"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
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.