Home Business St. John business @Work: Coconut Coast Studios

@Work: Coconut Coast Studios


Jan. 21, 2004 – Coconut Coast Studios owner Elaine Estern made her first dabs on canvas when a fellow emergency medical technician brought in a box of paints to pass the time while waiting to respond to calls.
"I still have my first painting. It's awful," Estern said, laughing as she relaxed in her gallery located across the street from Frank Bay.
Estern's come a long way from the days she spent on duty as an EMT. She took early retirement after 10 years on the job and began painting full time in 1987.
Although she's commercially successful, she said she paints for herself.
"I paint what's around me. It's so inspiring here," she said.
She said that painting is totally absorbing and distracts her from any aches, pains or negative feelings she may have.
She said her biggest boost came when she became the resident artist at what was then the Hyatt Resort, now the Westin Resort and villas. The general manager hired her to do works for the lobby and the hotel's 250 rooms.
"That launched my career," she said.
She opened the gallery, located seaside at Frank Bay, in 1991. After years of selling prints, notecards, T-shirts, calendars and other hand-painted items, she's branched out into home décor.
Estern, 60, credits technology with helping her to create new items. She recently began selling tiles suitable for framing or use in a bathroom or kitchen. The tiles are imprinted with her prints of her works. And technology has allowed her to transfer her paintings to self-stick paper that can be used to cover rusty refrigerators.
Estern came to St. John in the early 1980s from St. Croix, where she had lived since 1975. She that she and her then-husband, a seaplane pilot, spent one weekend a month camping at Cinnamon Bay on St. John, but she couldn't see any way to make a living on the developing island.
She became an EMT after a child fell out of a tree at the Montessori School she owned on St. Croix because she wanted to be able to respond to emergencies at the school. The Health Department soon convinced her to work part-time while she was running the school, but overloaded with work, she decided to become a full-time EMT. A transfer to St. John followed.
The California-born Estern grew up in Brazil because her father worked for Kaiser Jeeps.
She said that St. John is in many ways similar to the culture she found there. That, the island's beauty, its people and the weather keep her firmly planted on St. John.
"I hate being cold," she said.
It also helps that son Jon Schutt, his wife, Nancy, and their two children, T.J., 4, and Lily, 2, live just steps away at their Coconut Coast Villas, a condominium rental property. Her daughter, Jacqueline, lives in Orlando.
"I like to spend time with my grandkids," she said, opening the gallery shutters to begin another day.


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