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by Jaime Johnston, Photos by Thomas Tomczyk
Castillo's Artful Journey
as her art reflects her island influences, Virginia Castillo is
a mirror of her own creations: energetic, colorful and full of life.
Known by her signature "Virgie", Castillo is one of the
Bay Islands' most recognized artists. Castillo's work partners exaggerated
abstract faces and bodies with scenes of island life. She draws
market scenes, porch gatherings, dancing women. It is a still history
splashed with the colors of the Caribbean and a style that is uniquely
her own. "I wish more island people would step up and tell
their stories- through art or in their own way because islanders
are very timid about their feelings," said Castillo. The people
in her paintings and sketches are mostly fictional, but the themes
are sown with her own experiences as a young female artist growing
up on Roatan. As she tells of her career as an artist, her own story
emerges. "There's a lot more to me than just a brush in my
hand," smiles Castillo. She is a mother, a sister, a seamstress,
an artist. Virginia Castillo is a storyteller.
Born in La Ceiba in 1949, Castillo moved to Roatan at age seven
with mother and siblings. Her father was of Jamaican descent, her
mother a La Ceiba native. Her mother was the first Jehovah's Witness
missionary on the island as her family lived behind the Church of
God in Coxen Hole. She can't remember when art first became a part
of her life, but Castillo always had a passion for it. "As
far back as I can remember, I was scribbling and getting punished
for it. On the island, what was a girl to do with a concept of being
an artist?" said Castillo. As a child and teenager, Castillo
used to draw with any materials available. She drew charcoal sketches
with the end of burnt firewood on cement. The family couldn't afford
any supplies and if they could have, the materials wouldn't have
been available on the island at the time anyway.
A student at Juan Brooks School in Coxen Hole, Castillo left school
after the second grade. "I don't think I was stimulated there.
I had been reading since before the first grade. Plus, I hated the
structure," said Castillo who continued studying at different
"English" schools. At the time, these schools were operated
our of backyards and livings rooms all over the island. They used
readers from Belize and would take lessons from women who aimed
to preserve English language on the island.
Castillo was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and often witnessed Kingdom
Hall worship sessions at her family home in Coxen Hole. At age 18,
she left the church, was ex-communicated and had almost no contact
with her family for several decades. "I was always a little
different, but I don't know why," she laughs.
In her 20s, Castillo met her first husband, a Greek American, and
they moved to Rose Cay off St. Helene Island. "In Helena, I
started to explore what I could do artistically, but I still used
to put away my drawings after they were done because I didn't know
I had any talent," said Castillo.
Sailors from around the world would anchor off of St. Helene and
venture to shore to explore. It was this way that Castillo met American
illustrator, Mead Schafer. After looking at some of her work, Schafer
advised Castillo to let go of her inhibitions and really dedicate
herself to her art. At fist, Castillo was hesitant. She hadn't any
formal art training or education. "I told him that I wanted
to draw the human body and do it perfectly. He put his hands on
my arms and hands, touching me. He said 'Your pencil will follow
your eyes.' He was one of the greatest influences on me," said
On St. Helene, art materials were even harder to find than in Coxen
Hole. It was difficult to get even the paper on which to sketch.
Castillo used to tear blank pages out of the backs of novels in
order to continue her work. Visiting sailors to St. Helene would
occasionally buy drawings from Castillo on shore. From the beginning,
her work portrayed people and the human body. "I was never
much for drawing scenery or landscapes. I just love watching people,"
said Castillo. Her first sketch sold for Lps. 20 to Danish interior
designer Ruth Lamonte. "She taught me to know how to stop and
walk away from a piece, which is very hard as an artist," said
In 1979, Castillo divorced her husband and moved to Oak Ridge. It
was here that she met her second husband, another American ex-pat.
"Maybe there's a hidden reason why both my husbands were American.
I don't know," said Castillo, "I never saw myself as taking
one of these guys that I had grown up with for my husband."
