Espresso. Paintings. Wine. Books. Chocolate. Film. Pastry. Pottery. Cheese. Jewelry. Bush teas. Culture. Sculpture. Inquiry.
All of these, and much more, are to be found at Bajo El Sol at its new ground floor, courtyard location in Mongoose Junction II.
Art gallery owners Priscilla Hintz Rivera Knight and her husband David Knight have teamed up with Italian chef Giovanni Gurrieri to create a new kind of “hybrid space” for Cruz Bay. It’s an art gallery featuring Virgin Islands and Caribbean artists; an espresso, wine and dessert bar that satisfies tastes both sweet and savory; and it’s a public space to showcase poetry, film, and cultural events.
Since Bajo El Sol moved into its new space in February from its location two flights up the stairs in the same complex, it has hosted a breathtaking lineup of events, and April’s schedule is equally impressive.
– At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, the St. John Film Society will screen a documentary by St. Thomas-born Peter Bailey, a journalist, talk-show host and filmmaker. Entitled “Paradise Discovered – The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders,” the one-hour film tells of his experiences as the island fought its way through the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
Bailey will be on hand for a Q&A session following the film. A five-minute film, “La Madre Buena/The Good Mother,” will also be screened. A donation of $5 is suggested.
– At 6 p.m. Friday, April 5, the gallery will premiere the pen-and-ink drawings of Theodora “Tuts” Moorehead. This is the first art show for the 75-year-old artist, who never took a class but found her way into a personal form of expression over the past 25 years.
Many of Moorehead’s closest friends have been surprised to learn of her creations.
“It started back in the 1990’s with doodles, as I talked on the phone in my office,” said Moorehead. “My friend Pat Acosta saw them and said. ‘This is art. You need to get pens and paper.’”
Acosta gave Moorehead her first pad to get started, but Moorehead found herself “locked by the borders” of the rectangular page. “So I closed my eyes, put the pen on the page, and kept moving till the spirit told me to stop,” she said.
“I feel the movement. When I open my eyes, I begin to fill in and see things take shape.”
The show, which bears the title, “Until the Spirit Tells Me to Stop,” features more than 80 of her abstract drawings, in which one can detect organic forms
“But you can’t say exactly what it is,” she said. “There seems to be a theme. I was looking at whelk shells and wondered if they had an effect. Growing up on St. John, we would play with whelks. I’m a nature person. I’m not afraid or worms, iguana; snakes fascinate me.”
Moorehead, who moved back to St. John after years of working in New York with Legal Aid and the Urban League, said, “I’m so happy that Priscilla and David have this place now, and there’s an opportunity to share work, and all forms of art, including poetry and documentary, are welcome.”
The art opening is one of several activities that is a part of Mongoose Junction’s First Fridays events. Also planned for April 5th is a performance entitled “Anansi and the Guavaberry Tart” by the Children’s Ballet Theater of St. Thomas.
– From 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, Bajo el Sol will host a gathering of writers, artists, and activists who want to explore questions of Virgin Islands identity in a changing cultural and economic landscape.
Members of the group include LaVaughn Belle, Tami Navarro, Hadiya Sewer, and Tiphanie Yanique. According to their news release, “We, the V.I. Studies Collective (VISCO) are centrally concerned about the erasure of the Virgin Islands from larger discourses and the lack of resources to attend to our community’s needs, most notably the silences surrounding the territory’s continuous colonial subjugation, the lack of cultural institutions to preserve Virgin Islands history, and the ecological precarity demonstrated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
The public is invited to meet the members, learn about VISCO’s ongoing projects, and “seek out partnerships at all levels in ways that are beneficial to all parties.”
– 6 p.m. Saturday, April 13, St. John artist, writer and activist Kim Lyons will sign copies of her new book, “Stitches in Time,” a collection of short pieces that came out of a writing program she facilitated for women incarcerated in Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on St. Croix.
Lyons, who first volunteered in the prison and then worked her way into a job, began a writing program for the female inmates in 2017 funded by a small grant from the St. Croix Community Foundation.
“We would write for an hour, and then quilt for an hour,” she said. “All the women know how to sew.”
The writing gave the women an opportunity to reflect on their lives individually. Then sharing their writing with the group, and working collectively on a small quilt, brought them together.
Lyons worked with six women, ranging in age from 21 to early 50s over the course of several months, starting with simple prompts like “my favorite dish” and “a pretty dress” and moving to deeper topics, like “letter to my 12-year-old self,” and finally “forgiveness.”
“I read the whole book in one sitting,” said author Cristina Kessler. “I loved it for giving all of these women a voice. It touched my heart.”
The book reveals our common humanity, Kessler said, and graphic artist Bill Steltzer, who designed the cover, agreed.
“You’d hardly realize that these women are writing from prison,” Steltzer said.
Lyons said the women in Golden Grove “serve harder time because they’re really in a prison within a prison.” With a female population that ranges from eight to 20, in contrast to the population of more than one hundred men, there are fewer educational programs for women or opportunities for women to go outside.
“Most of the activities are geared for men. And the men and women don’t mix,” she said.
Copies of the book will be available for sale, and the quilt the women made will be displayed.
– At 6 p.m. Saturday, April 20, Bajo El Sol will screen the first film of a series titled, “Our Island, Our Home” produced by Theodora Moorehead and directed by Crystal L. Fortwangler.
The film focuses on the pioneering St. John Senator Theovald “Mooie” Moorehead, Theodora’s father. Mooie made his reputation as a passionate defender of the rights of native property owners.
In 1955, Mooie was serving in the Army, stationed in France, when he read in a magazine that the federal government had plans to take over most of St. John to form the National Park. One part of the proposal involved moving all the native St. Johnians to Fish Bay.
Moorehead asked to be discharged from the Army the next day, prematurely ending his career, and headed immediately to Washington. He spent 10 days there collaring members of Congress and “lobbying like hell” to make sure that the amendment which mandated the condemnation was defeated.
Bajo El Sol was first established as an artists’ collective. Although it has been privately owned for many years, it still features the work of many St. John artists, including Janet Cook-Rutnik, Lisa Etre, Avelino Samuel, Livy Hitchcock, Karen Samuel, Aimee Trayser, Casey Giakas, Ayn Baldwin Riehl, Steve Simonsen, Katia Molitsanti, Lucy Portlock, Kimberly Nogueira, Lisa Quin, Larry Lipsky, and Gail Van de Bogart.
Since taking over the gallery in 2016, Knight and Hintz Rivera Knight, who both grew up in the islands and have been immersed in the art scene separately and together for many years, have been dedicated to the notion of showcasing artists, writers and poets from the Virgin Islands and the entire Caribbean region.
Sicily-born Giovanni Gurrieri, who has been a chef in places including Belgium, New York and the Bahamas, brings his special culinary talents to Bajo El Sol. Knight said Chef Giovanni is working to find the freshest sources of ingredients and grows the herbs he uses in his backyard.
Hintz Rivera Knight, who’s family is from Puerto Rico, imports the coffee they serve and the chocolate the sell from that island.
Mongoose Junction is a five minute walk from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.