A JOURNEY TO SLOOP JONES
It's a long winding road out to East End on St. John USVI. Although I have been coming here for many years, I've never driven this remote piece of the island but I cannot ignore a new quest.
It's now 15 minutes after the Coral Bay turnoff, past Skinny Legs Bar, past the old Moravian Church, past the only fire station on this side of the island. Village blends into rural countryside; sheep and goats graze in front yards; donkeys bray along the roadside. I wonder aloud to friends who have come along to share this adventure, if perhaps we have missed our turn.
Suddenly, a small sign appears at the side of the road — "Vies-next two hills over." The twisting and bumpy road smooths out into a two lane narrow ribbon of newly paved highway; a stretch of uphill as far as the eye can see. At the crest, vistas of ocean and sky; then the plunge down the long descent.
Over and over again. Mountain and water cling to each other—as do my passengers.
Looking down from the mountain top, we discover we are travelling out onto a narrow peninsula; on our left the blue of the Atlantic; on the right the green of the Caribbean. We pass through Haulover Bay, a narrow stretch of low land between the two seas, and the highway returns to rocky flatland and beach. A sign: "End of the Road Snack Shack Ahead." Then another: "Vie's Snack Shack."
It would be easy to miss Vies; a ramshackle, wooden stand at the side of the road; a few picnic tables here and there —but no one could forget Vies. Vie, young, enterprising and well-known by the local population, tends to a neighbors child and her cooking with the equal amounts of care and humour. My friends and I toast to eavesdropping and partake in a delectible and unusual island cooking experience — crispy, fresh, conch fritters, a tasty, fish pate turnover, and homemade pineapple tart. "Help yourself to my beach," Vie tells us pointing us towards a small, clean, sandy, beach across the road. We thank her and continue on with a promise to swim on our way back from Sloop Jones. "They're just up the road." Vie says waving us on.
We discover first-hand the island meaning of "up the road." The pavement disappears quickly into someones front yard. To our left is a steep gravel road and a small "Sloop Jones" sign.
We buck and jerk up the stoney incline. The road divides. Straight ahead, up the mountain; bear right, down to the sea. We catch a glimpse of a Sloop Jones sign, veer right and with one quick turn find ourselves on a precipitous, but well paved concrete road. The land juts out into a point and the sea surrounds us. Another Sloop Jones sign and a pebbled driveway a few feet away from the ocean lead us to the Sloop Jones studio and the home of Barbara Alperen and Terry McKoy.
There are moments in ones life that make words, for all their descriptive power, inadequate. How to convey the feeling of happiness, exhilaration, peace, and "home" that forced its way into my being as soon as I stepped out of the car. The sea crashing along the shore; the pretty house, curved and open—welcoming to the world , hand-painted shirts hanging to dry on the clothes line in the open air studio, buckets of paints on the floor, splashes of color everywhere in nature and in artwork. I simply wanted to stay there forever.
This must have been how Barbara and Terry felt when they left their home in Massachusetts to start the Sloop Jones Art Studio in St. John. Having travelled through most of the Caribbean as well as Central and South American, Barbara and Terry decided to put together their artistic and business talents and their love for the Caribbean. Renting this piece of property tucked among the palm trees at the easternmost corner of St. John represented their choice to live close to nature, live at a slower pace, and to make a livelihood doing what they love.
All of their work reflects this commitment. Echoing the vibrant Caribbean colors splashed generously by nature onto the fish and fauna of the St. John, Sloop Jones clothing wrap their wearers in the Caribbean experience. Muted or bold, each T shirt, dress, pants, swimwear, rug or wall hanging is a piece of art and a wordless reflection of the Virgin Islands. Although we had seen Sloop Jones originals in the small shops of Coral and Cruz Bay, there was nothing to match the experience of going to the source and the access to a wider selection. We could no more resist buying more than we could afford or needed, than we can resist coming back to St. John year after year.
A visit to the Sloop Jones outdoor studio and shop (located in the bottom floor of the house) gives visitors a chance to exchanges stories with Sloop, perhaps a walk on the beach. A visit to the Sloop Jones studio and shop is more than a trip to a place with nice clothes. It's a trip to the essence of the Caribbean.
I had seen three rainbows on this visit to St. John. This day I saw a fourth at East End. I watched it dip into the paint pots at the Sloop Jones open-air studio and rise slowly up over the sea. I saw it feather the reds and purples into the clouds and tumble the blues and greens back into the sea. It arched itself brilliantly over St. John and then disappeared. It was as perfect a moment as one can ask for in a lifetime. I said a silent thank you to the universe, to those adventurers on the St. John ferry, and to the power of eavesdropping.
At the Coral Bay intersection, follow sign to East End. To visit the Sloop Jones Studio:
Call 340-779-4001 for directions. email