Judd Batchelor
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Leudis Gittens & Nigel Gittens – Love, Art & Business

 

Love, Art & Business, those are the three words that describe this couple. They manage to run a busy family home (Mother in-law included) as well as focus on their master craftsmanship as miniature models and fine ornaments and jewellery makers. They epitomise the term ‘Burning the candle at both ends” and they still have time to go for the occasional stroll on the beautiful beaches in Antigua. Their company is called Antigua Rock & Kraft 

Judd:  Hi Nigel and Leudis thank you for welcoming me into your home

LG/NG: Your welcome

Judd: I just have to point out that Nigel is really tall (Laughter)

NG: 6’ 2”

LG: And Luedis is really small…5’1” (chuckles)

Judd: You and I have something in common, we both haven’t passed our driving test but…

LG: We will! (Smiles)

Judd: So Leudis, I saw you on Connect Antigua Biz about two years ago. And every time I visited the island I kept saying to myself I must meet this lady, I really like her work, so where did the passion start?

LG: Well the passion started from when I did art since I was a little child. I was always drawing something and always trying to make some ideas in my head, you know? I had a note book and I remember some of my school books always ended up like comic books, because I was always drawing something or tracing something on them.  But I have always loved miniature things, you know when you are little and you have something small you feel great… I have this little car and it looks like the real one and so I always loved that!

When I met Nigel he was also into art because he drew as well. And then our love for that grew into other love (Smiles) then after we had a child and when she was about seven I said “you know I always wanted a doll house, but I never had one?” I said “I’m gonna make her a doll house!” So I started researching about doll houses and stuff, so I said to myself, ok if I can start to make the things that goes into the house before the house came- because I actually ordered the house, and then I said ok the house is gonna need furniture? So I made a little chair and showed it to my mother and mother in-law and they said “Leudis, you made that, I can’t believe it?” “Why don’t you make them and sell them??” and I was like “Sell, nobody is going to buy this?!” So that’s how it started.

Judd: That’s great that the family really encouraged you. What did they want you to study when you were growing up? Was it the usual doctor, lawyer?

LG: No, no my mother and father never really had any desire of anything like that, they just said pursue whatever it is you really want to do. But I was always into art and I wanted to be a graphic artist, I liked computers and manipulating pictures anything that had to do with creating and drawing.  I also went to New York after I finished school here in Antigua, I have a sister in New York and I went to stay with her and whilst I was there I got excepted into a college, but after my visa was up I had to return to Antigua to get a student visa to return back, but then life happened so I thought let me leave that. And then I met Nigel about three years after that, so I just forgot about it.

Judd: Nigel if your children came to you with a different career choice would you be supportive?

NG: Actually at the moment they are already showing natural talent for certain things… my daughter loves to be creative in the kitchen, she wants to be a chef, our last son likes to take things apart, engines and motors, so we bought him a tool set, so he can do just that. I think the best thing is if you know what a child can do from small, then you can train them as they grow up and they would advance better in the thing they want to do.

Judd: Would you say that’s because you both come from creative backgrounds? And you understand that building the passion from a young age is important?

NG: My father was a tailor and my mother was a seamstress therefore they created everything from cloth and they made clothing designs. One of my visions was to take over my father’s business and to have clothing line. He never wanted us to learn sewing like him because it was very laborious work, he wanted us to do something more clerical. But I always liked to create things from boyhood and always liked to take things apart, just like what my son is doing now, so the idea never went. But in Antigua the dominant business is food, and I have worked in the food industry for almost 25yrs, I never wanted it for myself to do as a business. I always wanted to do something creative and that’s why I started with my wife ‘Antigua Rock & Kraft’ because nobody else is doing it… as a matter of fact none of the tools are even available in Antigua because nobody knows or understands it, so I had to learn from scratch. But for me I like the challenge and we are going places with it!

Judd: Wow that’s great Nigel. Ok let’s go back to you Leudis, I love the fact that you use recycled material in your work, was that a deliberate effort on your part?

