Tropical Weave through Glen Arbor


By Brooks Vanderbush
Sun contributor

A wander through the doors of Ann Derrick’s Glen Arbor Botanicals gallery can produce exquisite results, but not many suspect that a purchase within those doors can change a life.

Derrick, who together with husband Brendan Burrows, owns the Good Harbor Grill and the Pine Cone ice cream shop west of Glen Arbor’s main intersection, spend their winters sailing the Caribbean. It is there that they discovered an island and its people, along with a story and a mission that struck their core.

“The community is called Red Bays,” said Derrick. “I had wanted to visit since first seeing their baskets and learning the history. Andros Island is not an easy place to visit by sailboat, and once you are there, getting to Red Bays is another project.”

“Renting a car is a casual affair,” Ann continued with a smile. “If you are lucky, Agnes will come pick you up at the harbor. You give her $100 and, again, if you are lucky, you get a car built in this century. When you return it, you get $20 back.” A true tale of the Caribbean.

The baskets are made by the Red Bays community of Black Seminoles, descendants of a people who fled southern Florida to the Caribbean to escape violent settlers.

The island where the Black Seminoles settled, Andros, had been a longtime refuge for pirates, bootleggers and gunrunners. Beginning in 1821, the Black Seminoles established a new home on the otherwise untouched northwestern shore of Andros. They named this new settlement “Red Bays” and remained virtually undisturbed, and unknown, for seven years, until a British customs officer “discovered” them.

The amount of time spent isolated, combined with their “unusual” customs and practices, created an atmosphere of mystery around them. As such, the phrase “wild Indians” was tossed around when referring to these newly discovered northern island folk. However, they remained a mysterious people for almost 80 years.

“These folks were Seminole Indians and escaped African slaves who canoed across the Gulf Stream,” said Derrick. “Not a small undertaking, but they were motivated. The Bahamian government did not even know they were there until around 1895 when their community was destroyed by a hurricane and they sent some folks out asking for help.”

Fast forward to the present. This thriving, tight knit community survives on hard work and dedication. One of the ways the women make a living is by selling handcrafted goods, the most well known being the Red Bays Baskets.

“I saw their baskets for sale in a gallery in Nassau years ago and bought them for myself and for gifts,” explained Derrick. “The baskets are made from palmetto fronds which are dried and finely shredded. Round bundles of fronds are then tightly stitched together to form the baskets. The process is a combination of techniques from African and Native American cultures. They are very heavy and so tightly stitched that they hold water. Some are made in the shape of pitchers for that purpose. Recently, they have been decorating them with hand printed cloth from another small handicraft industry on Andros.”

The women who make the baskets use the income for their daily living expenses.

“The baskets were always there as functional objects,” said Derrick. “I’ve met three generations of basket makers. It’s an informal sales process. You get there and ask around. Someone, usually a teenager, takes you from house to house where you chat a while and buy baskets.”

The baskets aren’t the only way the people have subsisted over the decades.

“Andros is the largest island in the Bahamas and the only one with abundant fresh water,” explained Derrick. “That is because much of the land is mangrove swamp which creates the water, but also makes much of the island inaccessible. The western shore is barrier reef along deep ocean. The eastern shore is on a wide, shallow bank and fish are abundant. The community had a successful sponging industry for many years until the sponges were wiped out by disease in the 1930s. This industry is only recently coming back. The current economic base is fishing.”

For Derrick and Burrows, this passion for the tropics and the Red Bays people has fit seamlessly into their established Glen Arbor businesses.

“We moved to Brendan’s family cottage in 1987,” said Derrick. “Our primary home had been a sailboat for 10 years before that, although we usually spent time every summer up here. Brendan worked for the Chart House restaurants in several locations during our travels and we had restaurant ideas. The Good Harbor Grill and the Pine Cone came as a pair. The gallery came along later. I had collected antiquarian prints for years and this was the main focus of the gallery originally. Japanese woodblocks were another interest and were soon added. The rest has evolved.”

The Good Harbor Grill came about as an answer to a question posed by both Derrick and Burrows: “What would be the ideal restaurant to find in the next harbor?”

From seafood, to sandwiches, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Good Harbor Grill has been pleasing the palates of locals and visitors, alike, since 1991.

The adjacent Pine Cone is an idyllic ice cream stop that offers all the favorites. Next door, Glen Arbor Botanicals offers art based around nature, including the woven baskets from Red Bays.

“The baskets are lovely and have an incredibly interesting story and mission,” said Derrick. “They come from a very generous and appreciative community and they serve a real and true purpose. And I, personally, find joy in the fact that we sailed these baskets back to the U.S. ourselves.”

Learn more about Glen Arbor Botanicals, the Good Harbor Grill and the Pine Cone at