Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Behind Bars

Brady of the blog Behind Bars asked me to write an essay for his page about my upcoming trip to Iowa to retrieve a 33 year old Vespa. I was happy to oblige as Brady not only writes beautifully but also has an innate understanding of what my plan is all about. I was honored he asked me to write for his page. He has a penchant for Hondas, preferably of course old ones. I have a penchant for old Vespas, especially if not too old. Hit the link and see why.

Key West Art And History Museum

I finally got around to checking out the Art and History Museum on Clinton Square. It's been a while since I was last in the old US Customs house and as always it was a pleasure to spend an hour wandering the venerable halls of the elderly building.

Outside as always we find the over sized statues preferred by Seward Johnson who enjoys reproducing well known two dimensional paintings in three dimensions. He has had a display of nudes dancing which I featured previously on this page so tough luck, I did not photograph them again. Johnson, heir to the talcum powder fortune, amuses himself rendering two dimensional paintings into three dimensions and doing them over sized frequently as well. a while back there was a great exhibit of famous paintings cast as sculptures. I'm not an art critic and I don't know if it was High Art but it was fun.

The museum is ideally placed to attract curious cruise ship passengers as they make their way towards the bars and knick knack shops on nearby Duval Street. At the moment the moneyed interests in Key West's business community are pushing hard to study widening the ship channel to accommodate the new generation of super large cruise ships, something that gets not much support from the moneyed retiree classes. The argument is that cruise ship passengers don't buy much as they have it all on the ship while clogging city streets. I was quite surprised by the number of visitors, in the dozens, in the museum, wearing colored cruise ship tags. I am sort of opposed to more ships but on the other hand Key West lacks any kind of unified vision of its future so worrying about a few thousand more temporary visitors swarming off the docks from time to time seems a bit, I don't know, capricious?

They sell a few books and knick knacks in the museum shop as well which might be an argument in favor of multiplying the number of such visitors but I suspect it's t shirt shops, tour operators, bars (including the ones owned by the portly city commissioner) and souvenir floggers that expect to profit. As far as I'm concerned what's happening in Europe is probably going to migrate over here and the more key West can insulate itself from economic Armageddon the better.

Or perhaps bigger cruise ships mean the city is selling it's historic heritage for a mess of potage. Beats me.

The building was abandoned in the sixties and was well on the way to falling apart, like most of downtown Key West. Gay visitors, attracted by the enormous Navy base saw the guest house potential and bought out the Conchs who built modern homes in New Town and left the ramshackle old town huts to the crazy outsiders. The smart ones held on, built and made fortunes, and some small portion of those fortunes spilled over into public works.

The restoration has been well done and the building is lovely, with or without the art.

I like wandering the corridors between exhibits as much as the rooms filled with the attractions.

My plan is to illustrate several of the exhibits on show over the next few days in separate essays now I've introduced the brick building that houses them.

Next door to the Westin Hotel near the waterfront you will find this big red brick building with the pointy roof, designed to slough off the snows of winter on the Canadian border (no, really!) built to one government design for Customs Houses. Inside you will find Key West laid bare. Not to visit would be a crime. Almost as bad as being undecided about what to do with the ship channel.

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