I was given this marvelous opportunity to spend a month down in Key West, Florida, USA. Before too much time elapses, I wanted to share some of my favorite experiences with you.
Not having any real idea of what to expect, I ventured down to the Keys on March 16th. I had heard a lot about Duval Street and all of its craziness so I was anxious to check it out, and what better day than March 17th, St. Patrick's Day?. To say it was lively and alcohol induced would be an understatement, however I later learned that it wasn't exclusive to St. Patrick's Day. Bars lined the street from one end of the Island to the other, interspersed with good food, galleries and crazy crowds. Needless to say, the people watching was amazing, especially towards Mallory Square where the cruise ships dock. Every night they'd gather around to watch a variety of street performers swallow fire, play music, paint and generally entertain the public. It is a terrific place to watch the sunset with hundreds of your closest friends!
I loved that all I had to do was walk ten minutes away and I was in this peaceful oasis that I called home. The flowers and trees were in bloom and I was constantly bombarded by scents from all of the blossoms on the trees. My backyard was covered in flora making it the perfect destination for quiet respite. It was where I started my day with a cup of coffee surrounded by new friends and where I ended my day talking about how we spent another day in paradise.
When I wasn't out getting inspired by all of the beauty, I was spending quality time within my studio. It was a fabulous space filled with good light and plenty of room to work on multiple pieces at one time. Admittedly, it was a little rough to be indoors when the beach and all of the interesting places were calling me, but I really needed to create art for some commissions I'd gotten right before I left town.
One of my favorite people that I met down in Key West was my friend, Bree Ann. She was a walking encyclopedia of all things Keys and taught me a lot about all of the plant and animal life native (and not so native species) to that area. Bree spent every afternoon at the ocean collecting subjects for both her art, and mine. She is a wonderful artist and enjoys taking found objects and introducing them into her art. Bree Ann sent me home with a large box filled with goodies, it will continue to inspire me for years to come!
Part of being an Artist in Residence meant being invited to all sorts of wonderful events. The Studios of Key West housed three galleries within their space, in my estimation it is the best option for viewing quality art on the Island.
The Studios of Key West also has a theatre on the second floor where talented musicians and artists of all kinds perform. I was able to witness some powerful musical performances by Seth Glier and Catie Curtis, both new favorites of mine! Not only were they talented, they were also so darn sweet! Catie stayed in the upper level of my home with her tour manager Christa and I have to say, we had some pretty deep, meaningful conversations during the short time that they graced 'my' home. The night before I left I was able to watch/listen to a magical show, Key West Reverie, that took place at the Key West Garden Club at Fort West Martello Tower on the ocean. Directed by Wendy Taucher, it included guest artists from every discipline, musicians, dancers, singers, poets, and was amazing! Stan Spinola, who played the French Horn beautifully, also stayed with me for a few days. He was so much fun to be around! I wish that he lived next door so that we could catch up every morning. Stan plays the horn for the Miami City Ballet, the Philharmonic Symphonia in Boca Raton and in Austria during his summers. It was such a treat drawing in my studio and listening to Stan practicing upstairs on his horn.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the person that made it all possible for me to come down, Erin Stover Sickmen. Thank you Erin! And of course, my partner in crime, fellow artist in residence, Michele Van Maurik from Toronto, Canada. Michele was given the house next door and was filled with the same wonder. We would take two steps and say, oh wow, grab our phones and shoot a flower or a gecko that just passed our path. There was a cemetery down the block from us and we'd walk or ride our bikes and watch the iguanas slink around, popping their heads out of tombs and sneaking back in again. All of the graves are above ground due to sea level and the iguanas have made them their homes. They are prehistoric looking and so unlike anything you'd come across on a city street in Chicago.
We ate well, our favorite was 'bien', on Eaton and Frances, right nearby our place. People would wait in a long line just to get some of their Cuban/Caribbean food. We overheard one person saying that it would be their last meal, sort of agree!
There was a cast of characters that I met along the way, each one of them touched my heart. Craig Berube-Gray, a former Artist in Residence who moved down with his family to the Keys after his residency. He sculpts these large installations from every day life, like huge popsicles, etc. And Tory, our neighbor on one side, and all of the wonderful young men who lived in the house next door along with their little puppy Ruka and their beautiful cat, Burt Reynolds. Helen Harrison, a fabulous sculptress who lived/worked nearby, creating these stunning pieces all inspired by nature. And last but definitely not least, my friend, Gretchen Mills. Gretchen took my workshop offered by The Studios of Key West. She is a fabulous artist, (was a Marine Biologist at one time) and owns a Yoga Studio in Key West. From the minute that we met you could just tell that we were going to be fast friends. Gretchen is busy teaching her own workshop in India right now for a group of her yoga students.
I am home now, plugging away on a 20" x 20" Black Scratchboard, Keys Trees. It incorporates a few of the different trees that grow throughout Key West. Here is the inspiration and my work in progress.
I sincerely hope that all of you get the chance to visit this magical place.