The Strawcraft of the people of French heritage (Pt. 2)

As I wrote in the first article, the art has been practiced on Saint-Barthelemy for the last couple centuries.

When the French migrants came to St. Thomas, they brought the knowledge of the art with them. The parents had taught the children, who in turn taught their children. The women of the Carenage did not self-teach themselves. They had brought the art with them, when they came to St. Thomas.

It took years for the Latania seedlings planted on the North side to grow to maturity. Meanwhile, the latania straw was imported from Saint-Barthelemy, by the boatload.

In order to brighten the strawwork, some of the leaves were dyed in various colors. The dye was imported from Saint-Barthelemy, by Mrs. Amalia Duzant. She brought it in bulk and sold it to the workers, in small quantities.

Mrs. Duzant was terrified of travelling in the small sailing vessels but she did it because that was part of her livlihood.

Going back to the social aspect of the “French Colony Girls’ Club”, on days when the ladies met, they worked at their craft, learned new uses and methods for several hours and then they relaxed drinking tea or cocoa and
eating home-baked scones.

At Christmastime, parties were organized by Mrs. Van Patten. But first, let us tell of this lady’s caring for the education of the French children.

Mrs. Van Patten filled the shelves of the clubhouse with books. I remember “Black Beauty”; “The Glass Mountain”; and East of the Sun and West of the Moon” Of course there was Pinocchio, Cinderella, Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs, The Brave Little Taylor and others.

There were also the books of poetry, which we learned to read with feeling. The book my mother loved best was “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire story was written in poetry.

My very first book, was gifted to me by Mrs. Van Petten. It was called, “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I have treasured that little book, all the days of my life.

Following is a list of some of the original members of
“The French Colony Girls’ Club”:
Florina Magras Olive; Mercelita Bernier; Marie Helene Bernier Danet; Marie Inger Quetel; Francelia and Margaret Greaux; Annicia Cerge Quetel, Pauline, nee Greaux; Margaret Duzant; Anne Sylvanie Simeon; Anne-Rose Bernier Greaux, AKA “Pauline”; Marie Lucina Aubin; Marie Elisabeth Danet AKA Emilienne; Josephine Danet AKA Urise and several others.

Christmastime with the Van Pattens was like a world of wonder to a little French girl. The Van Pattens lived at Villa Olga in a beautiful white cottage, surrounded by flowers and fruit trees.

The entrance to Villa Olga was an arched gate. Each year at Christmas the arch was festooned with holly and lights. All along the path to the home of the Van Pattens, both sides were strung with lights and holly. Lights were hung on date palms and other fruit trees, creating a world of
fantasy.

Each year a huge Christmas tree was imported from Mainland, USA. This tree was brightly decorated with all sorts of ornaments, tinsel, candy canes, and small toys. To me, as a child, it was a fairy world.

When the Navy was leaving St. Thomas, the clubhouse was donated to the Catholic Chapel of St. Anne. The building was not moved immediately and the Virgin Islands Cooperative was allowed to use it as a station where the ladies of the Carenage could deliver their strawwork and get paid.

Miss Aimee Estornel was in charge of the station and the people of the Village loved her. She became Godmother to many a child born in the Carenage, including one of my brothers.

When the new owners of the land demanded that the building be removed, it was relocated on church property, next to St. Anne’s Chapel.

Anne-Marie Danet

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