Italian artists teach St. Croix residents the craft of cameo shell carving

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ST. CROIX - A group of residents today will learn about the intricate art of cameo shell carvings, hoping to unearth some hidden talents and a new way to make a living.

Ivanne Farr, director of the St. Thomas-based studio, said she is excited about the program, which ties in to the gemology and precious metals programs that are ongoing at her non-profit organization, Rare Earth Studio.

"We made the initial contact to try to get this program here about six years ago, and now it is all working itself out," she said.

Farr said the special technique is being taught by Italian artist Crescenzo Gaglione and his apprentice Alfonso Vitiello. They recently completed conducting a series of classes on St. Thomas and are wrapping up the three-day course at the former Good Hope School campus in Frederiksted.

Friday afternoon, the group of eight people were busying themselves grinding and sanding and cutting into their tiny masterpieces, which were no bigger than one-inch squares of shell. The class was made up of an engineer, a retired teacher, a financial adviser, a former jeweler and an artist, and while many of them used the electric drill to sand down the details of their works, others were more interested in original hand-sanding techniques used hundreds of years ago.

The pieces of shell could be used as key chains, pendants, earrings or other things, and they featured carvings of fish, dolphins, palm trees, islands, sailboats, birds, iguanas and buildings.

Forrest Thomas, used a small metal tool called a bulino and carefully carved out the details of a small starfish on top of a coral shell. "I have never taken up anything like this before, but I heard about it, and just like I thought, it is very interesting," he said.

He said he wanted to learn the original method of using the hand tool rather than the electric tool because it gives more meaning to the work.

Vitiello said he was happy to be able to come to the islands to share the skill of cameo carving with the group and to make use of the beautiful shells, especially the pink conch shell that is so abundant in the territory.

"When we were asked to come I was happy and this is something that the locals can use to make jewelry, island logos and other items that they can sell in the stores or to tourists and make money," he said.

Farr said her goal is to give locals increased opportunities for self sustenance especially in these times when the economy is not very strong and individuals are struggling more than before to make ends meet.

For information about additional carving workshops and other classes, contact Farr at Rare Earth Studio at 777-7774.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email

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