Dec. 1, 2002 – Arts and crafts galore, from tropically scented soaps to bikini-clad teddy bears, wire-wrapped jewelry, flame-worked glass, hand-carved wooden ornaments and much more, set the scene as the first Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival at Compass Point on St. Thomas's East End opened Saturday for the first of two days.
The event continues the tradition of the Arts Alive Festivals at Tillett Gardens, at a new venue this year. Hours Sunday are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Festival coordinator Pamela Wilson, who operates a business at Compass Point, said she has "always been interested in the arts." And when Arts Alive founder Rhoda Tillett said she couldn't do the fair this year, "I took it on." She added, "Compass Point is such a beautiful location, but many people don't come out here much."
That changed this weekend. The larger space afforded by the site change has allowed 54 artisans and craftspeople to set up their tables and booths in the circular roadway that loops around the complex.
Norita Lee, publicist for the event, said: "We got the word out early; so, we have a broad mix of exhibitors, from Water Island, Hassel Island, St. Thomas, St. John, Virgin Gorda and even someone from Pennsylvania."
The festival officially opened at 11 a.m. Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Robert and Doris Allyn, celebrating 30 yeas of ownership of the Compass Point Marina, plus Santa and Mrs. Claus, sponsored by Rotary East, and Tommy Starfish, hosted by the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel Association, were on hand.
The fine arts were well represented this year in the works of artists including Aphrodite and her oil paintings and Ahmed and his done-on-the site portrait sketches.
"I like to paint well-known people, people that others recognize, but I also enjoy painting portraits of everyday people too," said Ahmed, who, like Aphrodite, chooses to be known by one name.
Jeanne Webb, who makes custom teddy bears with whimsical outfits under her Conch Critters label, was part of the annual Thanksgiving weekend festivals at Tillet Gardens for six years and made the move to Compass Point. "The new venue is easy for me," she said, as she and her husband "used to have our boat here." She now lives in Virgin Gorda.
Through networking at past events, Webb now sells her bears to shops in Albuquerque and Philadelphia, as well as locally. "I've made about a thousand bears since September," she said. Her cute critters come dressed as Santa Claus, angels and even beachgoers in tropical print bikinis and shades.
Mary Mercer, a prize-winning baker who has taught cake decorating, has changed her focus now and for the festival is showcasing an aromatic line of scented glycerin soaps. "It was an easy segue from baking to soap making, and I've been making the soaps now for 2½ years," she said, adding, "It's hard work." Her 28 shapes and scents of soaps include pineapple with the fruit's crisscross skin configuration on the top, spice that is sprinkled with fragrant fine shavings of nutmeg and cinnamon, and frangipani with a real flower inside.
Lavender is the new scent in candles made by Jason Budsan of Caribbean Herbals. "I also have gel candles that are new," he said as he poured hot wax into a mold to make a new candle before festival visitors' eyes.
A new bay rum aftershave for men which comes with a refillable travel-size atomizer is a new item in Gail Garrison's Island Fragrances line. "This is one way I've expanded my line," said Garrison, who took part in the Tillett Gardens festivals from the start in the 1980s.
Gwendolyn Harley, with her handmade dolls, is another festival stalwart. "I have my big dolls, small dolls and mango-seed dolls," she explained, pointing them out on the red-clothed table in front of her. Harley is known for her historical dolls that depict old-time West Indian life.
Newcomers at the Compass Point fest include Douglas Ackley and Rachael Niblock with their dried fish jerky, under the Caribbean Dried Foods label. "This product follows the survival food theme, plus its low fat and healthful, is ideal for people who don't like to eat meat, and is a specialty food, so it fits many niches," Ackley said. The 1.5-ounce packages on display held cut, dried morsels of deep-water gamefish including swordfish and tuna in three seasoning choices — original, teriyaki and hot.
Cheryl Miller of Taste of Paradise introduced her new "dry Virgin jerk rub" at the fair. "I tell people, 'take home a jerk'," the purveyor of island hot sauces and condiments joked.
Throughout the day on Saturday, entertainers including Rob Paper, Jay Comier, Narvdo, Rob Knuekel and Two Blue Shoes took to the microphone. One of the entertainment highlights, sure to be a real toe-tapper, is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, when Harmony Dem will be joined by two special guests, Christine Balfa and Dirk Powell, members of Balfa Toujours, an award-winning Cajun music groups from Louisiana that performed at an October Sunday festival a few years back.
As the festival's first day wound down, Wilson said she was unsure how many people attended, but the stream of visitors was steady. "This is the perfect venue for artists to display their works," she said. "We've had several good comments."
Ironically, she said, the marina is the spot where the late Jim Tillett first showcased his silkscreen works more than three decades ago and encouraged the Allyns to invite other artists to set up in the complex. "So," Wilson added, "I guess you could literally say the festival has come back home."
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