Harley Named Honoree, St. John Royalty Accept Crowns at Food Fair and Coronation


Hundreds of people, including Lieutenant Governor Greg Francis and his wife Cheryl, braved the summer heat and packed the Cruz Bay waterfront on Sunday afternoon, June 24, for annual the St. John Festival Food Fair and Coronation.

Tents loaded with local delicacies including everything from conch in butter sauce and dove pork to stew mutton and seafood kalallo lined the waterfront street which was closed to traffic for the day.

People of all ages stood in line angling for homemade ginger beer, passionfruit juice and mauby to keep cool while waiting for their meals from the island’s very best cooks who had prepared their best dishes for the annual event.

The crowd gathered under sunny skies in Frank Powell Park for the festivities which included musical selections by Love City Pan Dragons and Wrection Band as well as the St. John Festival Royalty Coronation and recognition of this year’s Food Fair honoree Gwendolyn Harley.

A retired school teacher who logged 33 years with the V.I. Department of Education, it is actually Harley’s post-career hobby for which she is most well known.

After learning how to sew from her mother at the age of seven, Harley eventually turned a passion for the craft into an award-winning business. Harley’s first dolls were made by scrapping the fibers off mango seeds, upon which she would then paint a face. The dolls were clothed with dresses made from scraps of fabric collected from Harley’s mother and sewn together to fashion madras ensembles. 

Today Gwen’s Dolls, as well as a series of island animals like iguanas and donkeys she created, are highly collectible pieces which have won awards across the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
Each doll costume is historically detailed right down to the lace-edged pantalets and hand-woven straw hats. The dolls are Market Ladies, party ladies known as Quadrille Dancers, Bamboula Dancers, French Ladies and French Men. For each doll, Harley is careful to convey the rich culture of the Virgin Islands in each detail.

Accepting the award of 2012 Food Fair Honoree from St. John Festival and Cultural Organization chairperson Leona Smith, Harley thanked her husband of 61 years, both of her two children and her St. John family and friends.

“Everything you have said today about me has been so encouraging,” said Harley. “I don’t need to say anything more about myself, but thank you to everyone.”

Lt. Gov. Greg Francis encouraged the crowd to support the vendors and enjoy a safe Festival.
“This is the beginning of St. John Festival,” said Francis. “This begins a week of activities and fun. It’s a pleasure to be here today and I want to encourage you all to have fun and support the vendors.”

“This is our culture and this is opportunity to celebrate the Virgin Islands,” said the lieutenant governor. “Be safe, be respectful and have fun.”

After a goosebump-incuding rendition of “I Will Always Love You” by Lorna Freeman, emcee and Festival Organization public relations officer Alecia Wells introduced this year’s winning St. John Festival Princess and St. John Festival Queen.

Sh’Nyah Bacon won the crown of 2012/2013 Festival Princess after a closely contested Selection Show on Sunday, June 17. Bacon was accompanied by 2011/2012 Festival Princess Ashyria Kelly and fellow St. John Festival Princess contestants as she accepted the sparkling crown.

Following an impressive St. John Festival Queen Show on Saturday night, June 23, which featured five beautiful and talented young women, Contestant #5 Shanell Thomas was named the winner. (See next week’s edition of St. John Tradewinds for full St. John Festival Queen Selection Show coverage and photographs.)

Surrounded by fellow contestants Sheniqua Davis, Clarissa Doyling, Shelsea Jean and Khadijah Athanase, Thomas accepted her towering crown with a beaming smile and elegant waves to the crowd.

Following the speeches and musical selections, Harley, Bacon and Thomas gathered on the steps of the Frank Powell Park bandstand along with Lt. Gov. Francis and his wife and pulled the madras ribbon, marking the official opening of the 2012 St. John Festival Food Fair and signaling to all that was time to “Play Mas, Jump Up and Enjoy Yourselves for Festival 2012!”

Happy Festival!