Walking down any street in Barbados, unless you know Marlon Waterman, chances are you will see him as “just another notty-head rasta”, and he knows this.
In fact, he admits it.
He’s been called “Rasta Man” so frequently that chances are some people who know him by that moniker, don’t even know his real name. But put him in front of ice, foam, fruit, sand, and especially wood, and you’ll never forget him. That’s a promise. He is a carver with an eye for detail that pretty much leaves spectators spell-bound and without adequate words.
He sat last weekend with Bajan Vibes, so we could see first-hand, just what it is he does. And we found out that here is a man who never stops talking while he works, if he has an audience.
Marlon recalled being 12 years old when he saw his first wood carving – a smooth, black cat that was given to his mother as a gift.
“I said I got to learn to do that. What, look at this thing! That’s the wood that started it,” he said as he began to set out his carving tools, unfolding his ‘case’ like it was something most precious.
Washing off a watermelon and getting ready to do what he does best, he recalled that his first opportunity came round about 1996, when at the time there was a lot of strife between different parts of the island. Although he was from Husbands, St James, back then he would spend the majority of his time in Haynesville, one such volatile area. A community development officer he knew, Peter Skeete, asked him if he would be interested in learning to carve.
“All sorts o’ bells went off in my head . . . He started telling me about all these things I could do in a programme, but I was like, ‘I just wanna carve’.”
That’s where he got his finger’s wet – so to speak, learning to manipulate wood, and ended up the most outstanding participant in the programme, with a piece depicting life and death – a miniature has begun recreating in wood and is still working on.
He would then go on to the Barbados Community College to do professional cookery, where he would then be exposed to ice carving.“Everybody know I was into wood, not knowing I was what I was. They thought I was cake,” he laughed. “Some people used to notice like lizards on the leaves and that kind of thing, and one day they had some gentlemen come in to de college. That was in ‘97, and there was a cook-off, de culinary competition for de chef of de year. Up there was ram wid people and de competition was going on and de rest come for me and tell me bout this man doing ice carving.
“When I hear that I was out and gone . . . Mia Mottley was de minister and she shake he hand. When he done carve, I could remember like it was yesterday, and he turn off de machine, de room was like this,” he said, going absolutely still and quiet to demonstrate the silence in the room. “At that point, I said, ‘De next time I come up here, that is what I coming to do’, and de room erupt, people laughing.”
What they did not know was that he was serious – extremely so. Throughout his life, it has been the doubt in others that has pushed him to prove them wrong, and that was what he did. He went on to enroll in another cooking related course that incorporated areas of carving in fruit and vegetables among other mediums.
A job internship and a job offer at the end of that internship, would see him opting not to finish the course, but then for a while it seemed like luck would desert him, because the job did not work out how he expected. He wanted to carve, his job wanted him to cook – so just like the course, he abandoned that, determined once more to pursue his dream.
In a roundabout fashion, it would happen, but not in the time-frame he expected. He would return to the hotel at which he had once been offered a job in the kitchen, this time working on the lawns as a carver at their open markets, and it was there he began to make a name for himself with the visitors. Quite a few would take his details and offer opinions on his work.
Then came opportunities for travel and other experiences with different mediums beyond just wood, ice, fruit and vegetables. And with this ever expanding resumé, that included a stint in the Barbados Defense Force, where he also became known for his carving skills, he has set firmly in his mind just what he wants for his future.
“Last year I went Canada on my own, first time,” he said, after explaining that he had already been to Canada as part of a work programme. “The response I get, people was eager for me to come back. I was supposed to go back in January, but I came home and got the opportunity to start the ice carving. So things start working.”
Just two weeks ago, patrons at the Columbian Emeralds’ Tag Heuer launch got to witness his ice carving first hand.
“I at the stage now where I concentrating on not leaving Barbados for the remaining of this year. I want to remain here with the carving and then go and try other things, like broaden my spectrum. Next year I would do that; I already check de courses . . . I’m going to learn to carve marble, and do egg shell carving.”
He added, quite soberly: “I want to go down in history. I don’t know if dem got anybody, I check all de time, but I ain’t see none, but I want to be de first body to carve everything from anything, or anything from everything, however it goes.
“That is my goal. I want an Institute of Carving. As long as there is any medium on de planet and you want a carving, find Marlon Waterman and he could show you. If he can’t do it, he will have someone else that can show you, teach you. I don’t know where it will be yet, but that is the end all.”