Key West is lovely on it’s own, but when you add in the art galleries, the architecture and the statues it just takes it up a notch or two. At our hotel, The Reaches, a Wyndham Astoria Resort, we got our first look at sculpture in Key West with Seward Johnson’s life sized sculpture, “The Fourth Hand” where a group of three are sitting playing poker. I almost felt obligated to sit and be the fourth player!
Johnson began as his career as a painter then changed his focus to sculpture in 1968. His works are found all throughout Key West. We especially noted several sculptures around the former Custom House, now an art museum. The most noticeable sculpture outside the Custom House is one titled Embracing Peace (formerly titled Unconditional Surrender), and it reflects the kiss, the moment in Times Square when the sailor and nurse spontaneously rejoiced in celebration at the conclusion of World War II.
Most of Johnson’s sculptures have a Norman Rockwell appeal of people doing everyday things, celebrating everyday life. There is the “Yum Yum”, “Wharf Rat”, “A Memorable Date”, “Pondering the Benefits of Exercise” and more! What is so wonderful is that these sculptures are in public places where everyone can enjoy them.
While these statues reflect the joy of everyday life, Key West also has several kitschy art popups like the lobster where a tourist can have his or her face on the lobster body with claws extended. Tourism photos dot the landscape here and there.
In Mallory Square, there is a sculpture garden with a lovely bronze depicting the ship wreck and salvage. There are busts of people who made an impact on Key West and a military tableau near the ocean. One of the most touching things we saw is a boat that is on display were a group of Cuban refugees rode in this run down contraption across the ocean to find freedom in the US. There is a lot of history between Cuba and Key West and I think we just touched the surface.
At the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States, there is a sculpture of a huge buoy that people stand in line to have their photos taken at. While in line, we met a man that had a Tom Petty T-shirt on. He had been a stage hand for the iconic band and said he had met them all. His favorite encounter with a celebrity was Katherine Hepburn who offered him a shot of whiskey after he helped her carry in items from her car.
Not far from the buoy is another Seward Johnson sculpture of a conch blower. The conch shell represent so much of the island. This sea food, which we learned was one residents used because it didn’t have to be imported in and was local and plentiful, shows up in a million different recipes at diners all over. The lovely shell can even be used to create a music all its own. In fact, there is even a Conch Blower contest each year on the island. If we could have got one of the shells home without damage we would have brought one back to be a coffee table trophy.
The sign along A1A with the zero mile marker is also a big picture taking photo op representing the beginning, or end of this coastal roadway that goes all the way to Maine. My favorite scene near here was a couple on a Harley taking their photo. If my husband would have not moved me along I would have loved to hear their story, where they came from etc.
Sand art was also popular outside out hotel and the sister property the Casa Marina.
Vehicles also represent art. My husband was enthralled with a truck with fishing gear that sets out as a décor of a local business. We also spied an amazing van that was stenciled and lovely while a truck covered with shell art was not quite as lovely, but eye catching.
Art work is used to advertise businesses and recall famous figures from the past.
Architecture like the Tiffany glass ceiling on the porch of Southernmost House in Key West lifts the eyes and offers appreciative glimpses. I saw brass gates, pineapple shaped cornices on fences, stained glass windows and gingerbread trim. Balcony’s, patios and pool side views with flourishes added giving the laid back, yet elegant, vibe of this beautiful place.
Art is a beautiful thing and it only enhanced the natural beauty of Key West!