Community comes together for mosaic mural project ahead of playground’s opening

By ANDREA MILAM St. John Correspondent / Virgin Islands Daily News

By the time the first phase of the Cruz Bay playground rebuild is completed and opened to the public later this month, hundreds of the island’s children and community members will be able to say they left their mark. Two tile mosaic murals — one depicting a rainbow and one of an ocean scene — have been assembled at the new playground over the last 10 days with the help of numerous students and residents young and old.

The murals were the brainchild of Sean and Crystal D’Abbraccio, former St. John residents who left island following the 2017 hurricanes. The couple owns Tiny Tile Mosaics, an art studio and ceramic tile retailer in Chelmsford, Mass., but Crystal D’Abbraccio said the community where they lived for five years still feels like home to them.

“I don’t even have a word to explain how special this is,” Crystal said of the tile mosaic project. “We had planned on raising our kids here but we just couldn’t make our way back after the hurricane, and that was really hard for us.”

Sean D’Abbraccio, who worked as an elementary teacher at Gifft Hill School during the couple’s time on island, said the mosaics are a way to give back to the community that still means so much to him and his wife.

“The island has given us so much over the years, and we’ve always wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” he said. “We were able to bridge the gap and involve the whole island in this project. This was really important for us to do.”

Crystal D’Abbraccios said she’d been searching for a location on St. John for a tile mosaic for four years before finally connecting with Friends of Virgin Islands National Park Executive Director Tonia Lovejoy about the playground project.

The murals began with a paper sketch. Crystal applied a grid to the sketch and translated the design to scale. She shipped tiles from her retail business as well as special handmade tiles to St. John ahead of the couple’s arrival on island, and students at Coral Bay’s Pottery in Paradise created butterflies, turtles, and fish to be incorporated into the design.

The D’Abbraccios hit the ground running when they arrived on island Feb. 20, and with the help of student groups from Gifft Hill School, Julius E. Sprauve School, and homeschoolers, as well as community volunteers organized by the St. John School of the Arts, the murals took shape at the playground over the span of a little more than a week.

Many of the students who lent a hand for the project noted the significance of their participation.

“When I have children or grandchildren, I can tell them when I was in the fifth-grade, I made this mosaic,” said Julius E. Sprauve School student J’Antonio Burgess. “I’m hoping the mosaic will last forever.”

“It shows our community we can come together and help everyone,” said Gifft Hill School fifth-grader Jayla Williams. “The whole community of St. John will share together and enjoy it.”

St. John School of the Arts Executive Director Jeune Provost echoed the students’ sentiments.

“It’s humbling for me to be a part of the program because of what it really symbolizes for the community, for everyone to be able to come together and do something that will be there forever in a shared experience,” said Provost.

The tile mosaics are just one piece of the playground project. The completion of the first phase of the multi-phase project will be celebrated March 25 from 10 a.m. to noon with light refreshments, music, and performances by moko jumbies and the Dynamic Dancers.

Reconstruction of the playground, which is on V.I. National Park-owned land, was launched by a generous donation from Dr. Steven and Jann Paul, and was supported by hundreds of other community members, according to a press release from the Friends. The launch of the playground’s second phase, which will include a replica of the original Cruz Bay Customs house, landscaping, shade structures, additional seating, and a restroom renovation, is made possible by the Andy Stillman Memorial Fund and an Education Stabilization Grant awards to the Sports, Parks and Recreation Department by the V.I. Legislature.

Following the playground’s opening, Sports, Parks and Recreation will take over management and maintenance of the playground under a special use permit with the National Park Service.

“This opening is an opportunity to celebrate a project that has come about thanks to the contributions of a wide range of members of our community,” said Lovejoy. “It is a day to celebrate a collective passion to give our children a place to be just that — children.”