Art @ Top Hat, the St. Croix icon, closed its doors on Dec. 31. Although closed as a gallery, there will be a big sale on Saturday, Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We are selling estate art, handmade jewelry, fixtures, and kitchen tools,” said Hanne Rasmussen.
Gallerist Hanne was the purveyor of fine arts and collectibles at the Company Street location in the heart of downtown Christiansted since 2007. The upscale gallery was the only one on the island at that time, with Hanne representing local artists at regular exhibits throughout the year.
The upstairs location, across the street from the Christian “Shan” Hendricks Market, made its transition from the popular, Danish-Continental restaurant to the art gallery and later, downstairs to the shopfront gallery. The large windows created visibility to passersby during the daytime and evening hours.
Hanne expressed her “bittersweet” feelings in the wake of the closing, yet she was reminded about “the fun I’ve had all those years running the gallery.”
Estate sales and artist consignments kept Hanne busy during those years, although “it had become increasingly difficult making a living maintaining the gallery.” “Artists sell online with much success, and patrons can go directly to the artist to make a purchase, either online or in-person,” she said.
Hanne supported a vast majority of local artists on the island and also revered the works of those who have passed on, thus leaving a legacy of fine art in the community through her commitment to those she represented.
Among the prolific exhibitions at the gallery, Ghanian artist and curator Nii Ahene La exhibited West African batiks. Niarus Walker reached out to fabric artists and curated the exhibition, “The Fabric of Caribbean Consciousness,” and Art @ Top Hat, in collaboration with the St. Croix Foundation, put together a special art exhibit to showcase “the rich art history of St. Croix through the great artists that have made a tremendous contribution to Crucian lives through their art.” Hanne said of the exhibit, “Some of the artists are no longer alive, but their spirits live on through their work. It is important to bring attention to those ‘late’ artists along with their living counterparts because only through the past can people make way for the future.”
Hanne expressed her sentiments about the variety of art representing the local community that is unavailable to locals and tourists. “There are so many rooms in Government House. It would be great if the Virgin Islands Government purchased local art to hang in those rooms. This would give our local artists exposure, tourists would be able to view the art, and it would be a visible representation of our community,” she said.
Prior to Art @ Top Hat, Hanne met Bent Rasmussen in New York in 1965, and they were married in 1967. The Danish couple moved to St. Croix, bought the building at 52 Company Street in 1968, and in 1970, the couple created the Top Hat Restaurant upstairs, which boasted Danish and French cuisine and catered to locals and visitors alike.
Chef Bent Rasmussen created Danish meatballs, crisp roast duck, red cabbage, and Wiener Schnitzel dishes, among many other flavorful menu items, Hanne said. His combination of Continental and Scandinavian cuisines and local dishes were sought after for more than a quarter of a century at the Top Hat restaurant.
Before opening the Top Hat Restaurant, Bent and Hanne opened the Little Mermaid Restaurant in the Buccaneer Hotel in 1968, opening the restaurant at Mahogany Inn serving lunch and dinner, and they opened the King Christian Restaurant, which closed when the Chart House opened in the same location.
Bent was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He became an apprentice in a small exclusive restaurant in Copenhagen while earning his chef’s diploma. After spending two years in the Danish Navy as a chef in the Officer’s Mess on a fort outside Copenhagen, he went to Italy to learn Italian cooking. He was then offered a position in Los Angeles at the Restaurant Scandia. Later, he joined the culinary team at the Danish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.
When the World’s Fair closed, having learned French cuisine in Denmark, Bent spent three months teaching and promoting Danish and French cuisine in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Art @ Top Hat has derived pleasure in its iconic iterations over the many years, Hanne said.
The icon gallery and former restaurant will be sorely missed by the St. Croix community of artists and patrons, as well as the many visitors who have made the gallery one of their main stops along the way in their St. Croix itinerary.
Asked if she would return to visit St. Croix, Hanne replied with a wry smile, “A bad penny always turns up.”
For more information:
Art @ Top Hat: 340-692-2787