Kristen Maize: Dedicated to the Beauty of St. John

By William Stelzer

Published in St. John Sun Times June 1, 2006


It’s hard to find anyone, especially an artist, who isn’t inspired by the raw beauty of St. John.  Whether it’s the delicate heartbeat of a humming bird or the unleashed fury of a tropical storm, it sometimes seems as though the island was designed specifically by God for the sole purpose of creative inspiration.  So it is perhaps not a surprise to find that St. John is home to far more artists than its small population would statistically suggest.  And while many of those creative types are drawn here from places scattered around the world, a lucky few have been graced with the gift of actually growing up here.

One of those is Kristen Maize, a native Virgin Islander who grew up in St. John, headed to the states for a university degree in science, and then returned home again to become the Program Manager for the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park.  But even as she uses her scientific side to help preserve the beauty of St. John for residents and visitors alike, she has also been quietly seeking to portray that same beauty using her artistic side.

Quietly at least, until she dropped by Michael Banzhaf Gallery with a couple of paintings she had been working on, just to get an opinion.  Impressed by the freshness of her work, and by the way her colors so beautifully captured those of the island - as well as by being taken by the thrill of seeing an artist letting go of the well trodden path and trusting herself to follow her heart instead, she was offered a show on the spot. 

To find out more, I made the trek up the winding steps to the Friends office in Mongoose, and managed to sneak some time out of Kristen’s busy schedule to talk to her about growing up here in St. John and how she expressed those thoughts and feelings in her artwork.  As I started with my questions, I very quickly found out that she has lived the kind of life most people only dream about.

Imagine a time, really only just a few years ago, before the pounding of massive earth hammers and the rumble of heavy machinery provided a constant low level soundtrack to life here on St. John.  When violent crime was essentially unthinkable and kids played from one side of the island to the other as if it was their own giant, magical backyard.  Where you could exercise your imagination with tree houses and adventures in sunlight and fresh Caribbean air, instead of inside the land of video games that is so often the custom today.

It was a wonderful way to grow up, Kristen told me.  What was really neat too, was that even though St. John was just a tiny island, because of its crossroads location, you would meet all kinds of people and cultures from all over the world.  Plus she had a mom who loved to travel, so before she was even out of high school she had explored countries like France, Italy, Venezuela, Switzerland, and Greece.

At The University of San Diego, Kristen turned her passion for science to a degree in Environmental Studies, which at USD was a program encompassing a wide variety of disciplines, from science to literature to the humanities.  In her senior year she took an art class in her last semester, which caused her to fall back in love with painting all over again. 

Through college and after, she continued to travel, through Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and Africa.  When she finally returned home with a now much wider perspective, she found her appreciation for St. John’s familiar beauty reignited.  As she re-immersed herself in island life, she began to fulfill her career goals with the Friends, and at the same time felt herself drawn to capture the beauty of St. John on canvas.

For her show at Michael Banzhaf Gallery, which she shares with fellow artist Patty Tacquard, Kristen’s goal was to capture the environment of St John in a new and fresh way, from top to bottom.  From the hillsides rising above the sea grape beaches, to the rocky coasts, to the sponges and turtles undersea. 

Per her busy schedule, (Hey Kristen has beaches to clean and programs to run!) she would paint at night with lots of lights and then in the morning would take the canvases out in the sunlight to how close she was to her intentions.  Although trained as a scientist, in many ways she would leave that side of herself behind as she painted, letting go the precise details and rigors of science and instead freeing herself to allow her artistic side take over.  It is an interesting quandary, as in science you make up data at your peril, while art demands just the opposite way of working.   

But in thinking about Kristen, I realize that for her it isn’t a quandary, but instead an opportunity, one that gives her a chance to fulfill both sides of her nature, and in the process becoming all the more richer for it.


Be sure to check out Kristen’s paintings during the artists’ reception for her and Patty Tacquard at the Michael Banzhaf Gallery on Friday, April 7th at 6pm!