Caning has captured the interest of community members, and caners have gathered several times throughout the month at the St. Thomas Historical Trust to perfect the cultural craft.
The Trust was filled with people with beginning and advanced skills, wearing face masks and adhering to social distancing protocols, each weaving a stool or curved chair.
Last year the Trust received a grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to teach furniture caning. In December, the Trust held its first workshop, with several members of the community taking part in it. It was a two-week beginner workshop filled with familiar faces for all the caning students.
This month, the Trust extended its workshop to offer more advanced pieces of furniture for students who received certificates in their December workshop. The advanced curved chair pieces were donated by Pat Bailey, who provided seven chairs he handcrafted himself.
Trust Vice President Kevin Qualls took part in this year’s workshop.
“I came by and looked at the last class and it looked like an interesting thing to study, this kind of art,” Qualls said.
After trying his hands at a beginning stool Qualls fell in love with the art. “I told my wife this is my retirement activity,” he said,
As a result of the workshop, Qualls said he hopes to one day cane his own furniture.
Rosemarie Moscia, one of the beginning caners, said she always appreciated the art of caning and spoke about how the craft was done by a member of her family.
“My uncle was blind and he, for 25 years, made his occupation caning in Philadelphia. It’s a dying art that is getting rejuvenated with these classes,” she said.
Caning however is tedious, repetitious work that requires patience. Beginners can often get frustrated at the technique required to perfect the craft.
“It is challenging,” Moscia said. “But with perseverance and determination, it can be done.”
Another beginner, Tiffany Richards, spoke about her interest in learning the art.
“My grandmother used to weave baskets and I have an interest in doing it as well. I don’t find it challenging. Maybe the weaving part. But after a while you just pick up the technique,” Richards said.
Advanced mother-daughter caners Muriel Wallace and Elizabeth Cruse worked on the curved chairs. When asked why she attended the March workshop, Wallace said, “I enjoyed the first one. I’m a retiree and I want to keep myself motivated and keep my mind moving. I am a crafter and I like doing these kinds of things. My godfather, Charles Varlack, was a joiner and I used to watch him work as a child, so I want to keep his legacy going.”
Cruse said, “As an artist, I’m always trying to explore different mediums. I’m invested in keeping this dying art alive and being a cultural bearer as well as an entrepreneur in this field. I’m on board for new techniques to be introduced in the future.”
Trust president, Pamela Montegut, excitedly spoke about upcoming classes.
“We have enough money to offer these classes through spring,” Montegut said. “As we work out the details we will announce when more classes will happen.”
Montegut said the Trust had been enduring some financial problems prior to hosting the caning workshops. She also expressed her enthusiasm to see that more people are showing their interest in learning the art of caning.
“Only two people on St. Thomas did this professionally. We wanted to find something we could do to make the Trust more financially stable and involve the community. I knew the wonderful caner, Mr. Richards, and wanted to see if we could have a class.”
Kenneth Richards, the instructor for the December workshop, passed away before he could instruct the March session. In his absence, Lavonne Wise from St. Croix took up the mantle to instruct. She has been caning since the 1990s, after being instructed by Rick Starr.
“Pamela reached out to me. I was in the process of planning classes on St. Croix and was delighted to come to St. Thomas,” Wise said, calling it, “a pleasure to see multigenerational interest. I’m honored to have had this opportunity.”
Wise is instructing caning classes on St. Croix. More information is available by contacting the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts at 340-772-2622 or signing up on the museum’s website.
The Trust workshop was also greeted by the family of the late Kenneth Richards and caner Hubert Raimer. Raimer began caning at the age of seven and did it for many years. He also taught Richards how to perfect the craft. Raimer said, “It’s a dying art. I gave him the technique, but his grandfather originally taught him.”
More information about the St. Thomas Historical Trust and its caning workshop is available online.