By Andrea Milam
Once you’ve passed Skinny Legs on your way out to the East End, you might notice a modest, brightly colored pink building with blue and yellow trim on your left. A small sign by the road reads “Kareso Studio: fine art, quilting, clothing, crafts.” What the sign doesn’t tell you is that the moment you step through the doors, you’re entering a world of stunning talent and creativity, all of which originates from the mind of one very gifted St. Johnian—Karen Samuel.
Karen’s Coral Bay studio is a treasure trove of her wide range of creations. On one end, selections from her clothing line, Artistry of Eden, are displayed. Against one wall, some of her handmade quilts are on display. And occupying a large portion of the studio’s wall and floor space are her paintings: bright, detailed island scenes, and portraits whose lifelike eyes and easy-to-recognize subjects highlight her true skill.
If you’ve been searching for an authentic reminder of your time on St. John, this is it. Every single item in her clothing line is designed and made by Karen, on St. John, by hand. She describes Artistry of Eden—named for Estate Eden, where she grew up—as “classic pieces for working women.” She has everything from bohemian items made from ethnic fabrics, batiks, and African prints, to casual wear meant to go from the beach to dinner out, made largely out of natural fibers meant to keep the wearer cool in the island’s tropical climate. Karen makes men’s clothing as well, but her line focuses primarily on women’s wear.
On the painting side, Karen mostly works with oils though she does have some watercolor and watercolor pencil pieces as well. If you aren’t in the market for an original, framed painting, which are priced anywhere from $500 to $3,000, pick up some of Karen’s smaller prints, which range from $20-$30. A custom portrait would serve as a truly special gift or souvenir, and luckily, Karen works well from photographs, meaning you don’t have to spend precious vacation hours sitting for the painting.
In fact Karen takes commissions across all her mediums, which also include knitting and crochet. Perhaps the most captivating part of browsing the Kareso studio is Karen herself. A native St. Johnian whose childhood was as magical as you might expect considering she grew up here on island in the decades before it was truly discovered and developed, taking the time to get to know her can result in some charming stories of St. John’s bygone era. I’ve had the pleasure of writing about Karen several times, and each time we talk, I walk away with more insight into what life was like here several decades ago. On my most recent visit, I learned about how she and her nine siblings used to fingerpaint and do crafts at the Peace Corps center, located near her present-day studio in Guy Benjamin’s old home. She also spent hours in the Emmaus Moravian Church’s library, where she would read all the Greek mythology books she could get her hands on.
Though Karen is currently in the states for a much-needed break, she will resume regular hours of Tuesday through Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. in October. You can also meet her at her studio by appointment once she’s back on island. Just give her a call at 340-514-8897 to set it up. Find Kareso Studio on Facebook, and make sure you set aside some time on your next trip to visit Karen’s studio. Island souvenirs don’t get more authentic than handmade clothing, quilts, paintings, and more, created right here by one of St. John’s own.