Key West is an artist’s utopia. Vibrant colors, stunning landscapes, dynamic wildlife and a culture that embraces art in all its incarnations are just a few of the infinite reasons why creators of all types flock to the island seeking inspiration. And though you can hardly walk a block down Duval Street without stumbling over an artisan peddling his crafts streetside, there are also more than a few formal galleries curated to please even the most discerning of collectors. So without further introductory jabbering, we present the Florida Weekly Key West Gallery Guide. And before you ask, they are all very well air-conditioned.
7 Artists & Friends
The combination of a supportive arts community and inspirational tropical setting combine to make Key West ideal for nurturing creativity. 7 Artists & Friends (213 Simonton St.; 305-294-8444) began as a co-operative art gallery run by seven of the island’s most respected artists, each highly accomplished in their specific medium. Over time the gallery grew in popularity, prompting a move to a new location and the addition of new artists and friends as well. Today, 7 Artists represents many of Key West’s favorite artists, including Martha de Poo, Pam Hobbs, David Scott Meier, Tony Scullin, Noelle Rose, Karen Beauprie, Mary O’Shea and local jewelry designer Jennifer Badry of Mango Season Jewelry Designs. Photo realism, sculpture, jewelry, abstract, watercolor, photography, whimsy and glass — this gallery has it all.
Alan S. Maltz Gallery
For Alan Maltz, “a camera is as much an artist’s tool as a painter’s palette, potter’s wheel, or a sculptor’s chisel.” At the Alan S. Maltz Gallery (1210 Duval St.; 305-294-0005), Maltz — who has been designated the “Official Wildlife and Fine Art Photographer for the State of Florida” by Visit Florida and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida — has been selling his stunning photographs for nearly 20 years. A fixture at the gallery, Maltz is passionate about the natural beauty that surrounds us, which is reflected in the subject matter he chooses to portray. “As an artist, I want to share a poetic interpretation of the beauty and mystique that surrounds us,” he says. “In presenting the familiar at the most ideal, I reveal the fanciful as everyday occurrence. At best, I think my images open a door of perception that leads the viewer to see the world with new eyes.”
Collections, Key West Gallery
The ambiance of Collections, Key West Gallery is enhanced by its location on the salty edge of Stock Island’s working waterfront. To find the gallery, walk down the dock from the Hogfish Bar & Grill, with sailboats on your right and shrimp boats on the far side, you’ll find Collections Gallery within the double red doors and up the stairs. Open by appointment; just give a call. (6810 Front St., Stock Island. 305-923-4778 or www.CollectionsKeyWest.com.)
De La Gallery
The peaceful De La Gallery (419 Duval St.; 305-395-2210) is an artistic oasis in the middle of bustling Duval Street. Showcasing the photography of Jorge de la Torriente and the masterful framing of Jeffrey Rodriguez, De La Gallery’s offerings are geared toward both new and seasoned collectors of one-of-a-kind, museum-quality, large format fine photography with emotional resonance. Through Mr. de la Torriente’s camera lens, coastal and seaside landscapes of Florida and the Caribbean are truly transformed into works of art. Whether your taste skews toward panoramics, aerials, seascapes or soothing black and whites, De La Gallery has something for your particular photographic palate. And because Mr. de la Torriente runs the gallery himself, collectors get a highly customized buying experience directly from the artist.
A bright flash of color on the Key West gallery scene, Effusion Gallery (701 Duval St.; 305-735-4345) infuses the vibrant world of Pop Art with a cool, tropical vibe. Featuring more than 60 artists, Effusion celebrates Key West’s rich flavor of color, whimsy and eclectic culture in a fresh, new way.
Gallery on Greene
Under the helm of the visionary Nance Frank, the Gallery on Greene (606 Greene St.; 305-304-2323) is perhaps the most highly curated, stylistically diverse gallery in Key West. A true innovator in her own right, Ms. Frank had the incredible foresight to mine Cuba’s vibrant art scene as a means to connect Key West’s deep Cuban tradition to its roots before Cuban tourism was even possible, let alone trendy, for American citizens. Perhaps the most lasting mark that Ms. Frank has imprinted on Key West’s art history is her passion for self-taught Cuban-American folk artist Mario Sanchez, a man who has been called the most important 20th century artist of his kind. The bulk of Mr. Sanchez’s pieces are bas relief wood intaglios, typically depicting vibrantly colored scenes of everyday life in Key West and rendering immortal the Cuban cultural heritage of Key West in the early 20th century. The Gallery on Greene is deeply committed to representing the distinctive Key West artistic style, packed wall to wall with pieces from “some of the most talented artists within 100 miles, like Peter Vey, Mario Sanchez, Suzie DePoo, Jeff Mac- Nelly and many artists from Cuba,” Frank says.
