Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Sitting on a rickety wooden stool inside a small, dark, wooden shack off Mountain View Avenue in St Andrew, 57-year-old Glenroy 'Robbie' White grasp his primitive hand-carving tools as he prepares to transform a lump of alabaster gypsum into an exotic sculptural piece.
With slow deliberation, he carefully chisels each piece of the unformed stone he takes from the hills of Bull Bay, St Andrew, into a collection of bowls, candle holders, ashtrays, figurines, lemonade sets, teapots and other creative works.
But these days discontent has killed Robbie's spirit.
He has lost the desire to toil at the only trade that he has known and loved for some 40 years.
Despite his gifted hands, Robbie is struggling to make it from one day to the next as the once-lucrative market in which he made a living is fading into non-existence.
"Ever since mi learn this trade, a it me live off. Inna di '70s coming down, me did have a nice market. When me mek me stock, me neva used to carry it further than Ochi (Ocho Rios, St Ann), yuh nuh.
"One Indian man alone woulda tek everything from me fi him in-bond shop. Me just put down mi box and him just come tek everything and a it dat. Me come back a town, go Bull Bay guh buy me alabaster and deh pon it again and a just suh it used to run," shared the tall, dark dreadlocked man.
"But everything start to crash from inna di '90s come down. Me all start guh all ova, different place, fi try sell them. Fi tell yuh di truth, to me a di all-inclusive ting mash up everything.
"Tourists nah come outa dem hotel again and go buy craft, dem nah guh a di craft market dem again or go out pon di road again. Everything just mash up."
Testament of plight
The dust-worn pieces inside his workshop affirm his plight.
"Nowadays, me not even a survive from hand to mouth. Me affi try every little ting to survive … the scrap-metal ting till dem shut it down, sell bottle, ackee, any little ting," lamented Robbie.
The struggling sculptor remembered the day he left his hometown in Manchester in the early '70s and journeyed to Kingston in search of a better life.
Leaving behind family and friends and having no idea to where or whom he would turn, his journey took him to the Mountain View Avenue workshop of gifted sculptor Lloyd Hamilton, who took the young man under his wings and taught him the craft.
Years later, Robbie launched out on his own, setting up his workshop further down Mountain View Avenue and set to work to make life for himself.
In awe of work
People were awed by his sculpted pieces that were selling faster than he could make them.
Life was good and he began to dream bigger dreams. But within a few years, he watched it all slowly slipping away.
"Right now, it don't even mek sense me come a di shop and make nutten 'cause nutten nah sell, yuh just a work in vain and dat nuh mek nuh sense.
"Every day mi si down and a sey look wha me haffi do fi survive, a look bottle fi sell and all dem ting deh. Me shoulda deh a di shop a daytime a duh some work fi carry guh a country and mek a money. Mek me tell yuh, a di hardest ting fi di small man mek it inna dis country. Di big man always a stifle di small man," he declared.
Robbie is hoping that the craft market in Jamaica will bounce back and that the powers-that-be will once again make it an integral part of the tourist industry, giving him the opportunity to return full-time to his love and livelihood.
"If me start get sale and have a market again a it dat, me set again," he stated.
But until then, he will do what needs to be done to survive and that includes picking ackees for dinner and for sale to "mek a little food".