Thursday, June 6, 2013

Key West Custom House: Art and History Museum

Mark here.  Want to hear about a place we should have checked out a long time ago? The Custom House, on the northwest corner of Key West, near Mallory Square, is definitely one of the most striking buildings on the island.  The 3-story, red brick structure is gorgeous and it's entrance is graced by a 40-foot sculpture of two ballroom dancers. Inside, it houses the Key West Art and History Museum.
Either before or after you go inside, take the time to walk around the outside of the building. The grounds are gleefully populated with a bunch of marvelous sculptures of people enjoying life.  The artist, Seward Johnson did a terrific job of capturing folks enjoying simple pleasures and some more formal or exotic ones, as well.  Many of the statures are positively lifelike. I'm not going to post pictures of the statues. I want you to have the full delight of seeing each one fresh.

The historical exhibits focus on the early days of Key West and the building of the Overseas Railroad. Building that railroad was a fantastic engineering feat and they have several displays that really show just how fantastic. They also have several great displays illustrating what life was like in the Lower Keys during the days of Hemingway and earlier. I think a lot of us are closet history buffs so I think that stuff is cool.

They also have several exhibits of artwork from local artists and, hands down, my favorite exhibits are the bas relief wood sculptures by Mario Sanchez.
He was the son of a cigar maker and a local folk artist who depicted everyday life on the island.  He worked outside under a tree using simple wood chisels and dime store brushes. For me, that adds to it's charm. I love their light-hearted tone and simplicity.

Mario based many of his characters on actual local folks and the museum does a nice job of sharing some of the back stories of the people in the works. If you look carefully, you'll notice many of these people as recurring subjects. You may also notice that the atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance in Key West goes back at least 100 years.  It's evident in many of his pieces.

We waited over a year to visit the Custom House but, once we got there, I was delighted. It's definitely worth the time.

No comments:

Post a Comment