Home News Local news Island Expressions: Mariel J. de Chabert-Percy

Island Expressions: Mariel J. de Chabert-Percy


March 16, 2008 — Mariel J. de Chabert-Percy, St. Croix artist and designer, started early with her art. She says in a recent interview with the Source that her creative interests go back to when she was four years old, drawing on a chalkboard.
However, it wasn't until many years later that her art ideas connected with ideas about island culture culminating in a new business. In 1997 she started a company called BushWoman.com. In 1998, the business, which sells art T-shirts and ethnic foods, became Eden South.
She says the business started with one T-shirt and that T-shirt has a story.
"The T-shirt was created after a stateside friend had eaten kallaloo on board a Windjammer Cruise and wanted to know what was in it. Since it was difficult to explain, I decided to use artistic images to relate, as faithfully as I could, what the ingredients were.
"Kallaloo is a well-known dish to my paternal relatives, both the deChabert and the Brady families, who have lived on St. Croix since the mid-1700’s," she says. "Being a New York native myself, I had only cursory knowledge of local food preparation, so getting the recipe correct meant performing hours of research and plant identification with the help of some of our elders. After a few months, the ‘Exploding Kallaloo Pot’ design came into being."
After that came many more T-shirt designs with cultural themes. "We are trying to immortalize the vanishing rainforest plants and trees, many of which are medicinal, and bring them back into daily use," says de Chabert-Percy. "We are continually surprised by just how very useful some of the ordinary plants are. Our growing line of T-shirts now depicts local fruits, vegetables, and of course, recipes. The AyAy T-shirt, with a touch of Crucian pride, lists all of the names of St. Croix since 2500 B.C."
In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter admits to being so fond of the AyAy T-shirt that she bought four of them last year for Christmas gifts.
But DeChabert-Percy's interest in art has always been broader than just T-shirts.
"I have always loved art, architecture and the written word, and as the daughter of a mahogany craftsman/architectural designer, it was natural for me to be creative and later to obtain two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, one in fine arts and one in architectural studies," she says.
But her art has yet to take her away from the workaday life. She is a draftsman for Innovative Telephone and manages Eden South at night and on weekends. She says the job at Innovative allows her to be creative too, so she enjoys it.
But still she requires other outlets. She is an avid photographer. "I love photography, as any visit to our website, edensouth.com, will tell you," she says. As the Source interview was ending, she was preparing to go to Christiansted to photograph the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
"The website is dedicated, in part, to my years’-long photojournalistic pilgrimage celebrating St. Croix, its unspoiled beauty and its uncommon people," deChabert-Percy says.
Her art encompasses a unique perspective on culture.
"My focus has, for a long time, been trained on the esoteric nature of Crucian culture. Sadly, it is a culture that is disappearing at an alarming pace, being enfolded by a number of other cultures.
"I have found, in conducting research, that the 40- to 60-year-olds of the community do not know the old recipes, so the chances of them getting passed on at home is marginal. I, also, have been chastised, softly, by older Crucians who hold to the belief that there is only one kallaloo. I have three shirts, the original, the seafood and the vegetarian. So, the case for the standards is there. But, what is a culture if it is not actively lived, breathed and consumed? "she says.
Still she remains true to the roots of her business, that one T-shirt with a recipe. She is seeking more recipes.
"We seek to unveil the island’s illusive recipes, free them from the mélange of cross-cultural influences as in Danish and African influences, and present the standards as close to their Crucian origins as possible," deChabert-Percy says.
Not only do the recipes end up on artistically designed T-shirts, but they also become ready to use products that can be purchased online at edensouth.com or by phoning 998-5186. They can also be purchased or put on order at Cultural Creations, Botanical Gardens, Many Hands, Sadie’s Pet Boutique and Cache of the Day.
"Our seasonal product line now includes a solar-dried Kallaloo Herb Blend, a luxurious Guava Jelly, a nearly addictive Hot Sauce, and even an all-natural Canine Cookie line for our four-legged friends," she says.
Percy is a member of the V.I. Farmer's Cooperative and says that eating locally produced foods is good for the individual and for the community. She has a quarter-acre plot where she grows traditional herbs and vegetables.
DeChabert-Percy says one of her greatest long-term goals at Eden South is to reach young people in a way that we hope they find interesting, so that they will think of becoming the culturally expressive entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
"There is a need to hold onto the culture from going extinct and the standards kept," she says.
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