Jan. 17, 2003 – VIA Colectiva, the unprecedented exhibition of Virgin Islands art that opened on Nov. 5 in Old San Juan's Museo de las Americas, got its last looks on Saturday before the unsold pieces were repacked into crates for shipment back to St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.
Those from the Virgin Islands who saw the more than 50 works by 20 contemporary artists displayed in Old San Juan's Sala 3 may well be seeing a number of them again in local exhibitions — starting with the St. John Artists' Association annual show that opened Friday evening at The Battery.
The association exhibition continues for three more days. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday.
According to St. John artist Janet Cook-Rutnik, whose solo show three years ago in Sala 3 was the impetus for the collective one that just closed, VIA Colectiva "was viewed by thousands of local artists, historians, writers, teachers and curators who frequent the museums and galleries in the old city on their lunch hours and weekends, as well as the many pre-K through high school students who come en masse from Monday through Friday, every week of the year, to see and discuss the changing exhibitions."
Plus, of course, she adds, "the innumerable international travelers who patronize this centuries-old Caribbean city because it offers as much to the culture vulture as the sun seeker."
Represented were works by Aquannette Chinnery, Denise Christopher-Smith, Susan Edwards, Edney Freeman, Mitch Gibbs, Mace McDowell and Erik Pedersen of St. Thomas; LaVaughn Belle, Danica David, Maria Henle, Jeri Hillis, Gerville Rene Larsen, Roy Lawaetz, Marjorie Robbins and Catherine Roche of St. Croix; and Kimberly Boulon, Cook-Rutnik, M. Lisa Etre, Deborah St. Clair and Aimee Trayser of St. John.
It was a juried show, with the participants selected via review of more than 300 slides submitted. Their styles range from naive to sophisticated cutting edge; their ages, from 25 to 60; their art backgrounds, from self-taught to academically degreed.
Also a part of the exhibition were prints and paintings by three deceased V.I. artists — native sons Camille Pissarro and Albert Daniel and 47-year resident Eric Winter — whose bodies of work collectively constitute "a valuable visual history of island life post-emancipation to the modern era," Cook-Rutnik said.
VIA Colectiva was presented by the Virgin Islands Cultural Heritage Institute and coordinated by Cook-Rutnik, secretary of the institute board of governors. An enduring documentation of the show is the 32-page, full-color catalog produced by Kate Norfleet of St. John's Kate N Design. The publication not only reproduces one work of each participating artist with biographical material but also includes illustrated commentary, in English and Spanish, on Pissarro, Daniel, Winter and the artistic interfacing of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The catalog can be viewed at the territory's public libraries and on St. Thomas at the Cultural Heritage Institute, Tourism Department and Office of State Historic Preservation. For information about purchasing a copy, call the institute at 774-9537 or Cook-Rutnik at 693-8069.
St. Croix art lovers can expect to see works from VIA Colectiva at the Christiansted galleries participating in the monthly ArtThursday evening walk-abouts, Rutnik says. And on St. John, she promises to display some at her own gallery, Sólo Arte, in the Lumberyard complex, where her "Christmas Colectiva" show included work by Marlene Hernandez, one of the Museo curators.

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