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Stroll, Sip and Savor the Artistry of the Keys

Artists are drawn to the Florida Keys because of the island chain's deeply-hued, richly colorful natural scenery and an intensively creative spirit that infuses its culture.
FLORIDA KEYS - Artists are drawn to the Florida Keys because of the island chain's deeply-hued, richly colorful natural scenery and an intensively creative spirit that infuses its culture.

In the mid-1800s Key West was the wealthiest city per capita in the United States. In 1934, hit by America's Great Depression, Key West declared bankruptcy. To revitalize the island city, the Federal Emergency Relief and Works Progress Administrations lured artists down to create, beautifying the island town to lure tourists.

Today, art still flourishes throughout the island chain, delighting aficionados with unusual ways to savor the artistry of the Keys.

Seeking new or enticing art events, strolls or classes? Explore those here.

Prime among popular Florida Keys art strolls is Islamorada's Third Thursday Art Walk in the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. National and Keys-based artists are showcased in a six-block corridor at Morada Way between mile markers 81 and 82. The monthly event also blends culinary art from local eateries and performances by local musicians and entertainers. Stops include the Redbone and Pasta Pantaleo Signature galleries, each housing collections of Florida's offshore and inshore saltwater fishing art. Other venues include Portside Studio, Jessica Ann (whose artist-owner hosts frequent painting parties and classes), Keith Ousley, HOLA and Elena Madden galleries. The district is to co-host the Islamorada Seafood Festival & Art Show March 22. Visit moradaway.org or call 305-916-5521 or 305-664-2471.

In Marathon, Banana Bay Resort & Marina hosts a new event on the last Sunday afternoon of each month to showcase Keys art, crafts, jewelry and food. The Banana Bay Bazaar is scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. at The Pointe, the property's bayside sunset bar. Attractions include local art, wares, music, food trucks, drinks and free parking. Banana Bay Resort is located at mile marker 45.9 bayside, or 4590 Overseas Highway. Visit bhotelsandresorts.com/banana-bay/bazaar or call 305-743-3500.

Painting the Keys offers a new class Wednesday, Feb. 26, where students can paint the delicious Keys fish, the yellowtail. Held at the Big Pine Key Moose Lodge at 21 Wilder Road, the class features a "fun design that connects when placed with the body of one fish to the tail of the next fish." Created for the Friends of Bahia Honda organization, the class is taught by artist Jessica Ann Hessing of Key Largo. Prices are $35 to paint on canvas and $40 to paint on wood. Painting the Keys also offers activities such as paint nights, paint night in a box and private parties. Visit paintingthekeys.com or jessicaannart.com.

Stock Island's new Stock Island Arts District has launched Second Saturday Art Strolls scheduled 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April and featuring eclectic shops and working studios marked by bright pink "Arts District" banners. The district includes Collections Key West at Safe Harbor Marina, 6810 Front St.; Green Pineapple at The Perry Hotel Key West, 7001 Shrimp Road; the 16 artist studios of Stock Yard Studios, 6700 4th Ave.; The Studios at Stock Island Marina Village and Ship's Store, 7005 Shrimp Road; and Washed Up Studios, 6475 2nd St. In addition, a 5,000-square-foot The Art Shack compound at 6404 Front St. is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with shipping container workshops housing six resident artists and a gallery showcasing 19 local artists in various disciplines. Visit ILoveStockIsland.org or call 305-731-3385.

Key West Art Center, celebrating its 60th anniversary as the island's oldest art gallery, offers a "Sip and Create" series of classes guided by experienced art instructors. Classes are taught in various mediums and students can embrace creative pursuits such as painting a buoy, making a resin bracelet­ or weaving a pine needle basket. Evening classes are scheduled Feb. 6 and 27, March 5 and April 2 and 23. Materials are provided. The historic wooden building housing the center was built in the 1850s as a grocery store, damaged in a fire in 1886 and subsequently rebuilt. Standing at 301 Front St., the building is believed to be the first federal Public Works Administration Art Project in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to center staff. Visit keywestartcenter.com or call 305-294-1241.

Key West galleries, boutiques and eateries in the area known as "The Fabulous 500 Block of Fleming Street" have kicked off a monthly First Fridays on Fleming block party. The next First Fridays are scheduled Feb. 7, March 6 and April 3 from 6-9 p.m. with events such as art openings, jewelry trunk shows, book signings, tastings and libations. Participants include Amanda Johnson Fine Art, Key West Local Luxe Jewelry, La Rubia Authentic Panama Hats, Key West Island Books, Sea Store Antiques, Assortments Menswear, Island Antiques, Duck & Dolphin Antiques, Jean Pierre Klifa Resort Wear and food venues Clemente's Trolley Pizzaria, La Petite Grignote French Bakery and Thirsty Mermaid Seafood. Visit ShopLocalKeyWest.com or call 305-304-9001.

Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Florida Keys cultural information: www.fla-keys.com/culture/
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