Cayman’s Tansy Maki reveals extraordinary sculptures
A report by Vicki Wheaton for The Cayman Compass.
Artist Tansy Maki has created some spectacular murals and sculptures that can be seen throughout Cayman.
From colourful depictions of local flora and fauna, to flying fish suspended in the air, Maki has made her mark on public spaces and in private homes.
Her latest project, however, could be considered her magnum opus. Three giant bird nests of varying size have appeared in the Children’s Garden of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Fashioned from driftwood, the sculptures have taken the artist a year to complete, and the final result is nothing short of extraordinary.
Manager of the park, John Lawrus, said, “I am overwhelmed with the completed sculptures that have been created. Tansy’s ability to develop these structures from a simple framework into a true work of living, breathing art that will be used by the children of the Cayman Islands [has surpassed] my original expectations.
“I look forward to the day when I see these giant bird nests coming to life with the children who visit the Botanic Park to learn about nature, to relax and to let their imaginations run free… without the need for technology!”
We sat down to chat with Maki about this particular installation, some of her favourite past projects, and some of her future plans.
How did you come up with the concept of the nests?
I have been an avid birdwatcher and nature lover all of my life. I wanted to create and build sculptures from natural materials that kids could play in and learn about a native species of bird, while having fun.
I chose to focus on the bananaquit (locally known as the banana bird), as these beautiful birds are common in the Cayman Islands. They are black and white with a beautiful bright yellow breast and build their nests in perfect globe-like shapes with an entrance hole, sometimes on low-hanging branches that are easy to spot.
As a nectarivorous and insectivorous species, the bananaquit plays an essential role in the ecosystem.
What materials did you use?
I used driftwood and some other invasive wood species that had been cleared from developed land. I also incorporated collected plopnut (also known as popnut) in the structure, which was historically used to build catboats.
Wood is not a forgiving material, so each piece had to be woven and intertwined with the next, like a giant complex puzzle. I also had to design these installations from an engineering point of view to make sure they were safe, load-bearing, and structurally sound.
How long did it take for you to complete the project?
After collecting materials for five months, there was the painstaking multi-faceted cleaning and treatment process that followed. COVID unfortunately put a temporary hold on my work, so from start to finish was about one year.
Why three nests?
I designed the sanctuaries for different age groups and to blend in with the natural surroundings.
The smallest is for toddlers 2-5 years old and they can crawl right into the nest.
The second one has a staircase for ages 6-12 and has a live tree that grows through the sculpture, as would happen with the bananaquit’s nest in nature.
The largest is for older kids to play in, but adults can stand in it as well. This one was designed around a large tree, accentuating the nest’s curve.
What struggles, if any, did you have with the project?
It was probably the most physically taxing job in my 25-year career, having to lift heavy wood and hold each piece in place so it could be woven into the structure.
Originally, it was supposed to be a four-person installation crew, but I ended up having only one assistant assembling the majority of the nests.
Some of the larger pieces are very heavy, and I was holding them above my head, staying as still as possible while we put them in place.
The design took a lot of time to finesse and then form the shapes, plus we were working outdoors in the elements throughout much of the process.
To see the finished product, though, has made it all worthwhile.
What are some of your favourite past projects?
The mural I created at Royal Watler Cruise Terminal is one of my favourites. It depicts a green sea turtle, the national flower (the banana orchid), a blue iguana and Cayman parrot. I just feel it features some of the Cayman Islands natural beauty.
In a way, it is interactive, as thousands of tourists take photos in front of it and these images are taken home and shared all over the world, promoting tourism for Cayman.
I take pride in featuring Cayman’s wildlife, as well as including historical cultural elements, like the catboats featured in the 64-foot-long mural in Starbucks at Camana Bay.
The suspended sculpture titled ‘The Glide’ that I installed at Jasmine is one of my favourite pieces as well, because it brings peace and a sense of serenity to the main entrance of the building. That piece consists of 160 individual, handmade, silvery pearlescent flying fish that spiral upwards towards the sky.
I have had many family members of residents contact me, thanking me for the peace it brings them when viewing it, helping them through hard times. It is amazing that a piece of my art can help people and families, instilling warmth and comfort in their hearts.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on custom sculptures for private residences and large, oceanic-themed contemporary canvases. I’m also organising an upcoming exhibition for 2021.
Tansy Maki is a self-taught artist who was born in Vancouver.
She developed an interest in art at a very young age and in her early years, she took classes and studied with well-known Canadian artists, painting, drawing and sculpting.
The Caymanian-Canadian has been based in Grand Cayman for over 20 years, where she was initially known for her realistic, large-scale murals throughout the island. Over the past years, she has become well known for her contemporary installations and paintings.
She has been a professional fine artist, sculptor, and specialty painter for over 23 years and her work has been commissioned throughout the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama, Canada, across the US and Europe.
You can see some examples of her work in George Town, at Jasmine, and The Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.
For more information about Tansy Maki’s work, visit www.tansymakidesign.com. Sections of the QEII Botanic Park’s Children’s Garden will open in early 2021.