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Island Expressions: Tillett Gardens Arts Alive Fair

May 10, 2009 — Art was in the air this weekend — painting, drawing, pottery, jewelry, candle making, quilting, stories from a self-declared Ancient Mariner, even art on a saw blade — at the Tillett Gardens Arts Alive Fair, now in its 29th year.
The normally peaceful garden — ringed with palm trees, a huge sheltering genip tree, a frothing fountain, resident iguanas, a restaurant, Pistarckle theater and craft shops — burst with activity as about 30 artists showed their creativity. It's a natural venue for music, food and camaraderie.
David Smith and Kathy Perlich laughed as they held out a round power-saw blade adorned with a vibrant Virgin Islands seascape.
"We have a friend in Toronto who's a carpenter," Perlich explained. "He's visited here before, and he'll love this, the tropics on a saw."
The metal objet d'art is the work of Marla Werth, who calls herself "Artist by Chance." She says her dad was a stonemason, and he gave her blades to use in her art, which switched from farm scenes to seascapes when she moved here.
Children galloped through the grounds, stopping here and there to wonder at the goings-on, or to participate in art projects. Clay Lindol-Jones of Seven Minus Seven Art Alliance gave the youngsters an opportunity to create their own compositions on collaborative canvases.
At noon the sounds of violins wafted over the crowd as Montessori students Isis Collier and Alana Davis accompanied teacher Brett Omara for a violin concert, "Sweet Strings."
The vibe then changed a bit, with the familiar sounds of Janet Reiter belting out a rousing rendition of "My Girl," followed by her husband, Nicky "Mighty Whitey" Russell, without whom a St. Thomas musical event would be … well, incomplete.
Lynn Berry, Arts Alive executive director, took a moment from overseeing the throng, the raffles and the artists, to share a bit of current history.
"I've been director for two years now," she said, relaxing a bit in her office, stuck cozily behind the Kim Young Gallery.
She is calm in the face of all the activity, looking happy for the brief break.
"We used to have the festivals four times a year, but it saturated the market, so now it's just twice," she said. "We've been working on this for about two and a half months, contacting the artists, the sponsors, the volunteers."
Berry, a third-generation potter, shares Ridvan Studio with her husband, potter Rick Berry. They conducted a pottery-throwing demonstration at the fair.
Pricilla Hintz, Tillett board member, was up to her armpits in clay. Rick Berry instructed her as the wheel turned and the muddy blob of clay in the middle showed promise of becoming something. Montessori students Amelia Notting, 9, and the violinist Collier,11, watched intently, not missing a beat.
"Anchor your elbows against the side of your body," Rick Berry instructed. "Floating elbows make floating pots."
Hintz, hair hanging in her face, followed the instructions, shaping the clay gingerly, but looking up with a smile when the blob begins to look take form.
Meantime, candle-maker Jason Budsan busily showed his newest incarnation, dipping another blob in a tub of water while pouring a pot full of wax on it. A circle of curious onlookers watched. He held it up, turning it as the sun beamed on its multiple hues.
"You see," he said, beaming himelf, "it's like a piece of coral. It's a water candle."
Karen Wilburn, the Karibbean Quilter, sat amidst her intricately constructed creations, which run from pastels to bright reds and oranges, from quilts to glass cases and wallets.
"Quilters are a dying breed," Wilburn said with a laugh. "It's natural for me. I combine creativity with my obsessive-compulsive qualities. I've been doing it for years. My grandmother taught me."
Seated behind three of his books, Ancient Mariner J. R. Jackson claims his sea stories may be "profane, but never obscene."
Artist Margarete Bagshaw-Tindel's visually stunning work hung in Kimberly Young's Key Art Supplies at the back of the complex, where Young demonstrated canvas stretching.
This was Santa Fe artist Bagshaw-Tindel's first show since arriving on St. Thomas a few years ago. Her work reflects her Pueblo Santa Fe Indian heritage.
"My heritage shows up in my work," she said of the symbolic clay works, which bear meditative titles such as "Out There from In Here."
Lynn Berry said she was happy about the turnout.
"Saturday saw about 200, I think," she said. "It was up and down all day with the weather. Sometimes it was thin, and sometimes you could hardly move."
The Fall Arts Fair will take place Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 28 and 29.
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