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Jamaica’s Fascinating Fretwork

I’ve been photographing examples of fretwork in Jamaica’s architecture for several months now. My fascination with the art form goes back to my childhood and the house I grew up in.  Fretwork, similar to the one below, decorated the transoms – the space above the doors – and allowed air to flow freely through the house.

Transom fretwork

On a transom

Fretwork is ornamental work that is made up of three dimensional interlacing designs. It has been around for more than 3,000 years. The Egyptians used inlays that were fretted in their furniture, and fretwork has been popular in Europe and North America since the 1800s.

Fretwork would have come to Jamaica around the same time. Examples can still be seen on official buildings that were constructed following the Georgian style, as well as private homes.

Below are some examples of fretwork I’ve captured.

Fretwork at Westgate Shopping Centre, Montego Bay

Sam Sharpe’s story told in fretwork

These panels at Westgate Shopping Centre in Montego Bay, captured my attention. I’ve been shopping here almost every week for more than a year and had no idea until I began this post that they depicted the Sam Sharpe rebellion, which took place in 1831. Sharpe, a preacher, was born in the parish of St. James, and is one of Jamaica’s National Heroes.

Fretwork at Westgate Shopping Centre, Montego Bay

Another panel of the Sam Sharpe story

The work was designed by Margaret Robson and Will Robson in collaboration with architect, Cosmo Whyte. It was built by Magic Toys.

Fretwork at Westgate Shopping Centre, Montego Bay

Westgate Shopping Centre, Montego Bay

Fretwork at Falmouth building

On gables

Fretwork can be found on gables and on window coolers.

Other uses of fretwork, Falmouth

Window cooler

Fretwork on an eave in Falmouth

Another example

These details add beauty and character to the buildings they adorn.

What kinds of architectural details do you look for when you travel?


This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

This week, I’m also linking up with the Friday Daydreaming series organized by Becca at Rwethereyetmom. Hope to see you there!




  1. So beautiful – and practical. Really like the intricate ones at the shopping centre in Montego Bay. Must have been a lot of work.
    Sophie recently posted..New Orleans by InstagramMy Profile

  2. Very beautiful 🙂 These fretworks are amazing…
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Fukuyama Masaharu – SakurazakaMy Profile

  3. I love the fact that the designs depict historical events and it’s nice to see that people of African descent are featured in the artwork. It’s something I notice when going to countries with high populations of African descendents because it’s different from what I’m used to. In Washington, DC, the majority of artwork and sculptures I see on a daily basis depict those of European descent. It’s really interesting from a cultural perspective.
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  4. These all look like they should be the backdrop to a fairy tale! Beautiful.
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Searching for Catania Sicily’s “Pescheria”My Profile

  5. So true. I never thought of that but now that you mention it, Jackie, I can definitely see that.

  6. Thanks for pointing that out, Michaela. It was an interesting find especially because, having lived abroad for many years, it’s not what I’m used to. I’m wondering, though, how many people know what it depicts. Next time, I’ll have to check if there’s a plaque or other info there.

  7. Thanks, Muza-chan.

  8. Very practical and beautiful, Sophie. I’ve been trying to find more intricate ones like those at the shopping center. If I do, will do a follow up.

  9. I love this and can see why you’ve been taking pictures of them! Some are very intricate and others seem simple. Would love to add some to my own home.
    Debbie Beardsley recently posted..Art Around Town – Statues & FountainsMy Profile

  10. Love learning new things—I’ve never heard of fretwork, and now I will definitely have my eye out for it as we travel around! I really love the very first one–feels like a very welcoming home.
    Kate recently posted..A Rare Waterfall Viewing in Arizona’s White Tank MountainsMy Profile

  11. I love the way you go to a country and there are certain architectural details that just stand out. You’ve done a nice job of capturing the detail. I’ve never seen anything like the windows in your Falmouth photo.
    Leigh recently posted..A Trip to the Zipaquira Salt Mine – aka The Underground Salt CathedralMy Profile

  12. Wow, some of that fretwork is a real work of art. Happy hunting!
    budget jan recently posted..Marooned on the MekongMy Profile

  13. they know how to decorate a house. Love it. 🙂

  14. Maria Alexandra, Latinabroad

    Fretwork: I just learned a new English word today! For some reason, I didn’t know those doorway designs were called that way.

    Thanks for the lesson! 😀

    – Maria Alexandra
    Maria Alexandra recently posted..Puerto Rico travel video and photos: my first hosting bid!My Profile

  15. The fretwork is very pretty. I don’t know that there is one architectural style I look for when traveling. I just notice everything that pops out at me. I think I’m going to pay attention to what that is from now on.
    Tonya recently posted..The World’s Second Largest Gator Roadside Attraction in Kissimmee FloridaMy Profile

  16. I love blogs and bloggers and the intimate insights I can have an an armchair traveller. Shall be looking out for fretwork whenever I get to Jamaica. Love to meet you via Travel Photo Thursday.

  17. Beautiful workmanship! I sometimes forget to look up.
    EverywhereAmy recently posted..Photo Adventure : Visiting the East Rim of the Grand Canyon in the WinterMy Profile

  18. beautiful decorations. It is so interesting to see traditional architectural designs and the reasons behind them.
    Have a wonderful weekend, and thank you for stopping by my blog today.
    Jill recently posted..Do you carry two cameras while travelling?My Profile

  19. I think they would be beautiful for a little girl’s room. They are so intricate and delicate and as Jackie says, reminiscent of fairy tales.
    Johanna at ZigaZag recently posted..Help! It’s a Melanoma. Why you should get your skin checked regularly.My Profile

  20. These look familiar but I never knew what they were called. They’re beautiful and I love the one on that shopping center. I can’t get over their details and the amount of work it must have taken to do them.
    Mary recently posted..5 Free Things to do in Rome with KidsMy Profile

  21. I’ve never notices fretwork used as a hand carved aircon. How wonderful.
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  22. I really loved Jamaica.
    The influence of India is more present than I thought and these fretwork designs remind me of that influence.

