The ‘Ready Freddie’ phenomenon
In 2003, Ocho Rios woodcarver, Ralph Cameron stirred controversy when he displayed a piece of artwork in Fern Gully named Ready Freddie, which was that of a man with an unusually large and erect penis.
The carving drew some amount of criticism and directed attention to the supposedly thin line between art and indecency.
It also pushed the artist into the spotlight during a time when, similar to nowadays, craft traders were complaining of not enough business coming from the tourism sector.
Cameron said he created the concept out of a desire to attract tourists to his stall with the hope of getting more business.
It worked for a while, but eventually sales of Ready Freddie declined and the item became more of a novelty than anything else, serving mainly as a hot subject for anyone with a camera.
Cameron, now 73, has left that controversy behind him and continues to work as a leading artist in the trade, even with the onset of the pandemic which he admitted has slowed down his production rate to the lowest level in his approximately 40 years in the business.
When The Gleaner visited Cameron recently at his home studio, located near the entrance of Fern Gully, he recalled the discussions that emanated from the art piece Ready Freddie.
“I started in Fern Gully,” Cameron began. “I started to make these guys named Ready Freddie. It becomes an in-thing to most foreigners; most foreigners come, they like the Ready Freddie, they jump up, they play around with it,” he continued.
But controversy was not far away and was stirred by a member of the media fraternity, he remembered.
“When I just start to make them, Barbara Gloudon passed by and said if I should make those things, I have to have it in the back; which I would comply. But by she get to town and she go on the radio, she start talk about it – ‘there is this big wood man pointing to the road’, and things like that.
“Well, a lot of people get upset about her concern, which they start to call her programme (Hotline on RJR) and tell her say, ‘is just a piece of wood, leave that alone,’ and things like that.”
The Gleaner reached out to Barbara Gloudon, the respected playwright, journalist and talk-show host who retired from Hotline in 2015, seeking a comment. However, a family member indicated she was not well and was unable to take a call. He explained nonetheless that her concern about the carving would have been based on her strong Christian beliefs that saw her coming out against nakedness. He noted that she has also been very critical of carnival.
Sometime after the controversy started, a journalist from THE STAR stopped by Cameron’s stall in Fern Gully to speak with him, he recalled.
He explained: “Eventually, a journalist come by and said to me, ‘Well, what the problem with it?’ I said I don’t have a problem, is Barbara Gloudon making a big issue over it. Him, as a journalist say, well he doesn’t see any problem in it, I mus’ jus’ do wha’ mi doing and, within a week from that, it was published in THE STAR ... front page of THE STAR.”
That same year, Cameron was featured in Air Jamaica’s in-flight magazine, Sky Writings, with the article focusing on his work in general and not focused on any specific piece of artwork. He was only too happy to show his souvenir copy of the magazine.
Ironically, Cameron noted, just a few months later, the naked statues at Emancipation Park were erected, which also stirred some amount of debate at the time.
Nearly two decades later, Cameron has moved on and no longer makes Ready Freddie, with other carvers now doing similar pieces and displaying them in Fern Gully.
“I used to make smaller pieces. I eventually cut off because I find it’s not really selling as it used to,” he pointed out.
Ready Freddie was said to be used as towel racks by persons who bought them, but Cameron suggested the uses went beyond that.
“Some of the persons would tell you say they want it to keep in the bathroom as a (toilet) paper holder. I have customers who tell me many thanks, saying me don’t know wha mi do fi dem when dem get that. I guess some use it in different ways. Their way ... their problem,” he said.