2017-05-04 / Top News


Florida Weekly Correspondent

2016 Parade participants gather at the Custom House. 2016 Parade participants gather at the Custom House. RISING JUST UNDER 100 FEET above sea level, Key West’s biggest pile of trash is hardly recognizable as such. The grass-covered landfill has remained dormant (not counting the barrels of methane it gasses out into the atmosphere each day) since a fancy incinerator installed nearby in the late 1980s put an end to the traditional dump.

Since then, the scrubby garbage hill, jokingly dubbed “Mt. Trashmore,” has served Key West as a humorous location for sponsored hikes, as well as a canvas on which local artists occasionally stage large-scale paintings of rainbows and American flags. It’s the tallest example of the Keys’ commitment to turning trash into treasure, but certainly not the most prolific. That honor goes to one Stanley “Barefoot” Papio, a prolific Keys artist best remembered for the vast number of sculptures he built out of donated and salvaged metal.

Sculptor Stanley Papio in Key Largo, 1977. The parade is named after him. Sculptor Stanley Papio in Key Largo, 1977. The parade is named after him. After a successful debut last year, the Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade has returned to inspire artists across the island to follow in the footsteps of the rebel sculptor. His refusal to conform to society’s ideas regarding art and social norms, paired with a legacy of interactive, whimsical sculptures, inspired the Key West Art & Historical Society to mount a kinetic parade in his honor. The parade was conceived in coordination with KWAHS’ taking over ownership of Papio’s sculpture collection, the bulk of which is now installed at historic Fort East Martello. Last year’s Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade kicked off with a bang, or rather, with a series of creaking gears, cogs, and cheers, when over 30 human-powered sculptures made their way down Duval Street. Many participants incorporated Key West’s favorite mode of transportation, incorporating bicycles into a series of fantastical floats, including a winking whale, a 15-foot-long time machine, a pelican towing a school of minnows and a majestic eagle ray powered by three bicycle-riding remora.

2016 parade participants show their creations as they walk down Duval Street. 
TODD ANDREW FEIT / COURTESY PHOTO 2016 parade participants show their creations as they walk down Duval Street. TODD ANDREW FEIT / COURTESY PHOTO After such a creative inaugural performance, expectations for this year’s parade are running high. Local artists are calling out across social media for help to amass recycled materials to pay homage to Papio’s thrifty style. And as Key West’s various masquerades and festivals continue to skew toward the adult end of things, the Papio parade stands out as one of the few truly family-friendly events in Key West that encourage artistic creativity and collaborative engineering — a far cry from the perfunctory bounce house and face painting set-up at most events.

The parade on Duval Street passes by the iconic Sloppy Joes Bar. 
COURTESY PHOTO The parade on Duval Street passes by the iconic Sloppy Joes Bar. COURTESY PHOTO “The Key West Art & Historical Society is thrilled to host the second annual Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade,” says Executive Director Michael Gieda. “This family-friendly parade is a perfect way to celebrate the creative and rebellious spirit of legendary Florida Keys folk artist Stanley Papio.”

Mr. Papio, who died in 1982, is remembered for being as prolific an artist as he was divisive as a neighbor. After completing his service as a welder during World War II, Mr. Papio returned to the United States and chose to settle down in Key Largo. He purchased a small plot of land, where he promptly opened his own welding shop and began to build a name for himself as an in-demand tradesman. Never one to see good material go to waste, he encouraged people passing by his property to drop off their junk metal — old cars, broken dishwashers, rain gutters, bits of wire — anything that he could take apart and re-weld. For many years, Mr. Papio remained blissfully alone with his mountains of scrap, until encroaching developments brought neighbors close enough to take notice of his unusual yard decor. His new neighbors were less than enthusiastic; they viewed Mr. Papio’s property as blight on the increasingly upscale landscape and they demanded he remove the junk from his yard. When he refused to comply, they had him repeatedly arrested for code violations.

