A lifetime of images and printing, a gift to the Caribbean Genealogy Library from the owners of St. Thomas Graphics, provides a wealth of information on the life and people of St. Thomas.
That trove of material was the subject of a presentation on Saturday introducing to the public the digitization and online availability of the St. Thomas Graphics Collection, provided by St. Thomas Graphics in 2007.
The library announced the newest addition to its online resources, which can be found here. It allows viewers access to portions of inventories, curated content, links to the scanned image archives, funeral booklets, business publications, event program booklets, government reports, maps, posters, brochures, marketing material, forms and recorded presentations from the period of 1970-2007.
Susan Lugo, founder and former president of the library, hosted the presentation, beginning with an overview of the history of printing and leading to the creation of St. Thomas Graphics by Richard “Dick” and Judy Pitzl.
Afterward, she allowed viewers to witness the testimonies of guest speakers Cathy O’Gara, Karl Callwood, Annice Canton, Glen “Kwabena” Davis and former Governor Charles W. Turnbull, who pre-recorded their anecdotes about their relation to St. Thomas Graphics and how the business impacted the St. Thomas community.
“Richard was a letterpress operator at a firm that produced wedding invitations. He then joined another printing business that was in the process of converting their operation from letterpress to the more modern offset method … He recognized that offset printing was the future,” Lugo said. “His plans then and later always included someday being a proprietor of his own printing business.”
After seeing an invitation in a newspaper from former Governor Melvin H. Evans inviting Americans to visit the Virgin Islands, the Pitzls decided to relocate. Mrs. Pitzl presented a formal letter of invitation to the Daily News and weeks later the couple was presented with an opportunity to work with the Daily News to assist in fixing their Fairchild Press machine. In July 1970, the Pitzls moved to the Virgin Islands and began working with the Daily News’ Caribbean Graphics in the Moravian Church’s building on the backstreet.
“In May 1973, the Pitzls, now a family of five [Richard, Judy and their children Steven, RoseAnn and Susan], made the difficult decision to go out on their own,” Lugo said.
They started St. Thomas Graphics on Norre Gade, right where Zora is located, before moving across the street from the Lionel Roberts Stadium.
O’Gara is a graphics art designer who has collaborated with St. Thomas Graphics during its operation.
“Dick and Judy Pitzl were a remarkable couple who were totally devoted to each other and to St. Thomas Graphics,” said O’Gara. “You could usually find somebody on the premises 24/7 and, in fact, I still have my key to the front door.”
O’Gara spoke about the intricacies surrounding printing during the time and the types of products St. Thomas Graphics produced.
“Now understand that in the days before cut and paste, before computers, creating printing and advertising graphics was just one step above blue-collar work. It was dirty, messy and involved working with sharp objects and toxic chemicals … It was dark inside St. Thomas Graphics. Everyone – owners and staff and many customers – were heavy smokers and the air was stink with the scent of tobacco,” O’Gara said.
Karl Callwood, a retired art director of St. Thomas Graphics and underwater photographer, spoke highly about the Pitzls’s love for hiring young people in the community and his experience securing employment there.
“I walked in there right after high school,” he said. “Dick and Judy were the kind of couple that engaged in their community. They not only provided opportunities for several of the young people in our community, but they set the standards for professionalism and served as an example for them,” said Lugo.
Callwood also spoke about the importance of politicians’ use of St. Thomas Graphics.
“They would sit down there with her [Judy Pitzl] for hours into the night going over their brochures and everything else.”
Davis spoke about the encouragement he received from Mrs. Pitzl. What started as his journey to print booklets for the Wilbur “Bill” LaMotta tribute led to Davis’s revitalization of the Virgin Islands Carnival booklets.
“In 1982, we noticed the Carnival Committee had stopped doing their booklets. So, I picked up the idea, ‘Well let me do a booklet that will be a little different,’” said Davis. He decided to create a booklet that included pictures from previous Carnivals and lyrics of calypso artists and started selling the booklets to generate funds for future calypso tents.
“Just her [Judy Pitzl] being such an encouraging force, she became a delight in my life when it came to publishing,” said Davis.
Canton is executive assistant to Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach and former executive director for the Virgin Islands Humanities Council. She and Steven Pitzl were friends while working at the Reichhold Center.
“Primarily I created the worksheets that contained the content of the work tickets … essentially little packets that had all of the elements that would be required to put together the templates.” She said the collection “reflected the rich and diverse atmosphere of St. Thomas at the time.”
“Imagine you are at CGL researching your family member at CGL. If it was printed at St. Thomas Graphics, there is a chance those work tickets are still there.”
Turnbull would visit St. Thomas Graphics about three to four times a month to discuss history and politics. He also shared his interest in funeral booklets that the business produced and expressed their importance.
“The funeral booklets, in particular, contain the history of the people in the Virgin Islands. Funeral booklets are a good research to Virgin Islands history. Many places don’t honor the people that passed away with booklets, mostly leaflets … For many people that’s the only biography they would have,” he said.
Turnbull also said that “prior to the 1960s I don’t think there were many booklets … but now we have made it an art here in the Virgin Islands.”
Callwood said that Richard Pitzl credited the rise in the need of funeral booklets to the passing of former Governor Cyril E. King and his embellished funeral booklet.
“By the time I got to St. Thomas Graphics, almost every night they started coming in,” Callwood said.
Lugo said the speakers’ anecdotes provided the background for the important work St. Thomas Graphics did.
“I want you to understand and appreciate the context of what STT Graphics managed to do,” said Lugo.
Judy Pitzl died in August 2003 and Richard Pitzl followed this April. St. Thomas Graphics closed its doors in 2007 and donated its resource collection to CGL. The project of digitizing the collection was funded by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
More information on the St. Thomas Graphics Collection can be found here.