    The Wanderfull Traveler recently posted..Where Chefs Eat: My New Travel CompanionMy Profile

  23. Beautiful. I call them “functional artistry.” I paticularly love the fretwork on the mall. When I travel I tend to look at the designs of windows and doors. I always ind them fascinating. Now I know to look for the fretworks when I visit Jamaica.
    “Fretwork” is my word of the day. Thanks for introducing it to me:)
    Marisol recently posted..The Beautiful Sunset on Manila BayMy Profile

  24. The fretwork is so beautiful. But I have to admit that I didn’t know that term before. 🙁 I love architectural details, especially in windows, doors, stairways. It’s sometimes the small details that can give a simple building a touch of the unusual.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Hungarian National Holiday: Celebrating FreedomMy Profile

  25. That work on the shopping center is wonderful. It reminds me of the artistry of the pediments on the Parthenon in Greece–the way the story must fit into the triangular space.
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  26. You have been linked! Check out my weekly link love post!

  27. Quite stunning… I love the extra details that give each home its special touch… So, so beautiful. 🙂
    ElizOF recently posted..Inspiration: Celebrate Good Deeds DayMy Profile

  28. Very stunning for sure, Elizabeth.

  29. Thanks, Ornella!

  30. That’s an interesting observation, Vera. I hadn’t even thought of that.

  31. So true, Cathy. Simple details can really transform. If it weren’t for the fretwork, that shopping center would be just another collection of stores.

  32. You’re welcome, Marisol. Glad to share.
    I like your description – functional artistry. That it is. I’d love to see your collection of windows and doors.

  33. It’s interesting that you should see that. Indian influence is everywhere, especially in our cooking.

  34. I guess you could use it for almost anything you imagine.

  35. The one you captured from Westgate Shopping Centre is incredible.
    I love the details of it and it’s beautifully made.
    Actually, I seldom see fretwork.
    Des recently posted..5 Reasons Not To Go To CollegeMy Profile

  36. I love the ones with the very detailed craftsmanship. It looks like a work of art, which it actually is. This is one of the reasons why I love looking at pictures of architecture overseas, it’s certainly very special.

  37. I love it! Looks very artsy! I want to see this for myself soon.

  38. Simply beautiful. It’s good to read about the different architectural traits of other countries. It makes you see a lot of beautiful aspects of other cultures.

  39. Different cultures have different designs in their architecture. These fretworks look amazing. Thanks for featuring them.
    Emilia recently posted..Hiring Professionals for Your Writing NeedsMy Profile

  40. WOW!! This is really mesmerizing..Thanks for sharing,..

  41. What a brilliant idea! I never knew the purpose of this before, I just assumed it was decorative:-) Great photos!
    Jess recently posted..A Taste Of Australia, Sans The 21 Hour FlightMy Profile

  42. Thanks, Jess. It’s also decorative – decorative and functional.

  43. You’re welcome, Abhishek!
    Thanks for leaving a comment.

  44. How cool, I didn’t know that that’s what they’re called. I like how each house has a different design – and good on you for noticing these details.
    jill recently posted..My Kind of Beach in Belitung, IndonesiaMy Profile

  45. These are just beautiful and to read about these even feels better…Totally loved the images…Thanks for sharing..

  46. Great work of art and indeed a lovable share. I love exploring unique architecture; thanks for sharing.

  47. Thanks, Jill. Glad you like them as they are special. There seems to be some basic designs and some that are more popular.

  48. You never fail to amaze me with your shots. 🙂 I really enjoy going through your site. Keep it up!
    Donna Kiritharan recently posted..Justice for Iska, Education for AllMy Profile

  49. That’s such a lovely comment. Thanks for stopping by, Donna.

  50. I’m not surprised that you’ve seen them before, Mary.
    They’re beautiful and pretty detailed so I guess they take a little while to put together. One of these days, I hope to meet a craftsperson who knows about them.

  51. Yes, I agree, Johanna. They’d make beautiful decorations and bring fairy tales to mind.

  52. You’re welcome, Jill. Glad you find them interesting.

  53. Glad you like, Amy. I think we all are guilty of that. It’s so easy to focus on where we’re going, excluding everything else.

  54. Great to meet you too, Seana! Thanks for stopping by.
    Blogging certainly does give us the chance to travel the world without leaving home. Hope you get to visit Jamaica and see some of the fretwork.

  55. I find that those things are usually the most interesting.
    If you have any photos, would love to see some of them, Tonya.

  56. You’re welcome, Maria Alexandra! They’re also called latticework

  57. They sure do. Glad you love it.

  58. It sure is. Thank you!
    Saw some on a beautiful house yesterday but couldn’t stop to capture it.

  59. Thanks, Leigh. Those windows are new to me too. I’ve seen a few more, also in Falmouth, and I really like them.

  60. I agree, Debbie, they are quite pretty. I’d love to add a few touches to my home as well.

  61. Glad you learned something new from this post, Kate.
    Yes, there’s a warmth to the first one, a really homey feel.

  62. These sights are just breath-taking! Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences with us. Excellent post.

  63. I’ve never seen window coolers before.

    The rebellion fretwork reminds me of Indian or Thai imagery.
    Hakea recently posted..only in the presentMy Profile

  64. I like that name, Narelle. That’s exactly what they are.
    And it does look a bit Indian or Thai.