"Randy" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
"Laurie" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
I have told this story a few times. Since we are on St. John I am going to tell it again. My wonderful bride, Laurie and I were on our honeymoon, and this is where Laurie and I had our first possible divorce moment. We stayed over on St. Thomas and we caught the ferry at Red Hook where it let us off at Cruz Bay, St. John. From Cruz Bay we caught a taxi up to the top of Center Line Road and we hiked the Reef Bay Trail down to the beach. Now this trail drops 2.1 miles and it drops over 900 feet down to the bottom of the beach. We had never been on it and it is one of the most exquisite trails in the world.
When we started at the top of the trail, Laurie, my gorgeous bride, was dressed in a sun dress with this little hat with a wide brim that was very thin like gossamer. We started down the trail and left with two bottles of water and two cans of pop. This is all we had to drink. All we had to do was start at the top of the trail and go down to the bottom and catch the boat back to town. Really simple.
We started down the trail and we learned two things that day from our hike. One, Laurie learned that any signs about any vegetation, bugs, animals along the trail I will stop to read the whole thing. I want to learn about all the details of where I have gone. So, that took time.
We continued on our way down drinking the water and the pop. We stopped at the hieroglyphics at the waterfalls and did what people do on their honey moon. That took a bit of time, but this was our honeymoon, after all. We worked our way down the trail and Laurie was keeping her eye on the watch. She was the time keeper and she still is.
When we reached the bottom of the trail at five minutes after one, we walked out onto the beach only to see the boat we were supposed to take back to Cruz Bay go putt, putt, putt around the corner of the bay. We missed the boat. This is where I learned the second thing. My new bride could swear like a trucker. “What the F*** are we going to do now?” What the F*** is going on?” “What the hell are we supposed to do now?” she said.
We stood there a little bit, looking at one another, dehydration starting to set in. We had already drunk everything we had to drink. What were we going to do? Smart ass me says, “Well, I think we have three choices. We could hike the trail we just came down and catch a taxi at the top. Two, we could stay on the beach till tomorrow and catch the boat then. That would be romantic, just live on the beach for a day, just by ourselves.” My bride replies, “NO! There is NO F********* way I am staying on this beach!”
The third option was to hike over to Lameshur Bay. We had a tourist map to guide us and it looked just around the corner. We decided to go to Lameshur Bay, we could see new things, new territory. We started to hike up to Lameshur Bay, UP being the key word. Halfway up, the gossamer hat is off, Laurie wasn’t trying to be elegant any longer, she was Hiking Up The Trail. It was hot, very hot with no water. We are hiking and hiking up the trail and she was still swearing at me as we go up.
At one point, she said, “Where are we going?” and I said, “See that highpoint up there?” “Yeah.” “See that other high point over there?” “Yeah.” “See that low point right between the two of them? I think that is the saddle we are going to go over to get to the next beach.” And we did.
There was a point on the trail where to our left was a cliff that dropped right to the ocean and to our right was thick vegetation, no place to move off the trail. This is when the donkeys rushed us. There was a herd of donkeys coming down the trail right at us. We had a choice, either jump off the cliff to our deaths or dive into the bushes. So, we dove into the bushes and watched all the donkeys run by.
By now, Laurie was really sweating and really angry so I started pulling palm frond forward and releasing them back at her which only aggravated her more. Anyway, I was the most relieved groom in the world and Laurie was the most relieved bride when we walked out onto the beach at Lameshur Bay and there were four cars parked there.
I remember sitting on the post at the parking lot as we waited for the first couple to go to their car so we could beg a ride. A couple walked up who were more than happy to give us a ride but said we might have to push the car up over the rock blocking the parking lot from the road. So, before you know it Laurie, me and the guy, his wife was driving, were pushing the car up over that rock.
We got onto the road and made it back to Cruz Bay where we drank beer for the afternoon. We eventually made it back to our hotel room, made it home, had three wonderful babies and our marriage has gone on fairly successfully for the last thirty-two years this March.
Me: “What has kept you together thirty-two years through all the divorce moments?”
I believe the key is communication. We decided after six or seven years of being married that we needed to have a date night. So, we instituted a night where once a week we went out, to dinner or the movies, we did something fun, just the two of us. The very first date night, we made a rule that we couldn’t talk about the store we own and run, we couldn’t talk about the kids. So, we went to dinner and we sat there and looked at each other and looked at the ceiling and looked at the walls and at the floor…. it took a little bit of time before we got to talking about topics. Now we talk about movies and news events. Learning how to do that was key to our staying together along with keeping our sense of humors.
