Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Melvin Bodden with his dog.

For 25 years an Artist has Captured Roatan’s Essence

At 72, Melvin ‘Palanca’ Bodden is a bundle of energy. With a spring in his step, barefoot and smiling, he walks around his yard, moving his carvings and chatting with students from a nearby school. He is tall, lanky and wears a woven pal hat atop his gray hair.. “Everyone is looking at their phoni, phoni, phoni. But I will do something different,” he says.

Melvin lives in a small wooden Sandy Bay house a few meters away from the island’s main road, a stone’s throw from a school, across from a church. It’s a good place for an artist to find inspiration. His gallery is his front yard, but the more valuable, delicate pieces are perched under the roof overhang of his simple, wooden home.

The carver spent half of his life toiling at the fruit plantations on the Honduran coast. Melvin chopped bananas and picked pineapples for Standard Fruit Company for over 20 years before he took part in an art competition in La Ceiba. He won and nothing has been the same since.

I started just with a rock and a nail… The stone turned to powder

“All that time I didn’t know I was an artist,” says Melvin. He was 45, and his life was taking a dramatic turn. He came to Roatan in search of his brother and a new start.

He supported himself entirely with his art from his art. “I started just with a rock and a nail, and I did big carvings,” Melvin recalls his beginning. “The stone turned to powder,” as he lived and worked in a simple shack and displayed his sculptures by the side of the road. Soon people begun stopping by and buying his carvings and paintings.

Eventually Melvin got better tools and built a reputation as an island carver that could bring life back to a piece of driftwood, or a discarded tree trunk. The majority of his carvings and paintings focus on the local fauna: pieces of wood become crocodiles, iguanas, birds and fish. “Everything is growing because of my art,” says Melvin philosophically.

Some pieces are a bit eccentric. In fact for over a year he has tapped into his ‘dark side.’ “The bad period hit me in 2017,” he recalled. “When the ladies see it they get the chills,” says Melvin about the erotic paintings of women and snakes.

Melvin’s five-foot-tall wooden monkey carving was, for many years, a Coxen Hole landmark. He carved it in 1990s at “La Cuesta del Mono” – the steep road on the hill of the monkey’ that connects Coxen Hole center with Spanish Town. Now his famous monkey disappeared. You know you have made it as an artist if your artwork is being stolen from public spaces.

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