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@Work: Mango Tango

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March 24, 2005 – The sound bites from Jane Coombes' life are all about art. "Bring your kids by the gallery," she says to the postman. "They would love this show."
To a potential customer she says, "When a culture doesn't have art, it's doomed."
And still later, "The color he needs is cadmium," to her husband, Smokey Pratt, as he works through some logistics.
Coombes, who opened Mango Tango Art Gallery almost 16 years ago, is so involved in the day-to-day operation of her gallery that she has to retreat to Randy's Bistro on the other side of the parking lot to get some uninterrupted time.
But in the gallery, amid a collection of artists she wholeheartedly believes in, is where Coombes is most at home. Her love of art was nurtured from an early age.
"My father's idea of a family outing was going to museums, and his hobby was shooting art in museums," Coombes remembers. "So we not only went to museums, we watched the slides in the living room."
Coombes, whose father was a chief warrant officer in the Army, spent her childhood on the move. The family lived in Japan, Texas, Rhode Island, Alabama, New York City (Queens), Germany and then back to Texas. Whatever country they found themselves living in, the Coombes family room became a salon where world masterpieces were studied, discussed and revered. A rich education in art and art history was developed for all four Coombes children.
"Mom and father brought us up by putting artists on pedestals. They wanted us to be artists," says Coombes. "You learn at some point if you're going to be adequate or great. By the time I got to college I realized my art was my writing."
Coombes became an English professor and taught at the University of Texas, El Paso. Pratt, her husband, ran a bar called Johnny's Outpost in Carrizozo, N.M. When they moved to the Virgin Islands 23 years ago Coombes continued to teach and Pratt worked as a chef. The transition into gallery ownership was a slow process.
Coombes began by taking small trips around the islands, wholesaling larimar and eel skin as she went to cover her travel expenses. On every island she looked for artists and galleries, and was saddened by the fact that there weren't that many.
"Having not a lick of business sense I thought to myself, 'a gallery would be a great business.'"
Pratt left his job as a chef and joined her, and together they navigated the uncertain waters of gallery ownership.
Mango Tango opened in Havensight. Coombes filled the space with beautiful art pieces, and discovered exactly who would keep her in business. "It's the locals who wanted the art gallery, not the tourists."
After spending five years at the Havensight location, Mango Tango moved to Al Cohen Plaza. Now the business includes retail, wholesale to select stores, picture framing and plantation reproduction furniture from Whim Furniture on St. Croix.
Melvin Carty has been with the gallery for more than 13 years. In addition to running the frame shop he organizes all the art. "He's really the heart of the whole operation," says Coombes.
Mango Tango also does contract work in framing. The staff is set up for major jobs; one of their first large projects was the Elysian Beach Resort. But Coombes true love is the art.
"All those years of studying art, going to museums and galleries, I think I have an incredible knack of discovering artists who want to go down in history."
Mango Tango's current month long show, "Legends and Realities," features oil on canvas works from Kathy Carlson. She has paintings in three categories: rites of passage, mythic and florals that are influenced by another artist represented in the gallery, W.B. Thompson. The show also features watercolors and sculptures by Mandy Thody. She uses mythology as her theme and calls the collections "imagination's idols."
Mango Tango Art Gallery at Al Cohen Plaza is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

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