Nov. 8, 2003 A bit of magic opened Friday night on Garden Street. Up the stairs on the second story of the white building with the bright blue shutters, former home of the Blue Turtle Gallery, Claire Ochoa opened Gallery St. Thomas.
The building itself is lovely, with a courtyard preceding the gallery, but once inside the gallery it was another kind of beauty: The large room was vibrant with energy and color. Dozens of people, maybe hundreds in all, moved through the space chatting with one another and looking at the art, art and more art.
"You could feel the good energy," said Debi Cashen, mother of artist David Hill, some of whose work was on display Friday night. "There's so much energy, so much support," Cashen said. "Claire has always been one of David's big supporters."
Ochoa loves supporting art. It's what she does best, she says. It's her life. "You have to give credit where it is due," Ochoa says. "It's what I love to do. It's all good words and good vibes. It's who I work with that makes me look good I'm just the steward for it all."
Thinking it over, she says, "How lucky can you be? Artists are wonderful people. They can get discouraged and told they can't make it. I don't believe that."
Ochoa has lived in the territory for six years and in that time she has become an integral part of the art community. A member of the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council, she coordinated the Caribbean Color art show earlier this year.
Friday night's opening show featured the works of 20 Caribbean artists who either live in the Caribbean, have lived here, or whose works are inspired by the Caribbean.
The gallery is a premier showcase for Lucinda Schutt, featuring her paintings and prints and dozens of other artists' watercolors, oils, ceramics, collage, photography, wood sculpture, jewelry and even a few Christmas cards.
St. John photographer Steve Simonsen's just-released book "Living Art" is displayed along with several individual photographs. Oils of Eunice Summer, Kim Boulon, Tony Romano, Deborah St. Clair, Aphrodite and Janice Childs' tropical painted bowls, Gary Felton photos and Kim Holland jewelry are but a very few of the dozens of works in the gallery.
The room was filled with elaborate flower arrangements, gifts from Ochoa's friends and fans. She has worked hard creating a venue for the art, and it shows. On the northern wall, Ochoa has created sunken cabinets painted in what can be described as a deep rose. It lights up and softens the room at the same time.
Ochoa says the gallery is a group effort. "It's synergy and the help of Cheryl and Katrina, who work in the gallery, and my family," she said. "My brother is visiting, and he helped me with the carpentry, and my cousin and uncle and aunt. Nobody really does it on their own."
She credits St. John's Bajo el Sol Gallery for helping. "They gave me my wings," she said of the gallery where she worked for three-and-a-half years before coming to St. Thomas. "In particular, the owners. Aimee Trayser encouraged me to continue to grow professionally. I was always interested in having my own gallery I'd been selling art work on line but I wanted a real gallery and when the Blue Turtle came up, I knew it was the right time.
And "Aimee was one of the first to encourage me," Ochoa said. "Oh, and I sold her piece last night. I have to tell her today it's her birthday!"
Ochoa says she has taken art courses, but her interest is in helping artists, not being one. "I'm very blessed in what I do," she said. "It's all an adventure and it's very dynamic." Though she moved here fromTexas her cousin Selwyn Puig owns The Crystal Shoppe she says, "St. Thomas is definitely my home. I love it."
The gallery, about one block north of Post Office Square, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on "cruise ship Sundays," from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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