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Monday, November 15, 2004

Bahamian woodworkers

FUENTE: http://www.bahamasnet.com/jsp/feature.jsp?featureNumber=7¤tDestination=3

Craftsmen have distinct advantage

Originally published WELCOME BAHAMAS - NASSAU, CABLE BEACH & PARADISE ISLAND - 2003 © Etienne Dupuch Jr Publications Ltd

Bahamian woodworkers have a distinct advantage over their counterparts in much of the rest of the world. Available to these craftsmen is a range of woods unsurpassed in terms of weight, density, colour, workability, grain, texture and flexibility.

Profiting from this advantage are sculptors, wood turners, carvers, whittlers, cabinet makers and boat builders. Here's a look at a few of these skilled craftsmen.

Roddie Pinder, 62, is possibly The Bahamas' best-known wood turner.

A native of Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, where he still resides and works, his early career was in the civil service with the Ministry of Health and later as an Out Island commissioner.

He got seriously into wood working following the death of an old friend, whose family gave Roddie the friend's lathe. He studied briefly with Rude Osolnik, a world-renowned wood turner.

Of the native woods, Pinder prefers to work with Madeira - which he describes as "the very best" - cork, horseflesh and lignum vitae when he can get it.

Lignum vitae is the national tree of The Bahamas and is protected by law. "So the only way I can get it is after a hurricane. Hurricanes Floyd and Andrew produced a lot of wood for me," said Pinder. "Cork is also nice to work with. They used to use cork wood for framing ocean vessels. It's strong, light and flexible and there are millions of [trees] along the shoreline."

He also uses local tamarind and imported woods including ebony from Burma, cocobolo (a Central American rosewood) and padauk, considered to be one of the most beautiful African rosewoods.

Urn of Guanahani
In 1991 Pinder was commissioned by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce to turn an urn of native hardwood for each landfall of Christopher Columbus. In 1992 he turned the urn of Guanahani, which was filled with sand from San Salvador and now rests in Columbus' tomb in Santo Domingo. Pinder's work can be seen in an extensive collection at Nassau Glass on Mackey St and at Island Tings on Bay St.

Cabinet maker Rudy McSweeney, Sr, has been at his trade since just after the Second World War when he started as a machine helper with George Mosko Furniture. At six ft four, he earned the nickname "Slim" and soon graduated to making chairs. "Mr Mosko asked me to make six chairs, and I made them and then another 36 and then 72."

He left the Mosko firm in 1953 to do a major refinishing job with Barclays Bank.

"I've been in construction ever since. I didn't mind construction but I loved the shop better and opened my first shop in Chippingham. Then we moved here to Crawford St in 1968 and decided to call it Chippingdale as a combination of Chippingham and Chippendale."

McSweeney was commissioned in 1979 to make a "crozier" (staff) for the visit of Pope John Paul II. Lignum vitae was chosen as the local wood because it was the national tree and because some believe that the cross on which Christ was crucified was made of lignum vitae.

A team effort
He found a dead tree on the grounds of Princess Margaret Hospital and chose it because the wood was already cured and he would not need the government permission necessary to cut a live tree.

McSweeney and a young schoolboy, Brian Wilson, who did the carving, produced the crozier in a week and a half. Wilson carved the crucified figure of Jesus out of mahogany. During the presentation they were introduced to the Pope personally. "It was one of the high points in my life," said the 16-year-old Wilson at the time. McSweeney also made a mahogany case, lined with red velvet, for transporting the crozier when it went back to Rome.

Ceremonial maces
Gilbert Elliston, 50, a native of Jamaica and a teacher since 1970, came to The Bahamas in 1987 to start a woodworking programme at the Hopedale Centre for young people with learning disabilities. Hopedale was established in 1973. The woodwork shop at Hopedale on Petersfield Rd builds 17th and 18th century reproductions to contemporary designs.

Elliston also designs and builds ceremonial maces, the most recent one for Sojourner-Douglass College. The shop also produces the stands that hold the duho - a replica of a Lucayan ceremonial chair - for the Ministry of Tourism's annual Cacique Awards.

"We specialize in challenged students," says Elliston. "The youngsters here learn by hands-on experience. They see and they do. They learn by osmosis. We only take 10 students at a time, and the ones who show promise and progress help with the younger and slower ones.

"People from the community also come here to upgrade their skills in woodworking. We help them with things like finishing, lathe turning, furniture construction, cabinet work. And to see some of them develop into legitimate craftsmen is my greatest reward."

James Rolle, a Nassau native, has been carving fish and figures out of Bahamian hardwoods for more than 30 years. And he's only 42. He is one of the senior talented wood carvers who ply their trade at Nassau's colourful straw market.

Wielding a rubber mallet and a chisel he chops away at a piece of wild tamarind. "It's easy," he says. "You just take a piece of wood and carve away everything that doesn't look like a fish."


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