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 printworks, 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 come from Mexico in 1958 where he had operated his own shop and printworks 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, New York 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 came upon him and at the age of 25, he set off for Tahiti.
In that Polynesian surrounding, Jim spent his time swimming, fishing, and painting.
His year in Tahiti were formative ones and greatly affected his future in many ways.
The painting inspiration of Tahiti has again surged up in the surroundings of Tutu in the Virgin Islands and after 20 years, Jim Tillett is devoting a great deal of his time to painting, in which he uses many of the techniques learned in his profession.
Jim is particularly pleased with the reception of his paintings.
Teaching Children to Paint
Another offshoot of the inspiration of his painting has developed into fortnightly art classes for the children of St. Thomas.
He opens his studios to youngsters every other Saturday morning and here he works with them teaching them the many new techniques he has 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 lovely countryside of St. Thomas, 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 75-feet long on which the printing of the fabric is done.
The many screens used in the printing process are visible to the visitor along the 25-feet of shelves holding large pots of exotic colorfast dyes.
Along another wall is a smaller table of 40-feet on which Mr. Tillett experiments and does his fabric samples as well as some stages of his painting.
The old barn which claims a history of over 100 years, now the printworks, is over 80 x 100 feet 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 as well as in made up garments.
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, men’s sports shirts, shorts, swim trunks, ties; for the women, dresses, beach coats, shorts, blouses, etc. some children’s wear and 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 right on the estate!
One corner is set up as a gallery and then Jim Tillett’s paintings are on display.
In the painting as well as in the fabric, special custom orders are Jim’s favorites.
He will take a commission on a painting, custom drapery or dress fabric.
Many visitors to the Tillet workshop first watch him make up the fabric and then go into the shop where they meet Jim’s wife, Rhoda who will make up a special dress, or 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 outstanding craftsmen will set up their own workshops in the leathercraft, jewelry, pottery and other allied fields, along with the personalized lines he runs his print works.
He feels that a craft center in the Virgin Islands could become a center of art in the Caribbean and allow the tourist and visitors not only to shop one central point (all the products sold under one roof) but be able to see the work being done, Mr. 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 handmade.”
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’s evolved from its humble beginnings.