In the early 1980s, Castillo ventured into painting. She painted
with oils or whatever materials were available. Her first experience
with watercolors was thanks to a gift from a friend, Ann Jennings,
an artist living in Port Royal. When Jennings left the island, she
gave Castillo a trunk of art supplies. The kit included a variety
of paints and brushes that Castillo had never owned. "I had
no idea how to use the watercolor paints. I didn't know you had
to mix it with water and it seemed so gummy to me. I couldn't do
anything with it," said Castillo who later read a magazine
detailing how to mix watercolors. She seldom worked with acrylics
at the time because it relied so much on the type of paper needed
and it was scarcely available.
Castillo seldom paints real people, always preferring a fantastical
element to her art. Color plays into her art like its own subject.
It adds a fluidity to her work characteristic of many Caribbean
artists. Her paintings depict mainly women. "Maybe it's because
women have played a greater role in my life than men. I find women
fascinating subjects," said Castillo.
While Castillo was growing up in the 1950-60s, there weren't a lot
of employment opportunities. Most of the island men worked aboard
merchant ships, sending income back to their families on the island.
"People my age mostly grew up without fathers. There were no
dominant roles for island men on the island at that time,"
said Castillo. According to Castillo, her work has been compared
to the styles of Matisse and Van Gogh. She describes it more casually,
shrugging her shoulders, "It's colorful and unpredictable-
a bunch of stuff thrown in, but in a pleasing way."
In 1982, her son Patrick was born. By this time, she had sold a
few more substantial pieces of her work and began to see the potential
to sell her art and make a living. "The best incentive to being
creative is being hungry. To sell your art is the best position:
you're being creative, but you're still being productive,"
A seamstress as well as an artist, Castillo also experimented with
fashion design. Her work was displayed at fashion shows hosted at
Coxen Hole's Reef Club- a nightclub operated out of a private home.
As a teenager, Castillo recalls peeking into that same Reef Club
yard from the neighboring stairwell. "Only the clearest-skinned
people were allowed into the Reef Club at night, but I wanted to
see what was going on," said Castillo.
experience with fashion design led her to experiment with batiks,
images on fabric created with dyes and hot wax. Lamonte, who had
purchased Castillo's first artwork, taught Castillo about fabric,
its construction and design. Castillo also learned basic batik techniques
from Lamonte and later tailored the method to suit her ideas. There
was a lot of labor involved in batiks, carting fabric, dyes and
A watercolor self portrait.
RIGHT: Miss Virginia at her home in El Torronjal, La Ceiba.
Castillo ended up producing wall-hangings, t-shirts, sarongs and
purses. Some works used one color, others multi-layered. "It's
difficult to draw with wax, but I learned to control my hand,"
said Castillo who continued batik work until the mid-1990s. There
were several reasons she gave up batiks. They fade over time and
thus, have a shorter shelf life. In addition, there was room for
more complicated designs, but the labor involved in achieving
those designs made it unrealistic to invest such time in it. Plus,
she really hated having dyed hands. "I never could wear gloves
because covering my hands interfered with the sensations of the
experience," said Castillo.
In 1990, Castillo and Teri Anderson opened Yaba Ding Ding, a souvenir
and gift shop in Coxen Hole. The store continues to sell some
of Castillo's prints and batiks. Five years after opening the
store, Castillo and her son left Roatan for life in La Ceiba.
Castillo had divorced again and started to see things changing
in her neighborhood. Drugs and AIDS were on the rise in Oak Ridge.
"I started to see these young boys in Pandy Town getting
mixed up in drugs and things. I wanted to keep my son from that,"
said Castillo. Her work started to reflect social issues facing
the islands and the coast: AIDS, drugs, prostitution and the roles
of the church at that time. Many of her paintings depict church
scenes of preachers and congregations.
Once in La Ceiba, Castillo continued her painting and batik work.
She started to see a market for a range of pieces and began producing
prints, note cards, postcards, t-shirts of her work. "There
is a market for everything. Originals have a market because they're
expensive and one-of-a-kind. Reproductions are more affordable
and appeal to a lot of people," said Castillo. Once in La
Ceiba, her paintings began to reflect the bigger, more diverse
population of subjects for her work. Her paintings included a
wider variety of people- different cultures, shapes, colors. "The
coast of Honduras has been home to so many people and cultures
and my art began to show that. But, my soul is still island,"
said Castillo. Much of her abstract work comes from this time
of transition in La Ceiba which contrasts with her early work
of sketching everyday scenes in Coxen Hole.