"Vince" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
After many twists and turns in my life, being one of the first artists to live in Williamsburg, New York City, marrying my wife Ellen Swane and following her to Norway when she went there to have our son, learning architecture (NYIT, GIS) and building skills, another stint in New York City (Art Students League, HS of Art & Design); my mother, who is from St. Thomas USVI, said that she was going back and needed help on her house.
At the time, we lived in an enormous loft in Williamsburg before it became trendy. It was not my property, but the landlord rented it out to me because he knew that I was going to fix it up. It was in bad shape and I shared it with an Art Student League colleague. I created rooms with art studio space and rented to cats from Pratt, SVA, FIT, NYU, and some arty types from out of town who were sick of the tight spaces in the East Village. Getting ahead was tough because as soon as we started to make some money, the landlord raised our rents. So, when my mother made us this offer it looked pretty good so we rented our space as well and took off to St. Thomas.
When I got here I started doing construction, building concrete houses.…not for long, we were living on the lush north side, Ellen was finding it hard to fit in. I told her, “Go open a gallery downtown in Charlotte Amalie, we are artists, go open a gallery to sell our work.” She had a lot of doubts, the properties were so expensive, but I encouraged her to go look in the little alley ways.
She went down there and she found a little place, found a nice Italian lady from Staten Island who managed the Royal Dane Mall. Ellen was so excited about finding something. Then I told her we have to haggle the rent. She didn’t want to, she was afraid of losing the place. I called one of my friends, a gallery owner here, and asked her if we could haggle. “Sure,” she said, and that saved us a bundle every month. That was the start of our business down here. We went in and everyone said, “They won’t do well, they will be out of there in three months.”
We went in and had all this original art in this small space. We had to get smart fast because we knew selling original art just wasn’t going to pay the bills, so we got into the print business. We started studying all the other artists that were selling their work as prints. I had connections back in New York from my membership with The Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition (BWAC). I had some very strong connections who helped me get started with the right machine, inks, media using Epson, the number one choice for artists.. I started taking tiff’s of our work, cleaning them up on photoshop, and bingo, the printing machine started. That was our bread and butter for years. We earned a good income and whenever we sold original art works, it was bonus time…
During this time, we were living on the North side and decided we wanted to move into Charlotte Amalie to be closer to the gallery. We discovered that at the time, Charlotte Amalie was just like Williamsburg, Brooklyn back in the day. It was like an unloved area where the buildings were in decay however very affordable, desolate at night, active during the day. So, we began to put bids on buildings we thought would make great bohemian type artist residences.
We found one building next to the synagogue, thought it was better to be in a more affluent area, although it really wasn’t that affluent.
We bought the building, more like a crack house, and began the process of fixing it up. But first we had to find a bank who would lend us the money. It was a real challenge to find people who would believe in our vision. Everyone told us we were going to be shot, but I said “No way, if I could survive Williamsburg, I could survive this St. Thomas scene.”
There were a lot of gun shots, drug related activity just like billyburger, It was pretty crazy. I called it “The Last American Frontier” being as far south as America can go and it was wild…we did it. Now the area has seen tons of improvement. We are very proud to have been a part of saving this neck of the woods including this very beautiful, authentic, 200-hundred-year-old Danish/Caribbean historic townhouse. Now it seems like this idea is spreading.
The entrance to Vince and Ellen's home on St. Thomas
"Lisa" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
My grandfather had a stroke the year I was born.
It left him unable to speak or to swallow very well.
He could not really walk, but he could shuffle around.
His stroke had damaged his brain so that he was unable to write sentences, or even words.
He drooled a lot, so he constantly held a handkerchief to his mouth.
And he sort of growled when he wanted to communicate.
He regularly got frustrated by his inability to get others to understand him.
So, he growled all the more.
And waved his hands wildly.
It frightened me.
He frightened me.
And I was told that I could not expect any more from him – that his condition wasn’t going to change.
So basically I stuck to the obligatory kiss on the cheek when our visits began and ended.
And watched him from a distance, stayed out of his way.
