Mural to brighten blighted block in Frederiksted


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ST. CROIX - In a matter of weeks brightly-colored mocko jumbies will be towering over motorists and pedestrians on King Street in Frederiksted.

Quadrille dancers in vibrant madras costumes will be twirling their full skirts in a circle, and dozens of people will be looking up at them from below - all in the scenes painted as a part of the Frederiksted Mural Project.

Artistic director Lucien Downes said the community project is being completed to replace the mural directly across the street from the Pier 69 courtyard and KFC at 6 A and B King Street. He said the mural project began about three weeks ago and has been progressing with the work and creative ideas of a host of talented artist apprentices and others.

Elizabeth Keith, director of the Artist Guild of St. Croix, said the brand new Carnival parade-themed mural will replace a mural painted by students from Good Hope School more than 10 years ago. She said since then, the mural has faded and deteriorated and the new artwork has been a community project and will benefit the entire community.

"We got funding and help from all over," Keith said. She said a number of businesses, individuals and organizations have all pitched in and donated funds, materials or labor to make the project a success.

Downes said the project is a big one, but it is also a fun one that he and the students are enjoying.

"We are really just trying to bring back some energy and upliftment for the people of Frederiksted, and I think this is a great way to do it," he said.

The mural measures 12 feet tall by 88 feet wide and spans across about a dozen sheets of plywood that have been pressure-treated to ensure durability. The vibrant paints used are high-quality acrylic exterior paints that will maintain the color as it is exposed to the bright Caribbean sunlight on a daily basis.

Once the mural is completed, it will cover the front of the property and wrap around the sides so that there is an attractive carnival scene along the section of the block and cover the dilapidated structure, weakened wall and overgrown brush in the back.

The scene will feature several mocko jumbies, island drummers and quadrille dancers making their way along the route while a rainbow of spectators will be looking up from the sidelines of the carnival, and a double-decker steel pan trolley with steel drums and drummers on board also will be a part of the carnival scene.

Downes said bright colors of red, pink, greens, gold, blues and orange have been perfectly contrasted with other colors to give the lifelike appearance that the people are dancing and walking off the walls.

"We used pictures for reference and for the historic element, but the students were able to incorporate their artistic styles to make the mural a true representation of everyone who worked on it," Downes said.

Victor Cepeda was busy creating details in the trolley and steel pan players last week. He said as a student of industrial design at Turabo University in Caguas, Puerto Rico, he was tasked with creating all of the architecture designs on the project.

He said the project has been fun and has allowed him to use many of the techniques he has learned in his years in drafting at St. Croix Educational Complex and his last two years in college.

"It makes me feel good to be able to do this, I'm excited to see the finished product," he said.

Nellisa Benjamin, a recent graduate from St. Croix Central High School, said she has learned more about bringing her artistic flair out from inside. She said she has realized that as an artist, things do not have to be perfect and she can let her creativity flow to create real masterpieces. Benjamin will be attending Life University to study psychology and hopes to become an art therapist and said enhancing her skills on the mural project has really helped.

Katherine Bishop, who has been indulging in art since she was three years old, is now in her final year of college and said the project taught the student artists how to solve problems and paint through their feelings to bring about the right mood and colors that they want to see on their project.

"The bright colors are just what we wanted the mural to be," she said. "We tried to bring out the culture and warmth of the island, and we did that."

Keith said the mural project was started with hopes that it would create community involvement and jobs for students and local artists and give them a chance to stimulate the local economy by purchasing all materials needed for the project from local vendors.

"The mural will continue to depict a parade theme, reflecting our culture and architecture and will enhance the town of Frederiksted," Keith said.

An unveiling ceremony is planned for 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 17 in the courtyard west of Pier 69.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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