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@Work: Gallery St. Thomas

Oct. 14, 2004 – When Claire Ochoa takes over a space, she makes it warm, vibrant, inviting. As the owner of Gallery St. Thomas on Garden Street, she gives all credit to the artists she represents. "We're in a business that makes us look good," she says. "I get to be surrounded by all these beautiful things."
Maybe so, but she's still settling into a second location for Gallery St. Thomas, this one at the Grand Galleria (formerly known as the Grand Hotel), and after just a couple months and some fresh coats of paint, she's already put her mark on the place.
"Down here, I wanted to enliven the place so the art is colorful and representative of what the island artists are creating," she says.
The Grand Galleria was built in 1839. The historical aspect of the building appeals to Ochoa, and so does the location. “It's a little closer to the Main Street action," she says. Being closer to the action means Ochoa and her staff will be seeing a lot more "just passing through" customers.
"This location will focus on prints and photographs, cards and gift items," says Ochoa. "It's a real delight for people to come across work that's done by a local artist. They want a connection with the islands. No matter what the art is, it's a real reminder of a relaxing, fun, time, that feeling of a holiday. People like to have that represented in the art they collect."
Customers will find limited edition reproductions at the Grand Galleria. The new gallery also includes three separate rooms and two hallways full of original work.
"We’ve created a Haitian art gallery within the gallery. I'm working with Carol Sirahkis, who has been a renowned Haitian art dealer for 35 years. This is a reemergence of her influence," says Ochoa. "It's so wonderful to come through and see if something special is here that you're looking to add to a collection or give as a gift."
While bringing an intimate and refined selection of art to the mainstream, Ochoa and her staff will also encourage people to experience the original art at the Garden Street location.
Ochoa has been in the art business for 14 years, and once owned her own gallery in Texas. After moving to the Virgin Islands seven years ago, she worked at Bajo El Sol, a gallery owned by artist Aimee Trayser in Mongoose Junction on St. John. Ochoa says her experience there reconnected her to the art community and the gallery community.
"They gave me my wings and encouraged me to buy the Blue Turtle Gallery from Lucinda Schutt," she says. Ochoa credits much of her success to her small staff, Cheryl Shaw and Pam Larsen.
Nov. 5 is the one-year anniversary for Gallery St. Thomas. There will be a celebration in conjunction with an opening for Bill Stoehr, a St. John artist. The gallery also sponsors monthly art shows at Alexander’s Bella Blue.
"The part I enjoy the most about the shows is the dialogue they create. They get people talking about art," Ochoa says. "It makes them comfortable with their opinions of art. It's an integral part of everyday life."
Both locations of Gallery St. Thomas are open Monday through Saturday, plus cruise-ship Sundays. Visit them at www.gallerystthomas.com.

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