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Tuesday, July 5, 2022


St. Thomas is going to be featured, and a little local museum is going to be highlighted, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, when PBS television presents "Travels in Mexico and the Caribbean," narrated by Sheri Belafonte, daughter of Harry Belafonte.
Seven Arches Museum, all but hidden away in a tiny alley on Government Hill, was singled out by the PBS crew as the island's only true house museum. And a house museum it is, a living museum complete with dogs and cats, not stuffed but quite real.
Barbara Demares and her husband, Philibert Fluck, are the museum's owners, curators and caretakers. And their museum is the result of seven years of labor, dedication and curiosity.
Curiosity about the rambling old structure, a classic example of early Danish West Indian architecture, dating back to the 1826, at least. Who had lived there? Were they Danish? Were they West Indian?
It turns out they were both; the Bonelli, Schulterbrandt and Corneiro families all occupied the house at different times. Demares unearthed goldsmith tools which she believes date back to the Corneiro family, well-known island jewelers.
Demares and Fluck moved to St. Thomas in 1984 and stayed at the Hotel 1829 on Government Hill. They decided they wanted to rent an old house in that area, a sentiment that met with laughter from a local Realtor. But he called them a few days later and said, "Guess what?" Demares thinks it was all meant to be. They lived in the house for two years and snapped it up when the option to buy was offered.
Their goal was to open a museum and, lo, here it was! They were living in it. They began chipping away at the plaster walls and discovered the original brick underneath. Then began the real work. To properly restore the house, they had to learn about the island's history in the 1800s in order to make their quest authentic, even down to what color paint. They searched from the West Indies to Europe for the magnificent mahogany furniture that adorns the house.
"The more we worked, the more challenging it became. I'm Danish myself, which was a big help," Demares said. "Though we loved the building, we were faced with a termite-ridden, terribly neglected structure. And charm goes only so far!"
Demares related all this as we wandered through the many rooms, with dogs frolicking
around having free reign of all. The first floor is their actual living quarters. There are no ropes here, no constraints. It is hands-on. A carved wooden rooster creates a niche of its own near the dining table with the Royal Copenhagen dish set. The rooster was discovered by Fluck in the backyard of a friend who had no interest in it. Through research with the Museum of Folk Art, he discovered the rooster came from a small, French carousel.

Going upstairs on the staircase supported by the seven arches that inspired the name, we came upon the authentic Danish kitchen separated from the house in case of fire. Demares said the Reformed Church has donated several hundred bricks to them for restoration of the kitchen's ceiling.
"We have had very few donations,"she said, quickly adding "the lovely French chandelier in the front parlor was given us by Leo Barbel."
Teri Jefferson, known as the "Prince of Light"in restoration circles, donated his time restoring the chandelier. "We don't want to apply for a grant, as that would restrict our freedom," Demares explained.
She led us to her pride and joy – a "press," or cabinet, filled with her archeological treasures. "These are all things I have found digging on the property," she said. They are meticulously displayed and labeled, ranging from military spurs to ivory dominoes, pearwood china, a Danish ceramic light switch, and several of the old seltzer bottles with the rounded bottoms.
Her most treasured accolade, Demares said, came from the curator of the Canadian National Museum of Fine Arts and Anthology, who called it the "finest museum" he had seen.
An artist herself, the soft-spoken and shy Demares has a studio on the property where she paints in oil, and where Fluck studies. Fluck is a physical therapist at Roy L.Schneider Hospital where he works to support their labor of love..
In front of her studio is a garden blooming with bright bougainvillea and hibiscus and with tables for their guests. They have entertained CNN, which did a documentary, PBS and the Danish press there.
"But," Demares said, "we can't seem to interest our own local population."
She said that not one of the governors in office or any of their official representatives have ever visited. First lady Joan Farrelly "did present us an award from the Historical Society, and ex- Tourism Commissioner Wiley Whisonant made a visit, but that's about it," she said.
Hopefully, after the new PBS series airs this will change. Meantime, Demares and Fluck with their cats and dogs and paintings and treasures live happily, if obscurely, up their tiny little alley behind the big iron gates. And that's a nice thing.
To visit the museum Tuesday through Sunday, enter the alley between the Lieutenant Governor's Office and the Tax Collector's Office on Government Hill. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $5.

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