Are you familiar with the unique batik prints created by the artist, Jim Tillet?
He made one-of-a-kind batik fabrics that became popular in the 1960s and have become highly collectible now.
One browse through an online shop like eBay and you can find some of his pieces that have lasted the test of time.
Some of my favorites were his beautiful large-scaled maps of St. Thomas.
Here’s an interesting article written in 1961 about Jim and how he got started in the wonderful world of silk-screening.
The Workshop of Jim Tillet
“In the quiet neighborhood of Tutu, about three miles from Charlotte Amalie in a reconverted old Danish farm, textile stylist, Jim Tillet built a completely equipped silk-screen studio, and retail shop.
Here, he makes his home in a setting of rolling hills and green countryside, painting and creating high fashion and decorator fabrics.
Tutu Village, the three acres of the Tillet enterprise is a well known and historic part of St. Thomas.
Until 1945, this area was an established dairy farm.
Having been abandoned for close to ten years when the Tilletts bought the property, little remained of the site but the shells of the two barns, the silo, and the manager’s old West Indian house.
The grounds were covered with brambles, weeds and obsolete equipment. One could hardly walk from the one building to the other.
This abandoned farm site was one of the first spots the Tilletts inspected when searching for a place to establish themselves.
The authenticity of the old barns fired their imagination and they immediately decided that this was the place.
The Tilletts Arrive in St. Thomas
Jim had arrived from Mexico in 1958 where he had operated his own shop and studio for nearly twenty years.
His father, George Tillett had been one of the chief inventors and pioneers in the silk-screen printing field.
London-born, Jim Tillett worked with his father from his early teens and had traveled the ocean between London and New York, six times before the age of seventeen.
Most of his childhood was spent in Brooklyn where his father was setting up experiments in silk-screening.
At 18, back in London, Jim again worked with his family, designing, making screens and printing fabrics. But the urge to see the world was so strong that he set off for Tahiti at the age of twenty-five.
In that Polynesian surrounding, Jim spent his time swimming, fishing, and painting.
Teaching Children to Paint
At his studio, he offers art classes to school children and works with them teaching them new techniques that he’s perfected in the field of modern art.
Jim is extremely enthusiastic about the responsiveness of youngsters and their ability to pick up new ideas. He believes that given the opportunity every child can express himself in color and form.
Today, the Tillett workshop at Tutu Village is a high spot on the tourist agenda in the Virgin Islands.
When one rides through the east end countryside, he enters into an old-world courtyard filled with flowering hibiscus and other flora native to the area.
The old shed, which houses the printworks, has one wall covered with the spectacular passion flower.
The entire landscaped area is one of the rare spots on the island which has used only native plants.
Inside the building, are two tables seventy-five feet long on which the printing of the fabric is done.
The many screens used in the printing process are visible along the shelves which hold large pots of exotic colorfast dyes.
Along another wall is a smaller table of forty-feet on which Mr. Tillett experiments and makes his fabric samples.
The old barn, which claims a history of over 100 years, is over 80 x 100 feet in size and still bears most of its original thick stone walls and floors.
Across the courtyard from the printworks in another old converted barn, is the retail shop in which all the fabrics are displayed and retailed.
There is a wide variety of fabrics including silk, linen, cotton, terry cloth and canvas which are all sold by the yard.
These fabrics are used for the most fashionable resort wear.
Custom upholstery and drapery fabrics are Mr. Tillet’s specialty.
In the ready-made department for the decorator, there are table mats, tablecloths and wall decorations.
In the ready-to-wear field, you’ll find men’s sports shirts, shorts, swim trunks, and ties. For the women, there are colorful dresses and blouses with a variety of beach towels for all.
The shop is an array of color and fun for the shopper who recognizes something different.
Everything in the shop is made on the estate!
One corner is set up as a gallery with Jim’s paintings are on display. Custom orders are his favorites.
Visitors to the workshop first watch him create the fabric and then follow him into the shop where they’re introduced to his wife, Rhoda. She’ll create the final ensemble for them.
“The fun of having my workshop in St. Thomas is that I do all the work myself,” says Mr. Tillett.
“I like running a small studio as opposed to a large factory type operation.”
An Artistic Center
Mr. Tillett envisions all of Tutu as someday being an artistic center where a small group of craftsmen will set up their own workshops in the leathercraft, jewelry and pottery fields.
He feels that a craft center in the Virgin Islands could become a center of art in the Caribbean and allow visitors not only a central point (all the products sold under one roof) but a chance to see the work being done, Tillett says.
Made in the Virgin Islands
“Made in the Virgin Islands” will one day be an important label, particularly when you can actually see the product being created.”
Tillett Gardens, where he and Rhoda made their home, was transformed every year for the Arts Alive Craft Fair. They were passionate about fostering the love of arts and creativity in the islands, which lives on today as a part of their legacy.
Stop by Tillet Gardens to see how it has evolved from its humble beginnings.