15 April 2021
Many visitors to the Florida Keys are awed by the sky-and-seascapes that unroll toward the horizon like a series of ever-changing paintings. And throughout the island chain, these nature-created vistas are complemented by open-air works by artists, ranging from vivid ocean murals to thought-provoking large-scale sculptures.
 
Many are part of the 81-mile Florida Keys Sculpture Trail that extends from Islamorada to Key West. Placed at locations along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway — the only road stretching the length of the island chain — the sculptures are easily viewable by people traveling around the Keys. 
 
The public art trail was the vision of Key West philanthropists John Padget and the late Jacob Dekker, who gifted the sculptures to the Keys community. Its most recent additions are a massive sundial-inspired piece titled “Wavehenge,” installed at Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park; “Gaea,” named for the mythological Greek goddess, at Mote Marine Laboratory near mile marker 24 on Summerland Key; and “Moiré 3,” a shell-like steel mesh construction at Big Pine Key Community Park.
 
Other examples of open-air artistry celebrate the vibrant marine environment that defines the Florida Keys.
 
For example, visitors to Key Largo might spot a 7,500-square-foot mural that portrays inhabitants of the island chain’s living coral reef. It was painted by renowned artist and Upper Keys resident Wyland, who also created supersized murals in Marathon and Key West’s Historic Seaport.
 
Islamorada’s “gallery” of outdoor canvases includes “Dolphin Rodeo,” a giant mural by sea life artist David Dunleavy on the sides of two metal boat storage barns. And the exterior of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum bears a colorful undersea mural by Dunleavy and marine wildlife master Guy Harvey.
 
Also in the Upper Keys stands an outdoor mural commemorating the 1912 completion of Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, whose bridges later formed the base for the Overseas Highway. The dramatic 60-foot-long artwork, painted by members of the Purple Isles Art Guild and Keys student artists, depicts a train steaming across an arched bridge.
 
On Stock Island, Bernstein Park and its sports fields provide a sizeable “canvas” for public artists. Among the most notable installations is the whimsical glass and ceramic mosaic by Stephanie Jaffe that depicts sea creatures playing sports.
 
In Key West, artistry can be found in unexpected locations from botanical gardens to pocket parks. Unique creations include a flirty life-size figure of Marilyn Monroe outside Tropic Cinema, crafted by the late American sculptor and part-time Key West resident Seward Johnson, and Debra Yates’ color-block tile mosaic on the seawall at popular Smathers Beach.
 
Perhaps the Keys’ most touching piece of open-air art is the “Cris Sandifer Easel” by Islamorada sculptor Dwayne King, standing outside Key Largo’s Murray Nelson Government & Cultural Center. A memorial to the late Sandifer, an artist who was passionate about promoting art for public enjoyment, the life-size sculpted bronze easel is also a usable workspace for other creative spirits.
 
For more information about Florida Keys art and cultural offerings, visit fla-keys.com/arts-culture/ or keysarts.com.
 
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