The unique geography and history of The Bahamas contributed to a distinctive architectural style -- the Bahamian clapboard house -- that is today one of the most broadly copied in the Tropics. But it wasn't until the early 19th century that this design began to become perfected and standardized.
The earliest clapboard-sided houses were usually angled to receive the trade winds. Large window openings and high ceilings increased airflow, while awning-style push-out shutters shaded windows and helped direct breezes indoors even during rainstorms. Unlike larger and more impressive houses, where foundations were massive edifices of coral, brick, or stone, the first floors of Bahamian cottages were elevated on low stilts or light masonry pilings to further allow air to circulate. Raising the building also served the function of keeping the floor joists, beams, and planking above floodwaters during a hurricane surge.
Ruggedly built of timbers whose ends were often pegged (not nailed) together and pinned to stone pilings several feet above ground, Bahamian-style clapboard houses survived when many rigid stone-built structures collapsed during hurricanes. Modern engineers affirm that these structures' flexibility increases their stability in high winds.
Some of the best-preserved and most charming examples of the Bahamian cottage style can be found on Harbour Island, off the coast of Eleuthera, and, to a lesser extent, at Spanish Wells and Green Turtle Cay.
The most prevalent craft in The Bahamas is the weaving of straw goods. So widespread is this activity that the largest assemblage of saleable objects in the archipelago -- Nassau's Straw Market -- was named after this ancient art form. In its open-air stalls, you'll find every imaginable kind of basket, hat, purse, tropical furniture, and souvenir.
At their best, the objects are gracefully woven concoctions of palm fronds or palmetto leaves crafted into patterns bearing such old-fashioned names as shark's tooth, Jacob's ladder, Bahama Mama, peas 'n' grits, lace-edge, and fish gill. At their worst, the objects are almost unbearably touristy, amusing but tasteless souvenirs.
The finest straw work is said to come, incidentally, from the Out Islands, with Long Island producing some of the best. So tightly woven are hats from Long Island that they can function for short periods as water buckets.
The second-most-important craft in the islands is wood carving. Local art critics consider the best wooden carvings those that are intuitively inspired by the flora, fauna, and images of the islands. The worst ones tend to be crafted specifically for a fast buck at the tourist market. Your eye and intuition will tell you which is which.
Interestingly, The Bahamas does not produce clay from any natural source, so any terra-cotta object you find will almost certainly have been produced from foreign-bought materials and inspired by the pottery traditions of other places. Ceramics in The Bahamas tend to be reserved for formally trained sculptors who promote their work as fine art.
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