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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, March 1, 2024


Nov. 6, 2003 – A "solo show," or, being gender specific, a "one-man show," typically refers to a body of art that is the creative output of the individual represented.
At the Estate Whim Museum starting this weekend, however, there's a variation on that theme.
An exhibition opening for a private preview on Saturday night and to the public on Nov. 16 — to remain in place for nearly six months — is called "Press to Des', Pillar to Post: the Art and Antiques of a Worldly Bachelor." It's a showing of Danish West Indian antiques, many of them recently returned to the islands from Denmark.
The traditional West Indian expression of the title uses the imagery of furniture to describe the idea of flitting about from place to place. The "worldly bachelor" is the man who did just that to collect the pieces, and who has mounted the show — Crucian fashion designer, lawyer, historic preservationist and consummate acquirer of antiques Wayne James.
More than a hundred pieces, many hand-crafted of West Indian mahogany, are being displayed throughout the rooms of the Whim Museum. Notable among them are a writing desk used by Governor-General Peter Von Scholten on St. Croix, a rocking chair commissioned in the mid-1800s for exiled Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna while he was living on St. Thomas, and what a release describes as "one of the oldest surviving pieces of Danish West Indian furniture, a massive clothes press which dates to the mid-1700s."
Also in the collection are four-poster beds, round tables, elaborately carved mirrors, hand-woven Persian rugs, oil paintings, crystal and rare books and photographs.
A container bearing many of the objects was shipped from Copenhagen on Sept. 27 and was unloaded on St. Croix on Oct. 28.
James, who is a member of the Landmarks Society board of trustees, announced his intention last summer to "redecorate the Whim Greathouse from top to bottom" with his personal collection of furniture and historic memorabilia. He said the exhibition would "introduce the greathouse to a whole new generation of Virgin Islanders." However, he added, it was also his goal "to bring back people who have not visited Whim since childhood."
According to a release James distributed in June, he has been a man on a mission for two decades, "to bring back home the exquisite mahogany furniture made by Virgin Islands craftsmen between the late 1700s and the end of the 1800s."
Many of the best examples of the art form were shipped to Scandinavia at the end of the colonial era for use in European castles and manor houses, the release said. Over the years, James "negotiated with key members of those households to buy back the furniture," in the process amassing "a world-class collection of bedsteads, presses, desks and side tables."
When he first started buying furniture items in the 1980s, beginning with a hat rack, James said, "I was doing it for myself. I grew up in a house filled with Crucian mahogany, so I had an innate respect and appreciation for the art form."
According to the St. Croix Landmarks Society Web site, James traces his passion for Virgin Islands culture to his family. "I don't recall it beginning," he says. "I just grew up in a family that was very conscious of our African-ness and our Caribbean-ness, and our Crucian-ness."
But as he acquired more and more pieces, he said, "my mission was inspired by a higher, public purpose — to repatriate our patrimony for public display and enjoyment." He says that "a collection of this magnitude really should be in the public domain. Every child in the Virgin Islands should be able to see and be inspired by the beauty our forefathers were able to create despite the hardships they were forced to endure during the dark period of Virgin Islands history."
And so, he said, when the Whim exhibition concludes next May 1, "then my focus will shift toward securing an appropriate venue for the permanent display of the collection."
Feasts for the eyes and the palate
The public opening of the exhibition will be from 1 to 5 p.m. on Nov. 16. There will be light refreshments and live music all afternoon. The usual museum admission charges will apply — $6 for adults, $5 for students ages 12 and older with I.D. (including those in college) and $3 for children ages 5-12. Children under 5 and Landmarks Society members are admitted free.
Meanwhile, the Landmarks Society is hosting a gala gathering at the museum on Saturday night for folks who'll pay $85 for the privilege of previewing the James collection a week ahead of the rest of the populace while benefitting the society's library and exhibition fund in the process. Promotional material promises a cultural ambience with offerings of food and drink to please the most discriminating palate:
Appetizers to be passed include mini-lobster banderillas with spicy salsa, roast beef mini-kabobs glazed with tamarind, and apple slices topped with Manchego cheese and chorizo. And "amidst shipping crates and rum barrels" will be "a local bar featuring passion fruit, ginger beer, tamarind and maubi, each flavored with Cruzan rum upon request."
There will be patés and johnnycakes served hot from the museum's 18th century cookhouse and lechon pit-roasted on the museum grounds. Food stations will feature the likes of saltfish gundi, guava-backed brie cured in Cruzan rum, and Vienna cake, black cake and miniature tarts.
From the White House to the greathouse
Saturday night's affair and the Nov. 16 opening are a homecoming for James, just back from a trip to the nation's capital, where he was among about a hundred guests at a White House reception hosted by First Lady Laura Bush.
The event, held in the State Dining Room on Oct. 28, was in recognition of the Duncan Phillips Museum Award, given this year to the Duke of Bavaria. "It is always a special honor to be received at the White House," the worldly bachelor commented in a release. "And to be in the company of so many patrons of the arts in one of America's finest repositories of fine arts, the White House, is especially gratifying."
Not so much so as unveiling his personal collection of Danish West Indian antiques at the museum this weekend, of course.
"This has been a labor of love for half of my life," James said of how he has managed to amass the collection. "Since early adulthood I was on a mission to bring back home these beautiful items which were handcrafted by our forefathers during the colonial era. One by one, year after year, I ferreted these cultural treasures out of some of Europe's finest houses. Now, finally, they are back home for Virgin Islanders to see and enjoy."
For more information about the exhibition, see "Museum to show James furniture collection" and visit the St. Croix Landmarks Society Web site, which features an interview with James along with biographical information.
Regular museum hours through April are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tours are conducted every half hour.

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