Custom House Museum showcases the art of Paul Arsenault



Key West Art & Historical Society presents the work of artist Paul Arsenault with a special opening reception on Feb. 22 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Bumpus Gallery at the Custom House Museum (281 Front St.). “Coastal Trade: Bounty, Booty, and Boats of the Gulf and Glades from Naples to Key West” is an exhibit of over 30 of Arsenault’s paintings that are a window into the pioneering days of southwest Florida’s maritime trading networks, presented along with artifacts from Arsenault’s personal collection and the Society’s archives.

“More than four decades ago, Paul Arsenault visited Key West and was impressed straightaway with what he refers to as the ‘elegant decay’ of the island,” says Society Curator Cori Convertito, Ph.D. “Capturing his memories on canvas, Paul epitomizes exactly what our organization is meant to do — blend both art and history to create a more comprehensive experience for our visitors.”

Arsenault is best known for his brightly colored images of scenes along the Florida coast, with paintings that celebrate “an intense, direct, uncomplicated beauty.” He has spent more than 40 years documenting his travels to ports across the world through his paintings, while also offering a glimpse into the past in a way that makes it seem like he was there. Arsenault was particularly drawn to Key West’s waterfront during his first visit to the island in 1973. Several of the pieces in the exhibition concentrate on buildings and classic schooners at the Key West Bight.

His painted stories reveal ships that caught and delivered fish or transferred merchandise and passengers, along with scenes of markets and general stores. Some will be recognizable memories for those who have called the island home for some time, like the “Bertie Lee,” a pirate ship-turned-floating home office for Mel Fisher in the 1970s. The Naples-based painter also includes Marco Island clam canneries, Naples and the Isle of Capri fish houses, Everglades trading posts used by pioneers and Seminole Indians and homesteads used by early growers whose produce was brought to market from deep within the Everglades.

The artist is widely recognized for his ability and passion for storytelling, and his history-centric captions accompany each painting.

“Much like Mario Sanchez, Paul’s creativeness is propelled by the history of a location as much as it is driven by the aesthetics,” says Convertito.

Arsenault and his wife Eileen run the Arsenault Studio & Banyan Arts Gallery in Naples and operate the Banyan Arts Social and Pleasure Club, a publishing division of Arsenault Studios inspired by the artists, writers, musicians and preservationists who have stayed at their artful compound over its nearly 100-year history.

“Coastal Trade: Bounty, Booty, and Boats of the Gulf and Glades from Naples to Key West” runs through April. For more information, contact curator Cori Convertito at or 305-295-6616, ext. 112. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island. ¦

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