Hours of work go into creating these beautiful moving kinetic sculptures. 
COURTESY PHOTO Hours of work go into creating these beautiful moving kinetic sculptures. COURTESY PHOTO Mr. Papio, who in his youth enjoyed amateur careers in boxing and wrestling, was not one to bow down in the face of a fight. He ignored the increasingly adamant demands of his neighbors and local code enforcement officers and, instead, began to repurpose the various mounds of scrap into fantastical works of art. Old cars and twisted lumps of rebar were reborn as enormous, satirical sculptures. A self-taught artist, his whimsical designs quickly improved and over time became politicized, as he was relentlessly harassed to discontinue his work. Anthropomorphized car hoods and refrigerator bodies with titles such as “Local Hassles No. 1” and “Greedy Grit the Contractor” were placed prominently at his property’s roadside, drawing the eyes of both his detractors and new fans.

In time, like so many great rebel artists before him, the increasing levels of ire that Mr. Papio’s work provoked were responsible for a growing community of artistic supporters who appreciated the works Mr. Papio continued to display in his newly rechristened Stanley’s Art Museum. A 25-cent admission fee gave visitors entry to what had become a bona fide roadside attraction, with local travel tours adding his museum to their itineraries not long after.

Museums and private collectors came calling, and Mr. Papio began to exhibit his work outside the junkyard, including a European tour in 1981 as part of the U.S. State Department’s exhibition “America Now.” Mr. Papio’s name was recorded in encyclopedias of native and folk art, and offers to buy his sculptures climbed into the thousands. At the height of his career, Mr. Papio began plans for a nationwide tour — until, at the age of 67, a sudden heart attack cut his blooming career short.

After his untimely death, Mr. Papio’s family decided to donate his work to the Key West Art & Historical society, which has now installed more than 100 pieces at the East Martello Museum here in Key West. It is in memory of this iconic Keys artist’s wacky and wonderful career that the inaugural Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade was created. He was a lover and defender of art that seeks to amuse, inspire, and stand up to those who might deem it otherwise lowbrow. His legacy will live on in the inevitably eccentric entries to this year’s parade.

Kinetic sculptures are, for those unfamiliar with the art form, human-powered art that moves. Forget the pickup truck-pulled floats of Fantasy Fest. A kinetic sculpture is built around bikes, wheeled platforms, hand-pedaled cruisers or any other kind of people-powered base. These ingenious creations mix wheels with whimsy, and with kinetic parades being staged year-round across the globe, it’s clear that they’re a guaranteed good time. Parade themes and rules vary from place to place; some even specify that the sculptures be amphibious, or attempt (and rarely succeed, to great amusement) to become airborne. Unicycles, bicycles, tricycles, quadricycles, skateboards, little red wagons — the list of possible sculpture bases goes on and on, making it easy for people to cobble together a sculpture without spending a fortune. For those feeling especially ambitious, the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championships are held each year in central Maryland, where participants’ kinetic sculptures must traverse 14 miles of pavement, sand, mud and the water of Chesapeake Bay. Thankfully, the Key West kinetic parade’s 1.5-mile road trek is far less strenuous, and the requirements for participating floats mercifully loose. There are no thematic mandates or minimum speed one must achieve while parading down Duval. The only prerequisites are that each float or art bike be human-powered, and be roughly no taller than 11 feet. There are no limits on the number of team members who may participate. The establishment of separate categories for either art bicycles or kinetic sculptures is sure to produce a wide variety of work, including rumored double-decker and four-wheeled creations from a few local artists known to impress.

On Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m., sculptors both amateur and advanced will gather at the Key West Custom House to push, pedal or otherwise propel their art down Duval Street, at the end of which the parade will conclude with an awards ceremony celebrating the best of the bunch. The KWAHS will also host a lecture on Papio’s legacy and an all-ages party on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m., during which those who haven’t already can pre-register for Saturday’s parade. Those who aren’t interested in submitting an art bike or kinetic sculpture can also sign up to volunteer for the event. ¦

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