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Handled With Care: Gail Van de Bogurt

Gail in her studio

Photos by Dan O’Connor

For St John sculptor Gail Van de Bogurt, beauty is in the hands of the beholder. The 20-year Virgin Islands resident and artist, who delves mainly in the craft of clays and watercolours, has operated a small studio in Maho Bay since 2002. There, she imparts her love for art on local students and visitors who often use her teachings as a form of therapy. In her years of practice, Gail has amassed a body of work that is largely influenced by the history, serenity in nature and close-nit culture of her beloved Virgin Islands.

St John is most affectionately known among its Virgin Islands counterparts as Love City—and its residents seem to take extra care to uphold its admirable reputation. Gail said she was drawn to the island’s inviting charm years before she moved there, when she owned a natural foods store in Long Island, New York. Her previous trips to the Caribbean conjured beachfront daydreams from her big city storefront, she said.

See some of Gail’s artwork here:

“I was sort of side-tracked with the food business, but I had a strong desire to get back to that artistic side of my life, and get to know what the Caribbean culture was all about,” Gail said, as she drove the lush hillside through St John. In dramatic form, she said she was led to her longing desire when her store was destroyed in a fire. She traveled from the East Coast to the Caribbean with a few friends on their boat, and has since never turned back.

“I just yearned for change,” she said of her decision to stay, even after her friends turned back to their mainland lives. “Living in St John for the past 20 years, I think I have been changed.”

Her creative influences have since been enhanced by the small town “crossroads” lifestyle in St John. “The diversity, the culture, learning about all the people of the world who have influenced this land, it has very much enriched my life,” she said.

Gail especially enjoys making functional pieces that act as a constant reminder to people of her “intimate art,” as she put it. “That’s like my bread and butter,” she said of her useable pottery. “It’s totally joyful to make something that people use everyday. It’s kind of an intimate way to influence someone’s life and bring them a calm introspection when their, say, having coffee.” She also enjoys emulating the crafts of ancient civilizations, which used clay out of necessity for almost all of their cookware. Her fascination has taken her to Taino dig sites on St John and beyond.

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Gail also dips into watercolours, and enjoys teaching classes to traveling tourists who visit the Maho Bay Camps and Concordia Ecosite, which is scheduled to close down in June 2013. It’s teaching that continues to inspire her, she said.

“It’s a time when people are very busy—involved in demanding degrees and businesses. But when on vacation, they want something that can help them get in touch with themselves and become more centered,” she said. “Something that allows them to step back and notice and appreciate nature. You spend three or four hours doing that and you’re transported to a different place.”

Moving forward, Gail hopes to open another studio with partners who can help support the work that can oftentimes heed humble earnings. She’d like to remain in St John, where her influence is now apparent within the community—from those students that now have a newfound passion for the arts, to the sculptures that grace landscapes and the intimate, functional pieces on family dinner tables.

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