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!



64 comments on “Jamaica’s Fascinating Fretwork

  1. So beautiful – and practical. Really like the intricate ones at the shopping centre in Montego Bay. Must have been a lot of work.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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:)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Different cultures have different designs in their architecture. These fretworks look amazing. Thanks for featuring them.

  20. What a brilliant idea! I never knew the purpose of this before, I just assumed it was decorative:-) Great photos!

  21. 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.

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

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