LG: I would say so, and just like Nigel’s parents my mother was a seamstress also, but my father he calls himself a Jack-of-all-trades, he will take up anything he finds. If I found an old machine he would say “Wah, Leudis, you never know, I could fix this!” and when I would go by their house I would say “Daddy the sewing machine working??” he would say “Wah the machine working man!”  he would just oil that machine for two weeks and that machine was rusty, but now it works and still works. And he has always been like that. But my mother on the other hand- and I think I’m just like her in some ways. Somebody would come to her and say “I want you to make this dress for me and I don’t have a pattern because I saw it in a store” and she would go to the store and just make it from memory. So after that I would just look at something and maybe take a picture of it to study the picture, then I would do measurements and then cut them out and make that thing! So that came from our parents

Judd: You know it sounds like, you are both cut from the same cloth (laughter) I have been waiting to say that line…

NG: You really wanted to drop that line (laughter) well it fits!

Judd: Ok, so what kind of customers do you normally attract to your business?

LG: Most of my customers tends to be family friends or people from the trade shows we attend. Also I have sold my work to a store in town called Best of Books, and there is also a gift shop near Redcliff Quay and that’s where most of my work has been sold.

Judd: Nigel you mentioned that you have your pieces displayed in the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda’s Office?

NG: We went to a trade show last year and they invited local artist to appear. So from that time the Prime Minister came over to us and saw what we had, he bought it right away, as well as another Minster of government and a Lawyer. Because what we are doing is very unique…

LG: Yes, it’s so different, because people often say “You do that here, we never knew that?”

Judd: How old is the business?

NG: 4yrs

Judd: So what is your vision for the next four years?

NG: For now, we will just keep doing what we are doing. But we are also re developing some ideas, to solve the problem of when you have tourist come over to buy our products and the problems are with how to carry the miniature models on the plane.

Judd: And that would definitely help to increase sales. Leudis, just take us through your process, how long does it take to make one model?

LG: First when I have an idea, I have a book where I make a sketch and then I look at every material I’m gonna need for it, and I write it down and I research the size that I want it to be, most people don’t want the really big ones so I started to make smaller and smaller scenes so people can hold it in their hands. And after that I get the materials together, mostly I like to build houses so the house will be the main focus in the scene.

Judd: So this takes you how long?

LG: Well usually it takes a while…

NG: When we come from our day jobs, we work from nights at 9pm to 1am in the morning, sometimes it could take 48 man hours for the boat scene… what’s it called?

LG: Man over Board.

Judd: How do you know Nigel? I realize that you are answering her questions?

NG: (Laughs) I realize she didn’t answer your question.

Judd: Nigel is taking over again so we’re stopping him and we’re going back to Leudis

LG: Man over Board, came from a story my brother told me about. He and some friends who went fishing and an Eel came out of a fish pot and everybody jumped overboard

Judd: Your work is so detailed and that takes a lot of quiet time, but you have a family and young teenagers running around the house, how do you cope?

LG: Sometimes I make them help too!

Judd: Good.  Do you ever have date night? Go out to a restaurant?

LG: We haven’t done date night in a long time, but sometimes he says let’s go to the beach, and then we will walk and talk.

Judd: But does the business stop when you’re at the beach?

LG: No we are discussing business (laughs) but now we have children our date nights includes our children, and the only time there’s togetherness between him and me, is when we are going to bed at night to sleep

Judd: Finally, how would you advise a young person who is inspired by what you do and wants to do the same things?

LG: First thing they need is an idea and if the idea is feasible, what I do is research research research!

Judd: What skills would they need?

LG: You have to know how to draw, and don’t say I can’t do it. Nigel is always the voice of confidence for me, in fact I would have never made a boat scene if Nigel hadn’t said “why don’t you make a boat scene?” I said “Make a boat scene are you crazy, I only can make houses!” So I started researching pictures of boats. So it’s good sometimes to have someone around you that can encourage you as well. And don’t give up!

One of my favourite pieces from Leudis’ collection is called A Day at the Beach  but for this creative couple a day at the beach is not for relaxing and putting their feet up, it’s for planning bigger dreams to materialize!

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