In 1999, Castillo opened an art gallery in La Ceiba. It lasted
less than two years before she had to close. "There wasn't
a market for it at the time," said Castillo. This is one
of many difficulties Castillo has encountered in her career as
an artist. One of her biggest challenges has been when someone
commissions her for work. Admittedly, she has been too quick to
accept these offers in the past and now tries to stay away from
work where she doesn't have creative freedom. In 2002, she opened
a kiosk in La Ceiba's Megaplaza Mall. She sells her own work,
both originals and reproductions and pieces from other artists
as well. Of course, she continues to paint and sketch. Her inspirations
come as threads of images in her mind. "All the time, these
flashes come to me and, as quick as I can, I try to do something
Castillo still searches for ample art supplies, now shipping in
most of them from San Pedro Sula. Painting takes place in the
kitchen in her La Ceiba home. Her son Patrick, a musician, now
studies in California.
Needlework vista of a Coxen Hole street. ABOVE: An aquarelle
painting of "Zona Viva" prostitute.
the years, Castillo has worked-out a work routine that fits her
temperament. She enjoys listening to music while she paints, especially
Mozart. Typically, a painting will take three-six hours to complete.
"There comes a time in your painting when you don't know
what to do with it. You have to stand back and let it come to
its own conclusion. It's the exciting part," said Castillo.
In the 1980s, she began photographing her finished artworks before
selling them. There are hundreds of paintings, sketches, batiks,
purses and clothing items in her collection. But she is not an
artist who gets attached to her finished pieces. In fact, Castillo
maintains that there are only a couple pieces in her collection
that she will never sell. These are needleworks on fabric that
she completed many years ago. It is not an emotional attachment
that keeps the needleworks on her walls- it is her business instinct.
"There is so much labor that goes into those pieces. You
could never sell it at a price that could compare to the work
it took," said Castillo.
Recently, Castillo began hand-painting purses and she has plans
to incorporate silk screen designs into her work to produce pillows
and bags. Although there are media she doesn't care to explore
such as sculpture, Castillo wants to branch out. She is not too
sure what direction her artistic inclinations will take her next,
but she is confident that there will always be something new to
try. "You do what you do and be happy doing it, but don't
expect acceptance from everyone. Some will take it and most will
leave it. My art is for me."
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A Mother's Love by
years ago on a small farm on the island of Bonnaco a small
boy lay very ill and though he was being tended to by his
loving grandmother the labored breathing of the child was
a sure indication that without the proper medication this
child would die.
The mother of the child lived and worked in town so the grandmother
had sent word informing her of his illness and the urgent
need of medication. Finding the medication in the mid twentieth
century on the island was only a small part of the problems
facing this young mother. In those days there was no motorized
transportation on the island so the courageous mother had
to borrow a dugout canoe. As the sun began to set she took
paddle in hand and began her race against time, in an attempt
to save the life of her only child. The trip to the other
side of the island was a difficult journey during the daylight
hours and it must have been twice as hard when attempted in
the darkness of night.
It was after midnight when the mother arrived at the small
village from where she would begin her trek to the small farm
set in the foot hills about a mile inland. There was no one
available to accompany her on this last leg of the race she
believed to be losing, but a local gentleman suggested that
she continue on horse back because in the dark the horse would
lead the way much easier. He then graciously consented to
the loan of his prized possession, a beautiful snow white
mare called Princesa.
The horse was brought out, but for some reason a saddle could
not be located. The young mother would have to ride bareback
through the pitch-black night. In the darkness the horse maintained
a measured step and though the mother urged it to pick up
the pace the horse refused to be hurried.
After what must have seemed like an eternity and with the
light of the rising moon filtering through the canopy of the
forest, the animal and rider came to the small river that
separated the farm from the main road. Beyond the shadow of
the trees the mother caught a glimpse of something flashing
in the night alongside the road on the other side of the shallow
river. The horse must have seen it too because the animal
stopped short and refused to budge in spite of the prodding
and coaxing by its rider.
mother summoned all her courage and dismounting she took the
horse by the reigns. She led the animal across the river and
warily approached the mysterious flashing light which turned
out to be a moon beam reflecting from the smooth side of a
banana plant leaf.
this time the people at the farm were on their way to meet
her: they had been alerted by the neighing of the horse. They
came forth carrying pinewood torches to light the way. The
mother asked if her child was still alive, but did not wait
for an answer because she was already running towards the
house calling out the name of her child. She was hoping that
she arrived in time with the medication. She had.
