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On Island Profile: Avelino Samuel

Aug. 15, 2005 — St. John woodturner Avelino Samuel has his works in galleries all over the Virgin Islands and at one in Puerto Rico and another in Delaware. But his greatest joy comes in passing along his skill to a younger generation.
He said recently that there is a big market for local crafts such as those produced by woodturners.
"And they'll take over when I'm gone," he said.
The St. John-born Samuel, 49, came home from college to teach industrial arts at his alma mater, Julius E. Sprauve School.
Why industrial arts?
"I always enjoyed making things. That class allows hands-on activity," he said.
Growing up in rural St. John, Samuel said he started out by making practical things. He moved quickly from his first project, a bow and arrow, to oars for a boat, handles for a pickax and a hammer, and much more in that vein. From there, he moved onto crafts.
Samuel said after he got a book entitled, "Indian Arts and Crafts," he created all sorts of Indian-oriented crafts.
By the time he went off to college, he already had a bit of experience at turning, but he said it wasn't until 1989 that he developed a reasonable skill.
Self-taught, Samuel said that when David Knight, who then had a wood store on St. John, loaned him a video on woodturning, his skill level went up about 500 percent.
His skills improved even more when he started going to the American Association of Woodturners annual symposiums.
"Last year I was one of the presenters," he proudly said.
And he said that in three of the six years the symposium was held, his pieces were picked for display.
With the symposium's focus on education, this year Samuel took two of his top students, Kasiem and Kurt Marsh, to the event. An article about the two youths appeared in Woodturning Design magazine, while Samuel and his class were featured in the publication, American Woodturning.
He said his own children, Ervin, 19, and Jonte, 13, aren't interested in the craft. Jonte is a Sprauve student, while Ervin attends a community college in Virginia.
A Coral Bay resident, Samuel went to Guy Benjamin School, then Sprauve before attending what is now called Eudora Kean High School.
He went off to the College of the Virgin Islands, now the University of the Virgin Islands, for three years, transferring to North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State College for a bachelor's degree in industrial arts education. From there, he went on to get a master's degree in industrial education from Eastern Michigan University.
Samuel now only turns wood on the weekends, down considerably from the days when he turned every night after school and all day long on the weekends.
He uses native woods, much of it given to him by people clearing land or cutting roads.
He said his night school class keeps him busy, and of course, he has industrial arts students to deal with all day long. He said he teaches drafting, architecture, some woodturning, and a few other topics.
Samuel said industrial arts classes in the Virgin Islands differ from those on the mainland, where the emphasis is on construction trades and assembly line work.
"We're lucky here that we still have the hands-on stuff," he said.
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