JAMAICA Giants Sculpture Park and Art Gallery — home to a private collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures — sits almost 300 feet above sea level in the mountains of Westmoreland.
Established in 2016, this location — just over 30 minutes’ drive from Negril, the ‘capital of casual’ in Jamaica — offers breathtaking panoramic views worth every mile it takes to get there. Whether you use a Tourism Product Development Company-certified guide or your own GPS, you can wind your way through the cane fields on the savannah, passing through charming villages, before taking the gradual climb over the mountain road that hides from the coast under the shade of the rainforest.
Eventually you will burst onto a highland oasis, identified by impressive limestone figures carefully framed by striking arrangements of cut stones.
The exotic garden boasts over 40 marvellous sculptures, single-handedly created by Fitzroy “Fitzy” Russell, who is originally from Orange Hill, Westmoreland. The masterpieces vary in size and complexity, drawn from the sculptor’s imagination and creativity. These artistic forms capture the images from the 18th-19th century plantation that once occupied the space, as well as popular and present-day personalities and artistes who inspired the creation of the Jamaica Giants legacy.
Two refurbished houses face each other across the gently sloping grounds; together they contain more than 150 remarkable drawings and paintings of the resident artist, Bruce Allen, originally from St Elizabeth but who grew up in Hanover.
The smaller house is situated closest to the entrance at the lower end of the property, but in full view of the grand mansion that sits at the top of the landscape, just beyond a line of trees.
The sculpture gardens and galleries, which form the centrepiece of the much larger 4,000-acre nature reserve, is interconnected by an elaborate boardwalk — the spinal column that links them to strategically placed lookout points, anchored at the middle by a pair of giant cotton trees from which the name Jamaica Giants was derived.
The power of the towering cotton trees on this old slave plantation is so strong that even the most casual visitor feels compelled to roam the galleries and park to get up close to each exquisite portrait and carving.
Each sculpture was originally a rough part of the natural landscape that pushed its way up from the earth to tell its own story through Fitzy Russell’s hands. Each has a unique voice, calling from the earth below, to join the massive trees that spread their wide arms across the sky. They beckon whomsoever will, to come in tribute to the history of the location.
The gentle giants that permanently reach out to each other across the pathway in close embrace make way for visitors to move along the boardwalk in search of lasting connections to the past, the present, and the future. The soft, whispering wind and chattering of birds, high overhead, combine with the compelling drawings, paintings, and sculptures to make Jamaica Giants Sculpture Park and Art Gallery one of the finest fusions of nature and art in Jamaica… I dare say in the Caribbean.
Historical records of 1770-1804 place the beginnings of Jamaica Giants in the midst of Jamaica’s colonial history as Moreland Pen, one of 10 plantations and pens owned by John Wedderburn who had arrived in Jamaica from England in 1762. Back then, its main activity was ‘taming’ as many as 50,000 slaves, whom he called “wild men”, for profitable resale. It is believed this was the last place to abolish slavery in Jamaica because they were so deep in the country that no one knew until many, many years later.
Ricky Jackson, the current owner of the nature reserve and chief curator of Jamaica Giants Sculpture Park and Art Gallery, first acquired 3,000 acres of the rum and sugar estate from the Whitelocke brothers in 1987. He then dedicated three decades to planting more than 600,000 trees, eventually adding an additional 1,000 acres, to create the expansive rainforest.
Today, it is also an active cattle and sheep farm, producing cane, bananas, coconuts, mangoes and soursop, among other crops.
Like the deep-reaching roots of the giant cotton trees and each statue that remains permanently connected to its foundation, beneath the surface, visitors are encouraged to delve deeply to appreciate the history of the place and capture its beauty, but leave behind all the fruits in the gardens to regenerate and replenish the reserve for future generations.
It is a wonderful but bittersweet tribute to our ancestors whose blood, sweat, and tears lay the foundation for what we enjoy in the space today.
TEXT: FAITH FRANCIS-KNOWLES