Gingerbread Square Gallery
On the upper end of Duval Street, amid the tropical foliage and quaint historical buildings, sits Gingerbread Square Gallery (1207 Duval St.; 305-296-8900), Key West’s oldest and most respected private art gallery, founded in 1974 by Key West’s former beloved mayor, Richard Heyman. Having exhibited the works of such greats as Van Eno, Tennessee Williams and Henry Faulkner, it continues to impress art aficionados with a selection that rivals the caliber and diversity of a major metropolitan gallery.
Today, Gingerbread Square exhibits a variety of original paintings, limited edition prints, sculpture and art glass by both local and internationally acclaimed artists. The gallery currently represents a number of artists whose styles reflect the island’s tropical and multicultural flavors. Among these is Key West’s native son and one of favorite artists, Sal Salinero. His lush rainforest paintings, detailed depictions of a verdant paradise, have been internationally recognized and his work is found in some of the loveliest homes on the island.
Guild Hall Gallery
Located in the middle of Duval Street’s busiest blocks, Guild Hall Gallery (614 Duval St.; 305-296-6076)) was established in 1976 as a co-op for 27 artists. It is the second oldest art gallery on Duval and exists today in its original location right in the heart of downtown Key West. Guild Hall, staying true to its original dream, provides affordable spaces for local artists to display their work and expand their creative potential. And because works from artists of all types are on display, the gallery features works of many media including stained glass, watercolor painting and sculpture. Guild Hall is open every day from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and offers shoppers an authentic piece of Key West to take home.
After over 30 years in Key West’s gallery scene, Harrison Gallery (825 White St.; 305-294-0609) has become a local institution known as much for its über-creative proprietors, Helen and Ben Harrison, as for the eclectic contemporary works of art exhibited inside its walls. Both Harrisons are renaissance artists in their own right — Helen sculpts in a variety of media, while Ben writes and performs both music and literature. They run their airy, well-lit space on White Street as a gallery/ studio — Helen can often be found out back, working on one of her modernist sculptures, while Ben pens his latest novel or album nearby. Both deeply prolific artists, they have nevertheless found time to curate shows for over 130 artists over the course of their long career in Key West.
One of the newest additions to Key West gallery’s scene, Jag (1075 Duval St., Space C23; 305-294-0609) represents many of Key West’s most relevant and celebrated contemporary artists. Among Key West’s more seasoned galleries, Jag is like a super cool younger sibling who somehow has clout and cred way beyond her years. Jag’s roster of artists includes some of the most heavy-hitting names in Key West art — John Martini, Carol Munder, Susan Sugar, Letty Nowak, Rick Worth — but the gallery itself has none of the pretention you would expect from such an elite collection. The artistic mix is contemporary and eclectic, a perfect reflection of the island.
Key West Art Center & Gallery
The Key West Art Center & Gallery (301 Front St.; 305-294-1241), officially the island’s oldest art collective, was founded in 1960 by former Works Progress Administration artists from the Roosevelt Administration, who were sent to Key West to paint and illustrate the island in the 1930s in order to seduce people to come down as tourists and revive the failing economy of Key West. The city of Key West let the artists use the present building to do their work and once their work ended, the building became a full-time gallery space.
Today, the Key West Art Center is a place for local artists to display their work, come together to work on art-related projects and teach and take classes to expand art education in the community. All exhibiting member artists at the Art Center must be Florida residents, making the gallery the only one in town with that requirement, and the gallery houses works from a number of Key West artists, including watercolor plein air painter Karen Beauprie, encaustic artist Susann D’Antonio and fabric and fiber artist Margo Ellis.
Key West Pottery
If you’re looking for a hyper authentic artistic experience that puts the consumer in direct contact with the creator, Key West Pottery (1203 Duval St.; 305-900-8303) will tick all of the boxes on your wish list. Owned by the dynamic husband-and-wife duo of Kelly Lever and Adam Russell, Key West Pottery is a working pottery studio slash art gallery that is dedicated to showcasing the meaningful connection between man and nature.