When I was about twelve years old, my grandparents were visiting our house in Princeton, New Jersey.
My mother and my grandmother were doing their usual non-stop talking at the kitchen table.
My grandfather was being his usual reclusive self, sitting in a chair downstairs in the family room.
I passed through that room – I don’t remember why – and he growled out at me and motioned for me to come over to his chair.
I did so, reluctantly.
He held a pencil in his hand, and had on his lap a pad of paper, covered with numbers and figuring.
He wrote a large number on the paper – some six figures long – something like 578,254.
Then he wrote a single digit – like 5.
Then as quick as you please he wrote out five numbers, one beneath the other,
and showed me that there were five of them
and that the five numbers all added up to the six digit number – 578,254.
He did it again – writing a large number,
writing a single digit number,
writing that many numbers, one beneath the other,
then showing me that they all added up to the large number.
I was stunned.
It was like magic.
It was like he didn’t even have to think.
He just did it.
I looked at him in his chair.
Our eyes met,
and I saw that he actually had a twinkle in his eye!
He even smiled – sort of.
I ran upstairs to tell my mother and grandmother.
They told me about the real gift for math that my grandfather had,
and about how that part of his brain wasn’t effected by the stroke.
Math was something he could do.
In that moment, in that exchange,
I saw my grandfather transfigured.
He came alive for me at a depth and dimension I had never known before.
In that moment I was connected with him and with his past.
And I saw him as far more than the infirm, frightening old man I had known.
From that day on I saw him differently, knew him differently,
more wonderfully, more fully.
And I loved him.
"Mary Anna" 9 inches by 12 inches; ink on paper, $125
I went to live in Beirut, Lebanon with my Aunt Anna my senior year in high school. I asked my parents at one point why they let me go so far away from home. They told me I was being bullied by mean girls at my school and they wanted to get me out of that environment. So, we had the idea that I would go live with my aunt, my father’s sister, Anna Hovey, for whom I am named.
She was a very glamorous woman to me as kid. She never married so she would periodically take off for a few years to go teach at some exotic place and then come back to the United States. She would often take me when I was little so it was part of the flow of my family’s life that I would go live with her. When I went to live with her she was teaching fourth grade in the American Community School in Beirut.
So, I spent my senior year in Beirut. We lived up the hill in what was Ras Beirut in an apartment which was a ten-minute walk down to the ocean which is also where the school was. The American Community School was filled with kids from all over the Middle East. The children whose parents were with the Aramco Oil Company came to board there along with children from all the different embassies. So, it was a mix of Americans and Arabs and it was very cosmopolitan. These children were from all over the world and spoke many different languages.
During this year, I actively explored who I was and pushed against the cultural boundaries by falling in love with an Arab boy who was a student at the American University of Beirut. His university was right up the hill from where I went to school. This was viewed as rebellious behavior and since I was not going to let anyone tell me what to do, by the end of the year I was considered quite a handful. To be with him I had to sneak around so I did a lot of things that I lied about. I even took him to my high school prom to everyone’s consternation. My Aunt told me that I was lucky that she didn’t send me home.
The young man was from Aleppo and I get teary when I think about that city now fifty years later. We actually went to Aleppo to visit his family, we had tea with them, they took us all around Aleppo. At end of the school year I left and I never saw my boyfriend again.
My aunt and I went at Christmas time to Egypt so I spent Christmas on the Sinai Peninsula at the monastery where it is thought God spoke to Moses and transcribed the ten commandments. I guess Easter was at Aleppo, and then we went to Jerusalem. My aunt, another teacher and I traveled all over the Middle and Far East: Jordan, Iran, Kashmir, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan. By the end of that trip I had to get home because my aunt was still so angry with me and I was very homesick.
This year abroad shaped me in profound ways. It opened my eyes to some kind of life other than the typical middle to upper middle class white American existence I grew up in. It really opened my eyes to the Middle East. I saw the Palestinian refugee camps in the 1960’s and it made me tolerant of Palestinians and their desire for statehood. What I experienced has stuck with me my whole life and now with this continued conflict it still sticks with me.
At a very personal level, while I was considered a very ‘rebellious’ teenager I also had the courage to follow my heart and to do what I believed was right. I learned that I could survive and take care of myself. As a woman who grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s I learned to overcome timidity and fear and to sometimes be brave.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.