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Art Students Bring the Past Back to Life


Jason Peter, 17, carefully touches up a cloud on the mural.They did more than refurbish an old painting. The dozen students working in Frederiksted Saturday afternoon were reviving a bit of Crucian culture and shining up the island’s image.

You night have passed it dozens of times and hardly noticed it as you walked down King Street in Frederiksted, a fading mural with dim colors, paint flaking.

Well, not anymore.

Now the colors are so vibrant they practically jump off the wall at you, the street scene vivid and alive. Kids play, women shop and talk, clouds mount up in the distance as a sailboat plies the sea in the background. It’s a St. Croix that used to be, captured in the memories of those who painted the scene more than three decades ago.

The transformation of the old mural on the wall outside the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts is courtesy of St. Croix Central High School’s National Art Honor Society. Under the direction of their teachers, Niarus Benjamin Walker and Kristin Duncan, about a dozen students came together to bring life back to the mural painted 36 years ago by other students, now long grown up. And while today’s young artists hope their work lasts as long, they had an impact even before they’d finished.

Tourists off the cruise ship docked nearby stopped to admire their work and take pictures. One was so impressed she gave Benjamn a cash donation for the program.

"This is phenomenal," said Nancy Maher of Frederick, Md., who made the donation. "I’m very glad to see these kids doing this. … This is a fine reflection on your island."Claynelle Gordon, 15, (front) and Shakir Smith, 16, restore the mural at the Caribbean Center Museum of the Arts in Frederiksted.

The mural was originally painted in 1975, long before the building became an art museum. Students from the Claude O. Markoe Elementary School, which in that time was a first through eighth grade school, did the mural as a school project under the direction of Trudi Gilliam and Sandy Zierdt. It was touched up once in 1998.

Jason Rames, who happened by the work Saturday, was a student at Markoe then, and while he wasn’t part of the painting project, he said several friends were.

Rames was driving down King Street and saw the activity, and had to pull over, get out and double back to watch.

"This is really great," he said.

The mural long predates the museum, which opened in 2003. At the time the mural was painted, Rames remembered, the building was vacant and the wall "was just a wall."

Refurbishing the mural is a community service project for the art students. Saturday was actually the third afternoon spent working on the mural, Duncan said. The students had washed it down and put a sealant on it. Saturday at 1 p.m. they started scraping it with wire brushes to knock off any further loose paint and to scratch up the surface so new paint would adhere to it.

Then they got to work with the brushes. First they had to mix the paints to get exactly the right shades of color. Then carefully, consulting often with their teachers, they tried to recreate the scene exactly as it had been painted 36 years ago.

By 4 p.m. the change was startling, and the colors once again popped as they must have back in the 1970s.

"It feels great to be reviving something like this," said Claynelle Gordon, a 15-yar-old sophomore at Central High. She was especially pleased with the reaction. "You’re doing something and the adults are actually with us."

Benjamin said the project is part of Youth Art Month, and is sponsored by the V.I. Council of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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