In spite of being weary and bone tired the mother held her
child in her arms for what remained of the night and a good
part of the next day and would not put the child down until
she was sure that he would survive his illness.
The mother stayed on the farm until the child was fully recovered
and this time when she left, she took her baby boy with her
and swore they would never again be separated.
The feat of this young mother is a clear example of the love
a mother has for her children. This journey must have been
especially difficult for her since my mama was utterly afraid
of the dark.
At 5:30pm on the 17 of May 2005 at the age of 85 my mother
passed away and I can't remember ever thanking her for saving
my life that time. All her children and grandchildren will
miss her dearly. We love you mama.
I know she will rest in peace because she had put everything
right with the heavens and with the earth. We bid farewell
to Vesta Irene Moore Fredrick (A.K.A. Aunt Lou) and as we
laid her to rest I could not help but remember the traditions
and beliefs of her religion that promises that we will see
her again in a far, far better place.
My father died only 30 days before her on the 18 of April
2005 in Tampa.
Sails With Own Publication
young entrepreneurs launch a monthly community newspaper
several years having no written news source, Utila has a monthly
news-magazine once again. On May 5, two dive mistresses turn publishers
launched "Utila East Wind," a 16 page, free newspaper
filled with community news, marine environmental features, guides
Luise Powell, 23, of Norwich, England and Tara Noble-Singh, 27,
of London, are following in the footsteps of "Utila Times,"
and "Island Gazette." The last two Utila newspapers were
published in 1990's by Anne Taylor, an Australian photojournalist,
with the help of Susan Jensen, a Roatan entrepreneur.
"We wanted to look like a newspaper and feel like a newspaper,"
said Noble-Singh. Slim, bright-eyed and energetic, the two Englishwomen
often ride around Utila town on BMX bikes. In a way, it's yet another
Utila story of eccentric characters and transformation. Noble-Singh
has a B.S. degree in Psychology and Mathematics. Powell has a high
school degree and several years experience teaching English abroad.
The two met on Utila while working as dive masters at Alton's dive
shop. They talked about the idea of starting a newspaper in March,
but didn't commit to the project until April.
last days before launching the newspaper were especially busy. In
a three-day work marathon, working on one laptop, the two took shifts
in finalizing the layout and design of their first issue. While
one slept, the other worked. On May 5, "Utila East Wind"
Before the launching, many Utilans were skeptical about a newspaper.
"Now everything changed. We get invited everywhere and people
want to talk to us,' said Powell. Just a couple of days after launching
the magazine the Utilans overcame their bashfulness about giving
opinions. "It's good that the "East Wind" is blowing.
We are finally a bit in competition with Roatan," said Shelby
McNab, president of Utila's BICA.
The newspaper led its maiden issue with a story about public discontent
with Utila Power Company price hikes. "Some people thought
we were a little too balanced," said Powell.
The newspaper is currently in the process of getting an office and
adjusting ad rates. "The idea is to eventually hand it [newspaper]
over to the locals," said Powell. The second, partially full-color
edition, printed at La Prensa, is expected to hit Utila in the first
days of June
Art auction raises over $10,000
for National Preventiva Police in the first event of this kind
in Honduras' history
200 people attended a first-of-its-kind benefit auction for the
Policia Preventiva Nacional of the Bay Islands on May 15 at Palmetto
Bay Plantation. "This is first such event for the benefit
of Police I've seen," said Jose Roberto Romero Luna, Honduran
Commissioner General of Police, with 26 years experience in the
Honduran Police Force. It is likely that this was the first art
auction held in support of the Preventiva Police, but it is not
the first fundraising event Roatanians have held in support of
the police force.
In February 2004, a benefit dinner at Palmetto Bay Plantation
raised around $4,000 through ticket and dinner sales for Roatan's
Preventiva. In March 2005, three motorcycles were handed over
to Roatan's Preventiva Police from the funds raised at the 2004
Mannix, auction coordinator with Waves of Art Gallery, displays
full case of Linda Kay's Body Guard for open auction.
