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Monday, January 30, 2023



Oct. 11, 2001 – For the first time in more than a decade, St. Thomas has an arts and crafts emporium — a place to play, to create and to learn. And, of course, to purchase the supplies to do so.
"We will have all sorts of classes," Sharon Hughes, owner of the Nisky Arts, Crafts and Ceramics Store, says. "Everything you could want to learn, or if you just want to play with stuff, learn how to use it."
Gesturing around while embarking on a tour of the 3,000-square-foot space at Nisky Center that formerly housed Island Finance, she adds, "We're using every square inch"
The last crafts shop on St. Thomas was Jane Hoffman's Craft Coop on Back Street, which closed about 11 years ago.
"Now the front here is our gallery, where we'll show local artists," Hughes says, pointing out the hanging pastel-hued calabash planters of Mary Louise Lauffer. Across from them is a display of cards and prints by Corinne Van Rensselaer, Doreen Walsh and Greg Miller.
Loping around her new store, anxious to show everything at once, she remarks, "Wow! I can't believe how fast these last three months have gone." Hughes and her husband, Rick, own Nisky Mailboxes. Her plan was to move the mailbox business to the larger location and open a little side business where she would make mosaic trays on wooden frames.
"Then Lisa got into it — it's all her fault," Hughes says. Her old pal Lisa Berger was helping to set up the shop when she wondered aloud why Hughes was stopping at just the mosaics. "It got me to thinking, " Hughes says. "We don't have anyplace on the island to get craft materials. None. So, here we are."
The shelves, the tables, even the floors are covered with all manner of paints and inks, camel-hair brushes, candles, crayons, charcoals pencils, calligraphy sets, sketch pads, posterboard and paper of all descriptions, stained-glass kits, mosaics of every hue and design, beads and more beads of all colors and sizes, fabrics, baskets and plastic flowers.
One section is nothing but mosaics, glass, stained-glass and glass cutters. Hughes quickly illustrates how you can take an ordinary round slab of cement, put some mosaic tiles or glass beads on it, and, "Voila! You've got a garden stone."
In the rear of the store, two new sewing machines sit atop large tables. The wall behind them is covered with rolls of fabric, from silk moire to outdoor canvas, from bright prints to soft pastels. "We are going to have sewing classes for kids and adults," Hughes says. "You can upholster your couch, make pillow covers, redo the chaise lounge, make drapes or, actually, just make a dress."
Teaching is a big part of her plans for the store. "What I really care about is teaching kids," she says. "I love to give them something to do."
She started painting when she was 8 years old and later volunteered in a convalescent home, helping to teach painting. At 16, she was painting murals, and eventually she earned a master's degree in interior design from the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Art Institute.
Some years later, on St. Thomas, her interior decorating skills were put to work house painting. "This was not what I'd had in mind," she recalls. But what she has created now clearly is.
She plans to offer classes for young people after school in the afternoon and for adults in the evening. Her 12-year-old assistant, Rachel Brown, comes over to show a painting she has just done with blow paints. Rachel shows how it's done. The blow paints are like fat felt-tip markers. "You just blow around a stencil and it comes out looking sort of like airbrushing," she explains.
The piéce de résistance is the clay department. Pounds and pounds of clay are stacked on shelves and on the floor, along with ceramic molds. The shelves are bounded by two state-of-the-art pottery wheels. At the back of the shop sit two gleaming 9-cubic foot kilns to fire the clay creations. By the wheels is an odd-looking machine called a slat roller. Hughes explains, "This is so you can roll out the clay, just like dough, any width or height you want."
That process is for handmade objects that don't go on the wheel, she adds.
Classes taught by potter Katie Goldberg started this week with 14 students, including Hughes and her friends Berger and Barbara Baker, who helped set up and stock the shop. "We started off making finger bowls," Hughes says.
Classes in progress or soon to start cover stained glass (taught by Lorrie Abbot), macrame, garden stones, sewing, flower arranging and fabric painting (taught by Bonnie Kemp, who has her wearable art cotton dresses and tote bags on display). Hughes says she welcomes other ideas — and teachers — for classes.
Kathy Powell, a high school teacher, will help teach the afternoon classes for kids. She also assists Ralph Evert, who has a computer office in one corner of the shop and offers help in web-page design and other computer skills.
"Grow as we go" is her motto, Hughes says with a slight pause. "Now, if I can only find a quilting teacher …"
The store's grand opening is Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. There'll be complimentary food and drink, music by the Sax Cymbals from 2 to 5, and a raffle of prizes including paint sets, pottery classes and gift certificates. The store is open now, and any purchase made before Saturday automatically enters you in the raffle.

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