Eight Rivers” Restaurant, and stand approximately 15 feet tall as they measure in width. Their original creator, John Pike, would have been proud at the remarkable job executed by two students of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in restoring the murals.

John Pike, a famous American painter and illustrator, who lived in Jamaica in the 1930s to 1940s created indelible memories for the design of art deco plaster relief work on the Carib Theatre in Kingston . The students responsible for restoring his murals along under the supervision of Keeble Allen, at Couples Tower Isles, Joelle Sark, and Monique Lofters, also were on the team which restored the paintings and walls of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, North Street, Kingston.

The three as part of the Holy Trinity Cathedral restoration team, were under the direction of Professor Barriga who was brought from Spain , by the Spanish Embassy for that project. Allen was Assistant Supervisor to the Holy Trinity Cathedral project and acted as art director to the Tower Isle project.

According to interior decorator Jane Issa, the extent of the damage was paint discolouration and the plaster being badly chipped, as a result of gypsum that had been nailed to cover the murals in a 1980s renovation. This clearly indicated a lack of appreciation for the fine works of art by the interior decorators then.

In November, 2008, Paul Issa, deputy chairman of Couples Resorts, approached the students, at a student exhibition held at the CAGE Gallery at the Edna Manley College . Professor Barriga assured him that of the students’ capability, as a result of the personal training received from him during the restoration of the Cathedral. At the same time, the Professor encouraged the students to welcome the new challenge to their added training.

Final year student Joelle Sark relates the most major challenge as the fact that the original murals had underwent alterations in the hotel’s 60 year history, before the recent restoration of the students. Alterations had been done in glossy enamel, and, in other cases, oil-based paint which could not be undone. Other challenges included shared time between the Tower Isle murals and completing final year projects, said Sark .

“Monique and I were also completing our final papers and our final examination work concurrent with the project. The project took 7 weeks out of our final semester” explains Sark . Additionally, Allen, their assistant art supervisor, was still working on the Cathedral’s restoration, and could only lend his time on weekends to assist the two students.

At last, after approximately five months, the finished project could be shown in April, 2009, when the hotel re-opened as Couples Tower Isle, commanding from viewers.

On the western wall, the mural depicts the landing of Juan de Esquivel, first Governor of Jamaica in November 1509, being watched by curious native Arawaks. Restoration of this mural, according to Sark , was relatively simple and involved mostly patching and matching of the original colours. On the opposite wall (eastern), the pastoral scene was badly damaged especially from the nail holes and flaking cement.

Now remarkably restored, its central figure is a flowering cottonwood tree. Two Jamaican farmers, seemingly homeward bound, are walking along the tree’s giant elevated root system. It depicts a Jamaican folk scene, through the colours winding in the shape of trees and people. There is a lot of energy, reflecting the vibrance of life in the early days of Jamaica ’s history. There is little attention to detail in the applied paint. Almost abstracted and abstracted shapes are used to represent a banana walk. In mostly tones of green, there is a fair amount of opaque mixes, applied in simple but exciting shapes, to make one think of reciprocating the designs as prints on fabric.

Sark puts the damage of both murals to faded, peeling paint. “The damage ranged from nail holes to whole sections of the mural flaking off.” Flat emulsion paints and acrylic were used, but the method of application was not changed so as to restore the images as close to the original, as possible. Sitting in the elaborate Eight Rivers Restaurant a gaze at the larger than life-sized murals, can capture one’s mind, even for a moment in an idyllic period in Jamaica . A peaceful Jamaica filled with mostly fauna and flora, lush green, ideal scenes to dine within, reciprocated on the huge walls.

The restored murals are just one aspect to return the hotel to its glory days. Since its opening in 1949, Tower Isle was once a popular hangout for stage and Hollywood screen stars, sports and political figures. Princess Margaret, Walt Disney, actress Eva Gabor, screen sensation Debbie Reynolds, movie star Errol Flynn, boxer Joe Louis and playwright Noel Coward are just a few that were arrested by the world charm of the resort.

Tower Isle being the first resort to be open year round ushered in a new era of tourism highlighting the island’s year-long irresistible weather. The all-inclusive Couples Tower Isle boasts bold design elements and creates a laid-back natural setting infused with an authentic Caribbean spirit, in line with other hotels in the hotel chain.

A private island with a tower located just offshore of the Resort is named “Tower Isle”, an iconic emblem of the resort’s history enhances the mural’s newly exposed dimensions.

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