2005 fundraiser opened with a silent auction on 54 art pieces contributed
by artists and businesses from around the Bay Islands, Tegucigalpa
and La Ceiba. Painter Virginia Castillo from La Ceiba and mixed
media artist Gunter Kordovsky from Utila were among some of the
featured artists. In total, 16 artists donated pieces to the auction.
Profits from sales of most of the art pieces were split 60-40 between
the artists and the police fund. The items and services offered
at the live auction were donated by a total of businesses. 37 out
of 44 businesses that contributed were foreign owned.
highest selling item in the silent auction was a painting by Wilmer
Sandres, from Tegucigalpa, selling for $1,200. The live auction
brought out the fighting spirit in many bidders. Close to 40 items,
ranging in opening bid from $8.10 for a White Russian Tiramisu to
a $225 two-hour catamaran cruise were auctioned out loud. Some items
brought as much as three times their retail value.
"Don't lose it for five dollars," shouted Tony Tedali,
a West End business owner, who volunteered as auctioneer for the
event. Tedali has 15 years experience as a Florida IRS, bankruptcy
and Federal Government auctioneer. "I'll do it again next year,
or anytime," said Tedali. Phil Weir, a Roatan realtor, was
another volunteer auctioneer.
"The businesses that are here are helping the police and the
community," said Catharine McCabe, one of the volunteers at
the event. For most people the event was about socializing and having
a good time. Still, there was a fair amount of skepticism among
some auction attendees who felt disillusioned about the performance
of the Preventiva police in recent emergencies. Some decided to
stay home, others bought tickets to the auction, but not to bid
on any items.
There were 216 tickets sold to the event at $10 each and sale of
donated beer and wine brought in $204. A total of $10,982 was raised.
"We are very happy with the turn-out," said Ana Svoboda,
CANARURH-BI secretary. According to Svoboda the money will be spent
on needs that both Roatan's Preventiva and CANATUTH-BI will agree
prolonged water shortages and accusations West End water board
splits into two
the last few months, water shortages throughout the West End community
have prompted complaints to the local water board. Board president
Duey Westley called a public session on April 14 to examine the
situation. At the meeting, members of the West End water board
proposed that West End be divided into two water boards, each
managing their half of the community independently. "The
community had grown so much that we needed to get more people
involved," said Delcie Rosales, Water Board secretary since
1988. According to Rosales, the community's north side water shortages
were attributed to illegal pumps hooked up directly to the water
lines. "Water is a sore subject in this community. People
have to obey the rules and regulations. We have people watering
the street and some people giving water out of the community,"
The division of the water board was not popular with everyone
at the meeting. Most of those opposing the change were from the
south side of the West End. "I didn't think we should divide.
But we had to accept the proposal because we didn't have the numbers
in attendance and we were outvoted," said Esmeralda Mann
who met with other members of the "south side" after
the session. In the next week, a south side board was appointed,
with Mann as sitting president.
April 28, both sides met again to discuss the details of the division.
Payment of current outstanding salaries and the exact location
of the border were in dispute at the meeting. The group took a
break and reconvened later that day with five representatives
and a lawyer representing each side. It was determined that West
End's Baptist Church would be the border for the division and
the existing board would manage the north side. It was proposed
that the five wells and the balance of funds in the Board's account
were to be divided. "Three of the wells, a reserve pump and
50% of the funds were to be distributed to the north side,"
to Rosales, one of the wells on the north side doesn't function properly.
"After two or three hours of pumping, it just draws sand and
then burns the pump. It should be condemned," said Rosales. Each
new water board will have custody of two wells and the north side
will also take the non-functioning well. There is also one 40,000
gallon holding tank on the south side of West End. According to Rosales,
the remaining funds from the existing water board will go toward constructing
a holding tank for the north side.
The old water board, established in 1977, was to cease management
on May 9, but the deadline passed without any changes to the water
operation in West End.
