July 24, 2004 – Saturday marked the return, after seven years, of a St. Thomas tradition. Tillett Gardens was again the site of a summertime Arts and Craft Festival. Twenty-two artists and artisans displayed work that ran the creative gamut from island scenes in oil and watercolor to hand-painted tiles, jewelry, pottery and enough handcrafted stuffed animals to fill a jungle. A good-sized crowd turned out for the opening of the two-day festival, despite misty skies and periodic showers.
Lynn Paccassi-Berry, owner of Ridvan Studio, which specializing in Raku sculpture and hand-building techniques, was pleased to see so many new faces in the garden on a summer afternoon. "Business in the garden has been getting better and better every year for the past five years, but it's been nothing like this," she said of Saturday's crowds.
Dark skies or not, the mood at Tillett's was vibrant and reminded many festival goers of the old days, when, through the efforts of the late Rhoda Tillett, there were four such events held every year under the moniker Arts Alive! The central fountain bubbled beneath a great genip tree, curious youngsters wandered to and fro, and the air held the sounds of talk and laughter as the community came together in the name of art.
Rhoda's son Eric Tillett and his wife Kellie Falk-Tillett have taken up the torch at Tillett Gardens since Rhoda passed away in August of last year. Kellie explained that seven years ago the number of Arts Alive festivals dropped from four to one. But now, with the addition of the summer festival, which Kellie says she fully expects to revive again next year, the St. Thomas art scene may be once again be on the rise.
The festival's impromptu emcee Cheryl Miller, known locally and the world over for her wide array of homemade, spicy Caribbean sauces and chutneys, said of the event "it is one of the best shows of original art that I've ever seen on St. Thomas."
Dozens of families, couples and art-lovers ambled through the garden's open spaces and among the handful of tents erected for the show, stopping here and there to run fingertips across a piece of pottery or to lean in for a closer look at a painting.
Clothing designer Nayda Young had a selection of linen and cotton clothing on display. "I love bright colors and sheer fabrics," she said, holding up a pair of flowing over-pants with subtle, hand-painted details along the seams. Young is the proprietor of Nayda of Coki Beach, a clothing store located on the Smith Bay area beach of the same name. She was more than happy to trade locations for the weekend.
Susan Wolterbeek, acting as agent for artist David Franke, said she appreciates the opportunity provided by the summer festival to reach out to the community. Franke, who spent much of his career working as a successful potter, even placing pieces inside the Smithsonian Institution, now paints lush, Caribbean fantasies in oil and acrylic. Additionally, Franke has created a series of ceramic tiles he finishes in flowing, cobalt blue designs.
And for the kids, even the bigger, older ones, there are Conch Critters collection of stuffed animals created by Jeanne Webb. Bears, bunnies, cows, iguanas and penguins are just of few of the furry friends waiting for someone to take them home. Webb makes all of her one-of-a-kind animals by hand, selecting fabrics and finishing them with dies created locally from frangipani, cactus berries and, surprisingly, the ubiquitous blue-rock of the Virgin Islands.
To round out the festival there are mahogany sculptures, silk-screen art, custom candles and clothing of all kinds. For the weary or cosmetically curious, the Zen Center, a new addition to the Tillett Gardens art complex, is offering complimentary mini-facials and massages. And for the hungry and thirsty, there's Jack's Restaurant, which claims to have the best chicken wings around.
Admission is free and the festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, with live performances by more than a dozen V.I. student musicians. So whether you have a hankering for a new macramé plant holder, or you want to get started early on your Christmas shopping, a stop at Tillett Gardens should help. For information call Vivian Faulkner in the Arts Alive office at 775-1929.
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