Jobs & Careers: Making magic with rocks - Gifted carver brings alabaster to life
A pile of rocks located in Egbert’s Hamilton yard may seem useless to the uncreative mind, but one will be pleasantly surprised when those rocks are transformed into beautiful works of art.
When Hamilton came to greet the news team at his gate on Collie Smith Drive in Trench Town, the white dust all over his body was evidence of his handiwork. He spends most of his days carving alabaster, a fine-textured, usually white and translucent rock.
“I have been working all morning, enuh. Mi make a whole heap a figurines, eggs, and just a whole heap a things, including abstract pieces,” he said.
The father of seven ventured into the craft business in 1969, but at that time, he was employed to a craft company that used to make trinket boxes and other souvenirs. A part of his job included going into Bull Bay, St Andrew, to gather materials for his craft. It was during one of those visits that he discovered the alabaster rocks.
“When mi go up inna di hills, mi stumbled on the stones. Is inna a riverbed mi did deh a look seeds to make the necklaces when mi see dem, and mi use mi saw and cut off piece and put them in mi van. The first thing mi make was a cup and saucer and mi boss wife buy it for £3 from me. Three pounds was more than what I was being paid as I was getting £2 and 5 shillings a week,” he said.
In 1973, Hamilton left his job at the craft shop after he was recruited by the Social Development Commission to help teach his craft to inmates at the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre. From then he decided he was going to becoming his own boss.
“Mi start do the work a the back a mi yard; and mi used to go Ochi and dem place deh go sell, and that’s how mi gwaan build the stock. But the landlord say mi a dirty up him place and give mi notice. So mi start do the business now at a riverbed in Bull Bay. In 1980 mi get this place here, so mi settle yah so,” he said.
Hamilton once made regular trips to Bull Bay to source alabaster, but he now purchases truckloads from a reputable supplier. His workshop is filled with hundreds of finished and unfinished pieces, most of which he says are inspired by “what a gwaan out a street”.
“Take for example, one of my pieces is called the ‘Tower of Babel’, and that was inspired when the country was going through a lot of confusion. The whole world is confused. Mi still no finish it yet. People want to kill off each other, but this piece let you know that we have to hang on to each other,” he said.
It is difficult for Hamilton to choose a piece that he is most proud of, saying that there are many creations that he loved for their own unique look. However, when it comes to his customers, he knew the bestsellers.
“They like the elephants with their tusks up, because they believe elephants brings success and prosperity,” he said.
Hamilton said the demand for his products are high and among his biggest buyers are Sandals, who he says prefers to purchase the smaller craft items.
“Nuh regular people nuh really come in Trench Town, so you will see a lot of tourists coming in and buying stuff, so I get a market there; but one of my main source of income comes from Sandals,” he said.
Hamilton’s work has not gone unnoticed. In 2012, he received the UNESCO Award of Excellence for handicrafts in the English-and Dutch-Speaking Caribbean. He employs a few persons to assist him with the carving, but he said that not many young people are attracted to the trade.
“They say it’s dirty work because there is a lot of dust, but I don’t mind doing it,” the gifted artisan said.