Local Woodworker and Craftsman Avelino Samuel Selected as 2014 St. John Festival Food Fair Honoree

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Avelino demonstrates work on the lathe to school children earlier this year at the annual Folklife Festival at Annaberg Ruins.

He’s sold his works at the St. John Festival Food Fair for decades, and now St. Johnian woodworker Avelino Samuel is being honored for his dedication to this annual cultural event. Samuel has been selected as the 2014 Food Fair honoree.

Samuel is well-known on island for the gorgeous pieces of art he creates from local and scrap woods. He’s long sold his smaller craft items, such as bowls, paper towel holders, and candle holders, at the food fair each year.

“For me, it’s been one of the few places I could actually sell the smaller, more crafty stuff,” said Samuel. “It’s always a great opportunity for people to see locally made crafts. Food fair is perfect for that.”

The talented woodturner began selling his crafts at Food Fair in the 1980s, but took a hiatus from the event when his career as an artist really began to take off. Samuel simultaneously taught woodturning at the Julius E. Sprauve School, from which he recently retired.

Samuel now spends much of his time traveling in the states, spreading his knowledge and expertise by teaching at various craft schools and clubs. In fact, he will be off island during the Food Fair that will honor his name.

“I won’t be there for the fair, but I will be there in time for the Festival parade,” said Samuel. “My wife will be at Food Fair selling the things I’ve made, so I’ll be participating indirectly.”

For the St. John Festival Committee, honoring Samuel at the Food Fair was a no-brainer, explained committee member Enid Doway.

“He’s given years of dedicated service participating in the Food Fair,” she said. “I voted for him to be chosen as the honoree because he exemplifies somebody we want to recognize, being a retired teacher and with all the activities he does and the skills he has. He is somebody we’d want to honor in that way.”

Samuel’s talent has put St. John on the map thanks to his participation in international craft fairs, said St. John Festival Committee Chairperson Leona Smith.

“His artwork has been sold at the Food Fair for many years,” she said. “He’s participated in craft fairs throughout the Caribbean and Europe. We chose him because of his artistry and for working with the kids to teach them woodturning.”

The perfectly detailed pieces that Samuel creates, from the smallest bowls to the largest works of art, begin as pieces of local or scrap wood. Seagrape is one of his most commonly used local woods, and he also uses mahogany and red locust scraps from cabinet shops.

“It feels special,” Samuel said of being selected as Food Fair honoree. “It’s a good feeling to be chosen for something that’s a true representative of our island culture.”

The Food Fair is scheduled for Sunday, June 22, at 1 p.m. at the Frank Powell Park. The coronation of the St. John Festival Queen, who will be chosen the evening of Saturday, June 21, will also take place at the event.