National Geographic : 1968 Jan
To accommodate even the smaller jets at the existing airport, a hillside was sliced away at one end of the only runway and dumped into the sea at the other. Local boosters worry that St. Croix, with its flat industrial sites and a new airport that can handle the largest jets, may outstrip St. Thomas. But relief is in sight. The Federal Aviation Agency is studying proposals to give St. Thomas a jetport capa ble of handling present and future giants by leveling a 200-foot-high ridge. One level area has already become avail able for development into an industrial park because of the recent deactivation of the U. S. Navy's submarine base. Governor Paiewon sky hopes manufacturers will be attracted by a combination of climate and tax-incentive schemes-factors which sparked the econom ic upsurge in neighboring Puerto Rico. Bold Patterns Born in an Old Cow Barn Civic planners will inevitably bring in big ger industries, but I doubt that any will be more picturesque than the one-man industry I came across on a former dairy farm. English born Jim Tillett lives with his family next to his workshop, where he produces and sells articles not only beautiful but useful (page 75). "I apprenticed myself to my father, who was a silk-screen printer," he said as he hand printed a 25-yard length of cloth pinned to a table in an old cow barn. The design he had created stemmed from mysterious petroglyphs on St. John. When he finished I would get a cutting, from which his wife Rhoda would make me a shirt. Color has been Jim Tillett's lifetime pre occupation. A search for brilliant sunshine and bold natural patterns took him from the fog of his native London to Tahiti and Mexico, before he settled in St. Thomas's Tutu village. While he worked, I asked him to explain his paintings, which hung all about the studio. He pointed to one. " 'No man is an island,' " he said, quoting 17th-century poet John Donne, "and even here when 'the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.' In that picture of New York being destroyed by an atomic bomb, you see the blast reflected in my eyes. Those waves of fire passing through me mean that I'm not just looking from afar-I'm in it." Jim Tillett is not lulled by tropic languor. He hand-prints 20,000 yards of fabric a year, paints, makes precisely detailed maps on cloth, and teaches. As I watched him work, I was reminded of a Renaissance artist-crafts man who had stepped out of an old portrait, pausing only to change from brocaded velvet to paint-smeared cotton. Although the rugged contours of St. Thomas present a problem to commercial development, they are ideal for home-seekers, and today it is the U. S. Virgins' most populous island, Sands of tradition floor Charlotte Amalie's synagogue. For cleanliness, Jews once car peted their places of worship with the easily disposable substance, and the practice con tinues here today. European Jews came to St. Thomas with the first settlers in 1665, a year before Denmark claimed the island.