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Hebrew Congregation Auction Provides Plenty for Bidders

Feb. 12, 2006 – The UVI Sports and Fitness Center was transformed Sunday into a sophisticated antiques auction house, as a group of about 300 residents gathered to bid on a plethora of colorful paintings, historical artifacts, and rich, handcrafted furniture. The occasion was the ninth annual Antiques, Art and Collectibles Auction organized by the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
"It was a good day for an auction," Katina E. Coulianos, the congregation's president, said after the event. "There was a good mood in the room – everyone was in high spirits."
Indeed, looking down from the bleachers, the floor of the gym was bustling, as bidders competed for the best deals on silent and live-auction items – including a full-size, four-poster bed from Martinique, which sold for a tidy $28,000.
"This really was our big item of the night," Gertrude "Trudie" Prior, one of the event's organizers, said. "It's authentic, made from the West Indian locust tree and is something that's in short supply. It's one of those items that may pass down from family to family, so it's very valuable."
Interestingly, the bed was a recurring topic of conversation among some of the bidders. "People come here to see the beds," Claudette Lewis, executive assistant commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said. "They're always a big hit, so it's disappointing that there isn't more than one being auctioned this year."
While beds may have been in short supply, auctioneer Bruce Wilson said there were a number of other handcrafted items, including tables, chairs and sofa sets from islands like Trinidad and Grenada. "Oh, this is beautiful," Wilson was heard saying to bidders on many occasions. "It's hard to come by things like this."
Other items, such as a set of envelopes and stamps from 1935 and 1937, appealed to bidders like Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The envelopes, a set of 20, were imprinted with different images of the Virgin Islands and contained the original stamps.
"It's important for artifacts like these to stay in the Virgin Islands, whether within the government or the private sector," said Turnbull, who won the set with a $370 bid.
The chief executive added that the set would probably be on display at the Fort Christian museum after renovations to the historic structure are complete.
Before leaving, Turnbull said he admired the entire collection up for bid Sunday and had won another $80 worth of antiques for his own personal collection.
A new feature at this year's event was the silent auction, which offered bidders a range of items from all over the world, including vintage posters, maps, locally made jewelry, and four box seats to a New York Mets game.
"It's a great range of stuff," Coulianos said. "Every year our auction is different, and this year I think we were able to get a really balanced collection. We also had a lot of energy, we were able to get through the whole event faster, and I think everything just went really well overall."
Many paintings from various Caribbean artists were also up for bid Sunday, including creations from local painters Jessica Rosenberg, David Francke, and Shansi Miller. "These pieces are all very beautiful – in fact the whole collection tonight is great," Ricardo Charaf, chairman of Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, said. Charaf, who bought pieces from both Rosenberg and Miller, said he was especially "delighted" by two works up for bid by Camille Pissarro, the renowned St. Thomian painter.
After the event, Coulianos said one of the Pissarros went for about $7,000, while the other failed to meet its reserve price. "We have an agreement with a Pissarro gallery in London where we have to sell these things at a certain price or return them," she explained.
Another item not sold during the auction was a mahogany wagonette from Grenada. Made in 1890, the cupboard was "one of the best items at the auction," according to Wilson, who seemed disappointed to have to return the item to its place at the back of the gym.
"It is always a little disappointing when something doesn't sell, especially since the proceeds from the auction go toward repairing the synagogue," Coulianos said after the event. "But I think we did well this year – most everything we brought up got a bid, and hopefully we'll be able to raise a good amount of money."
According to Prior, the congregation's auction goal this year was $50,000. "Most people think that we raise a whole bunch of money from this," she said. "However, we have to pay for things like renting the space for the auction and storing the furniture. Whatever we have left after that goes toward the synagogue." Prior added that in the past, the auction has raised anywhere from $45,000 to $60,000 for the synagogue's restoration.
"This building is a landmark, and our congregation has been here since 1796," Prior said. "It takes a lot to maintain it, and we're grateful for all the help we get from the community during this event."
The auction will also help the congregation continue presenting community programming, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend events held this year in Emancipation Garden in St. Thomas.
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