I headed downtown to the historic trust office early on a Saturday morning. A Facebook post had raved about this caning class, so I had to find out more. Having a deep love for hand-crafted and antique furniture meant that I would not let this opportunity pass me by. I turned up, unannounced, at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find Pamela Montagut, along with a couple of ladies getting set up to work on their projects that day. They were kind enough to share their projects and personal connections to the craft of Caning with me.
I love Caned furniture. Currently, it is having a moment in the world of design and home fashion. Of course, in our part of the world, it’s never gone out of style. The open weave’s flexibility is comfortable to sit on and offers much-needed airflow in our hot climate. The unique look of the square in a square pattern and natural material is a staple in Caribbean homes and has been for centuries.
On the long and winding road of the historic trust, Pamela filled me in on how this class became a reality. They began before the hurricanes in 2017, but the storms derailed the schedule. Then once they were just about to start, the instructor, Kenneth “Duke” Richards, passed away. At the time he was one of the last living people on St. Thomas who practiced this time-honored craft. Another instructor had to be found. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and changed the start date again!! Ultimately the Department of Tourism and My Brothers Workshop jumped in to help make the program a reality. The instructor travels over from St. Croix for the Saturday classes. It’s been a journey and has really taken a whole village of people committed to keeping this alive in the Virgin Islands to make it happen. This is one of the things that makes the community here in STT so special. Many organizations and individuals have come together to preserve this art form and piece of local heritage. The story is so heartwarming and why I love living here.
Tell Your Story
Everyone participating in this class has their own unique story to tell and connection to the craft. Michelle Taylor, for example, is a cousin of Kenneth Richards. The craft has been in her family for many years. Now she is taking it up and doing restoration on antique chairs. Another participant is originally from Philadelphia and remembers her grandfather doing caning work but never learned from him as a child. The connections through craft in the room are a beautiful thing.
If you have not been to the Historic trust museum, I urge you to do so. It’s a small unassuming little storefront on the waterfront and is so worth the time to visit. They have a beautiful display of West Indian Antiques and offer historic tours of the town and Hassel island a couple of times a week. The program needs funding to continue to the next phase. If you are a lover of handmade goods and antiques, as I am, and wish to support this program please consider a donation or membership here.
If you are interested in any of the caned products below, you can shop them here.