While the logistics of the new board division are debated, residents
in West End continue to experience water outages. "It's a constant
headache for business," said Johnna Ebanks who, with husband
Sam, runs Lighthouse Restaurant. "Most days, we have to bail
water for use because the pressure is so low." The Ebanks family
business is located on the point in West End, which will fall on the
south side's new water board. Ebanks said that the problems for the
point have worsened since January, but north side residents have battled
water shortages for longer than that. "We have water problems
all year round," said Judith Jackson who lives in the barrio
behind Woody's Grocery. A 31-year resident of that area, Jackson's
family mainly relies on rainfall collection for their water use.
Mann looks forward to possible changes in water management by the
new board. "We hope to have better service. People could be pumping
the lines, but my opinion is that there could be a broken line or
swampy areas that cause problems with the pressure," said Mann.
The south side board has seven members on its Board of Directors and
the north side has six paid members. "These meetings started
out aggressively, but I hope it all works out so that everyone gets
their equal share of water," said Rosales. The division of the
boards, according to Rosales, will have a one-year trial run. After
that time, the sides will conduct user surveys to gauge the community's
response to the new management.
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Money, Will Play by Jaime Johnston
Arsenal struggles financially to
keep up with high costs of playing in Division II
addition to salaries, the team plays 4-5 road games per season,
each costing the organization over Lps. 15,000 spent for food, transportation
and accommodations. This total includes the 50% discount given by
sponsor Galaxy II for sea transport. Equipment costs on the season
total an average of Lps. 80,000 for cleats, balls, uniforms and
necessities. The team also houses four players from the coast, absorbing
costs for their housing, food and light bills. The cost to house
these players amounts to over Lps. 11,000 monthly. In an eight-game
regular season spanning four months, team expenditures total over
Team sponsors cover part of the costs. Last season, sponsor revenue
totaled Lps. 198,900, only 32.5% of Arsenal's operating expenditures.
The club has five core repeat sponsors and receives various one-time
donations from businesses and individuals over the season. "We
need to support our youth in sport. We do whatever we can and I
wish everybody would show their presence in whatever way they can
also," said Julio Galindo, owner of Anthony's Key Resort, one
of Arsenal's sponsors.
In addition to sponsors, Arsenal generates revenue through ticket
sales. According to team owner Leland Woods, ticket sales on Roatan
represent a small percentage of what is made on the coast. Arsenal
games average Lps. 5,000-6,000 each. From that amount, the referee
fees are paid and 15% of the total is taken by the league. From
the gates, Arsenal pockets approximately Lps. 38,000 for the season.
Arsenal's Board of Directors is searching for new corporate sponsors
in the off-season. They also plan to form a "Supporters of
Arsenal" club with gold, silver and bronze sponsors. Among
other benefits, membership will come with a free admission pass
to all Arsenal home games. "We need the Islanders' support.
Last game, we had a record 1,200 people on the field and it was
incredible. If we could see that kind of support all season, we
wouldn't have any worries," said Wesley. For the future, Arsenal
officials envision a proper stadium which would provide better facilities
and more sponsorship opportunities. Before that can happen, the
team must worry about basic expenses to keep Arsenal in the league
as a contender, the first and only Bay Islands team in Division
Cay's football club made national history when in 2003 it became
the youngest team ever to qualify to Division II. On the field,
Arsenal has proven that it can play with the best that the Honduran
league has to offer. Off the field, however, it is an entirely
different story. Team owners are struggling with Arsenal's finances
and hope the off-season will bring solutions to their ongoing
Arsenal just ended their third season in second division, finishing
with a disappointing loss in front of a record crowd on their
home field. Now, the team has until August to renew player contracts,
sign new ones and try to bring Arsenal's books out of the red.
"We are not even close to covering our expenses," said
Board of Directors' member Ernesto Wesley who has served as Arsenal
treasurer for a year. According to Wesley, the team carries a
monthly deficit which relies on sporadic private donations to
cover the income gap.
The main expense is team salaries which total Lps. 106,900 monthly.
The team carries a roster of 22 players and three coaches. An
estimated dozen player contracts are up for renewal for the upcoming
season. Wesley estimates that the renegotiation will increase
salaries by a total of Lps. 12,000-15,000 each month. "We
actually decreased our salary costs from two seasons ago. We were
carrying over Lps. 200,000 monthly salaries and we ended up getting
rid of our most expensive players to cut costs," said Wesley
who noted that some of March's salaries are still owed to players.