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ST. JOHN ART CHANGES LIKE THE TIDE IN DRUNK BAY

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DRUNK BAY, St. John — Deep within the human psyche lies a need to create.

From simple prehistoric cave paintings depicting deer, bears and cats to modern street art with a message, humans have left artistic marks in myriad ways through the millenniums.

On St. John, a relatively new tradition of temporary art has been born.

Visitors to Drunk Bay on the island’s southeastern coast have been using the windswept beach as a gallery of sorts for a constantly changing “exhibit” of artworks made with items found along the rocky shore.

Drunk Bay (not to be confused with Trunk Bay, on the island’s northern coast) is an easy walk from Saltpond Bay, a popular beach for snorkelers, sunbathers and picnickers.

The flat trail from Saltpond to Drunk Bay — three-tenths of a mile long — passes by a salt pond and through shrubby growth that, during my recent visit, included heavenly scented flowering bushes.

Pipe-organ cactuses and healthy-looking barrel cactuses dot the perimeter of the path, which ends at a dark-water beach that seems a better fit for Hawaii than the crystal-blue Caribbean.

With rough, rocky water, Drunk Bay is not a swimming beach, but it boasts deliciously refreshing sea breezes that might have inspired the artists among us to linger.

On the boulders scattered around the beach, visitors have crafted a range of rock art.

Some creations are basic stick figures made of finger coral bleached white by the sun. But little touches accent even the simplest depictions.

A single piece of curled coral — a fine-looking cowboy hat when oriented just so — turned an ordinary stick figure into what was most certainly a man of the Wild West.

Other designs were extraordinarily elaborate, requiring an artist with vision to see what might be done with so many pieces of jagged rock.

One person had turned several kinds of coral, dried seaweed and native rock into a mermaid lounging luxuriantly.

Sometimes, beachgoers might find statues of stacked and balanced coral. (An Internet search revealed a Stonehenge depiction.)

How long such creations last probably varies, but wind, rain and tides ensure only a short life.

Although some websites call the creations “jumbies,” they are not.

The West Indian term refers to a depiction of the spirit of a dead person — and these works are not that.

Alanna Smith, a guide with Virgin Islands National Park, which encompasses Drunk Bay, said the creations began appearing only recently — within the past few years.

“A few people have done it,” Smith said, “and others have copied.”

Although the phenomenon has no deeper meaning than one of expression, it seems unlikely to fade.
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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean region since 1989. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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