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Monday, December 15, 2014

Folk Art of Barefoot Stanley at Fort East Martello Key West

As I was exploring Fort East Martello over by the airport, I was delighted to discover the collection of found-object metal sculptures Stanley Papio inside the citadel. The vast open room of the Civil War-era structure was the perfect spot for his large whimsical creations like Bowlegged Bride, which sports a wire-net veil and a brass ring on her finger. Her chrome slippers are made from auto bumper guards and breasts from bumpers. Papio was a local legend in Key Largo known as “Barefoot Stanley,” an eccentric character who never wore shoes — anywhere.

 Papio started his salvage and welding business at mile marker 101 along Highway U.S. 1 in Key Largo in 1949. He collected junk, including discarded metal appliances and cars. At the time, his property was relatively isolated, but soon nosy neighbors arrived. They took issue with having an "eyesore" in the neighborhood. Papio’s first major work, the 8-foot-tall Two-Faced Woman, was created from metal fence scrolls and tin scraps as a parody of a neighbor who was nice to his face but reported him to the county. He was ultimately arrested six times for violating zoning codes.

Art aficionados and tour buses soon started stopping by to visit his “gallery.” Admission: a quarter. His pieces were exhibited throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, but he refused to sell his sculptures. Instead he hoped to donate the entire collection to a museum. He got his wish after his death in 1982 when the Key West Art & Historical Society put the sculptures on permanent display at Fort East Martello. While it may be a little off the beaten path, Papio's collection is a must-see and captures the spirit of a true Keys character.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Seaplane adventure to the Dry Tortugas

As our plane from Key West Seaplane Adventures taxied down the runway at Key West International Airport, Lenny Kravitz started crooning through my heavy headphones, “I wish that I could fly/into the sky/so very high/just like a dragonfly.” It seemed the pilot, Johnny, had an appropriate playlist for the 40-minute flight to the Dry Tortugas — seven remote islands 70 miles to the west of the Florida Keys. With his bare feet and scruffy salt-and-pepper beard, he looked the part of a Keys native and summer Alaskan bush pilot. The sturdy 10-passenger De Havilland DHC-3 Otter aircraft was in the air so quickly that my heart was pounding in a combination of terror and excitement. Key West grew small, and the striped buoy planted at the Southernmost Point stood out like a beacon. One of the World Championship Powerboat Races was in progress below, and brightly-colored speed demons rocketed through the water at 125 mph with helicopters buzzing above.

Once at the cruising speed of 130 knots, Johnny banked to the east and west to show us points of interest like the shadowy outlines of shipwrecks, remnants of Rebecca Shoal Lighthouse and the curving mangroves of the Marquesas Islands. The sunlight shimmered on the water broken only by the shadows of towering clouds that seemed close enough to touch. The sea floor was a swirl of dynamic blues reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Nightwith turtles and stingrays gliding through. Soon the impressive red brick outline of Fort Jefferson — America’s largest 19th-century coastal fort — appeared on the horizon. The water landing was a bit bumpier than I anticipated, but we were quickly floating to the deserted white sandy beach for an afternoon of snorkeling and exploring.

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