“The special thing about Key West Pottery is that we are a working studio nestled inside the fine art gallery experience,” explains co-owner Russell. “There’s been a turn toward this kind of self-representation for artists over the last number of years — maybe as a reaction to the rapidly changing marketplace, or maybe it’s actually a step back toward something more traditional. Either way, we have had a lot of success because we can show people the magic of creating something from nothing, not just as an artifact of some hidden studio — it’s happening right here in front of you. Ultimately, it’s probably more work to do it this way, but we’ve had the good fortune of becoming well-known for it and we have fallen in love with this business model at the same time.
“After a recent expansion, our view of the future is pretty optimistic. We’re hoping to continue expanding in not only physical size but in breadth of the materials, artists and cities we work with as well. There are lots of good things ahead for Key West Pottery and the Key West creative community in general!”
Salt Island Provisions
In the interest of full disclosure, your Jill-of-all-trades local journalist (i.e. the author of this very article about Key West’s gallery scene) is the owner of Salt Island Provisions (830 Fleming St.; 305-817-6055), a precious boutique-cumgallery with an obsessive focus on celebrating local artists and artisans. Unlike many of the other galleries featured in this piece, Salt rotates exhibits on a monthly basis, which allows maximum exposure for as many local artists as possible over the course of a year. Exhibits also vary in medium and genre from month to month, featuring everything from abstract oil paintings to underwater photography to mixed-media sculptures.
Shade Ceramics & Shutter Photography
Shade Ceramics & Shutter Photography (1102 White St.; 305-767-3769) highlights locally crafted ceramics by Mark Klammer and vibrant nature photography by Sarah Carleton. The gallery itself is a serene showroom as well as a working ceramics studio where Klammer creates his pieces before your eyes — a space that is simultaneously sleek and modern yet still somehow rustic and welcoming. Carleton’s photographs feature the quiet beauty of Key West, especially the natural stillness within Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The large-format photographs are printed on aluminum, giving them a depth and radiance, as well as a modern look.
“I think what we offer at Shade & Shutter is a different way of looking at things,” Carleton says. “For example, when people look at my photographs, they usually say, ‘I think that’s Fort Zach, but this image is different from the way I see it.’ And Mark is focused on creating modern and functional ceramics, which is different from other potters who offer pieces that are purely decorative. I think Mark’s and my work go together well. We adhere to similar color palettes and I try to make my photos about one thing — something really simple. And Mark’s designs are always really clean and simple as well.”
Stone Soup Gallery & Frame Shop
Now in its 19th year, Stone Soup Gallery (802 White St.; 305-296-2080) has become a one-stop-shop for people looking to fill their lives with beautiful artwork at reasonable prices. Owner Melissa Trader is committed to showing one-of-a-kind art she is passionate about, presented in a space that is as comfortable and unpretentious as your living room. In addition to featuring artwork by local artists like Amanda Johnson, J.H. Allen, Will Fernandez and Chuck Seamen, Stone Soup also has an extensive framing, canvas stretching and fine art printing outfit. Though, like most Key West spaces, her physical gallery and workshop are small, Ms. Trader has managed to grow her business to enormous proportions — partly because she keeps the artwork as affordable as she can in the competitive Key West market.
A working studio and gallery for Key West oil and acrylic artist Chris Ferrer, Truman ArtSpace (1012 Truman Ave. #101; 415-416-2631) exploded onto the Key West landscape in 2020. As a self-taught artist, Ferrer began exploring “the Classics” early in his creative career, re-creating them in what would be his own version of an “Introduction to Art and Theory.” In essence, Ferrer learned about technique, color and voice at the hands of the masters and, through this process, he found his own voice on the canvas and uses that voice proudly to bring light to life with color, texture and passion.
After moving from San Francisco to Key West in 2016, Ferrer quickly became known for his vibrant oil paintings celebrating island life in the Florida Keys. Ferrer builds his paintings with layer upon layer of brush oil paint, which results in an organic, sculpturelike quality unattainable using palette knives. His use of bold colors creates striking images that capture the eye.
So much of what the average visitor associates with Key West is ephemeral — frozen drinks melting in the blazing summer heat, breathtaking sunsets disappearing nightly below the horizon, Fantasy Fest body paint dissolving on a rainy day … OK, so maybe that last one isn’t as pleasant to imagine as the first two, but at least the image is fleeting. And though the most you can hope to retain of that daiquiri at dusk is a beautiful memory (depending on how many daiquiris you’ve had, that is), any one of the art galleries mentioned above would be more than happy to ensure that you go home with more than just a hangover and a sunburn. ¦