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Roatan Bay Islands Local Wood Carving Artist

spacerMelvin Alexander Bodden
"Palanca"

Palanca

Melvin Alexander Bodden

Melvin Alexander Bodden, better known as Palanca, is an eclectic artist of many talents.  Roatan claims him as their award wining local wood carving artist!  His works of art literally blanket the island of Roatan.  Look for them at the foot stoop of shops, on counter tops in restaurants, and hanging from various porches and balconies!  He has a fun knack of staring at pieces of driftwood or discarded branches of trees and seeing a living creature pop out!  With his vision, carving tools, and paint; a new creature is born.  He says he likes to capture the island life around him and its people.

Roatan Artist     Pura Veda Dive Shop and Restaurant

Palanca noted that both of his parents were artists and with both of their genes in him, he is literally “blowing up inside” with creativity.  His mother was from Jamaica and wrote many pieces of music and songs for her local church.  His father was from La Ceiba, Honduras where he wrote books.  After growing up in La Ceiba Melvin set out for Roatan to look for his cousin Mora.  Mora is better known to all of us in Sandy Bay as the local fisherman in his dug out canoe!

Roatan Art      Palanka     Wood Carving Roatan

Once he made it to Roatan he began to work for several large homes at odd jobs, digging wells, and gardening.  In his spare time he walked the beaches and collected driftwood and odd shape branches.  He would ponder them for a few days and then begin to carve.  He says that the sea brings the wood already in these forms and that he just sees it and works with it.  His favorite wood is hard mahogany drift wood.  The longer it is in the sea the better it is to carve with! He also uses many of the islands fruitwoods and hardwoods.

Gumbo Limgo Tree - Elephant Tree

Some common Fruitwoods are Hog Wood, Nance (carabo), Fig Trees, Sea Grapes, Mango, Almond, Fichus, Cashew, Palms, Mangrove (red, black, and white) and Buttonwood.  Each has its own distinctive growth patterns and thicknesses.  Melvin says that each one is like a new canvas waiting to be painted!

Common Hardwood Trees are, varieties of tropical red wood better known as Mahogany, Tropical Oaks (their thick bark supports bromeliads and orchids), Evergreen Palms (Arecaceae), and Bursera trees which are known on the island of Roatan as the Gumbo Limbo Tree and the Elephant Tree for its water swollen trunk.  Bursera trees have a distinctive smooth reddish peeling bark.  The wood has a distinct odor when carved known to us as Frankincense.  Our own Gumbalimba Park sports many of these massive trees here in Roatan.  The older the wood, the better it is for carving.  “It has had more time to dry out and twist into its final shape before carving”, says Melvin. Hibiscus Trees are also interesting to carve and create little creatures with.  They are known as the “Queen of the Tropics” for their lovely flowers. Their sap is used for dyes and resin.

The most common Hardwood is Pine.  Pine in North America is very soft, but in Central American it is very  hard. Pine is the National Tree of Honduras.  It won this declaration in 1926 and is protected to this day to conserve and improve the existing numbers in the country.  It is commonly used in Roatan for beautiful wood floors.  Planca says it takes hard work to carve in Pine, but it is worth the effort because of the final product that is produced.

 
Melvin Bodden Carving

Balsa Wood Carvings - Anthony Key Resort
The easiest wood to carve is Balsa wood.  Balsa wood trees are abundant in rainforests and jungles like Roatan.  When the wood is first cut it is very heavy with water.  As the wood dries it becomes very soft and light weight!  Over 60% of the tree is just water.  Balsa wood is strong for its light weight and can easily be bent with carving tools without loosing its strength.  Americans may remember it best by small model planes that were made in the 50’s and 60’s.  On Roatan it is easily carved and shaped into the common parrot figures and fish replicas that we see in souvenir shopsMelvin would rather take a hard chunk of Mahogany and spend lots of time on it rather than use the delicate balsa wood.  That is very easy to see when you encounter one of his life size statues in West End.
Balsa Wood Carbing AKR

Where in Roatan can you find Melvin Bodden?...

You won’t see Melvin in a fancy museum…no, his museum is the great outdoors.  Look for a small house in a grassy field in Sandy Bay decorated with his own paintings!  Just pull up along the road, meet Melvin, have a little chat, and buy a carving for your place.  He is a favorite among island visitors and an award winner in the municipality of Coxen Hole.  Roatan wood is his claim to fame!

Home of Melvin Alexander Bodden "Palanka"
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