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Island Expressions: Judith King

Nov. 16, 2008 — Local artist Judith King has always liked to make things and play with colors, and the end results can be seen in her brightly colored oil paintings, handcrafted jewelry and seedpod wall hangings on display in her Yellow House Gallery in Christiansted.
She likes to make people laugh, too, as evidenced by her slightly comical two-by-four-foot painting called "Chicken Cross Street." It is a street scene void of cars in downtown Christiansted with pink, blue and yellow buildings and rows of chickens crossing the street.
"My ideas for paintings come from observation," King says. "I observed that there are a lot of chickens in Christiansted. I see things and think, 'This will work.' It just takes a little imagination."
Another observation she made is the number of people who are always on cell phones, so she painted "Cell Phone Market." It is a vivid painting of Christian Shane Hendricks market in Christiansted with people milling about and talking on barely visible cell phones.
King says her love of art began in high school when she realized how easy drawing was.
"Drawing takes practice," King says. "If anyone keeps at it, they can do it."
She paints watercolors, too, but does a pen-and-ink drawing first.
"I just color it in." King says. "It's not a favorite medium of mine."
Her preferred medium is oil encaustic — paint mixed with a wax medium to thicken the paint.
"Oils are better than flat acrylics," King says. "They dry with a slight translucency that takes on light and adds to the brilliance."
And brilliant her paintings are, even down to her small oils at four by four inches. They are a mocko jumbies series and plants and animals, done in ochre, lime green, royal blue and turquoise.
One of her fun pieces is the "Mocko Jumbie Pod Guy." The seedpod wall hangings are made from yard waste such as coconut husks and dried pods from mahogany, flamboyant and tan-tan trees, with a touch of brilliant painted highlights and beads. She also makes serious-looking wall hangings of gods and goddesses.
On a recent day in her small gallery workshop, King worked on her latest creation, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces made from 999 silver metal clay. She stamps the clay with her own handmade stamps, such as sea turtles. Next she fires it, then fashions bracelets, earrings and pendants. She also does exquisite beadwork with Swarovski crystals or semi-precious stones.
"The ideas are the most important thing," King says. "I have a lot more ideas than I have energy."
At the age of 19 King came to St. Croix to broaden her travel experiences. Originally from Chicago, King spent the summer of 1967 living in the territory with relatives.
She moved to St. Croix with her parents after graduating from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., with a bachelor's degree in art.
"I don't think my parents wanted me here," King says. "They wanted me to get a good job in the States at an advertising agency or something."
King and her 91 year-old mother, Margaret King, former manager of Bank of America, live together.
She has been involved with a few galleries, beginning in 1980 in Frederiksted at the Upstairs Gallery. She likes the Yellow House Gallery — located at 3A Queen Cross Street — best, saying it has been a fun place to work over the last five years.
King says she just had her best September and October ever, and doesn't know why. She tries to make her art available and affordable, but she still has to make a living.
"When I sell something it's like a high for me," King says.
She feels very positive about the upcoming tourist season and the future of St. Croix.
"I have great hopes about this season, with all the cruise ships coming," King says. "They are high-end ships."
The gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 719-6656 or visit King's website.
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