For decades, Key West has been known as an island of the arts — and rightfully so, given the large and enthusiastic population of visual artists whose work enhances galleries around the island. That creative vibe is one of the elements I (and many others) love.

Art bicycles, including this one created by "Lady Outrageous," were among the unique offerings on display during the wonderful Art! Key West! (All photos by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

But recently the designation took on an even greater significance when the Art! Key West! festival celebrated creativity throughout the historic Old Town district.

With exuberance and style, the festival presented three days of arts events that rotated among the island’s multiple cultural districts.

It was a visual tapestry of gallery openings, performance art, graffiti walls, live music, theatrical stagings, poetry readings, projection displays and lots more.

In fact, there were so many events that it was impossible to attend them all — though some of us dyed-in-the-wool art lovers tried.

Artist Andy Thurber (center) demonstrates the technique of master folk artist Mario Sanchez at Key West's Gallery on Greene.

Some of my favorite events were Stone Soup Gallery’s “everything under $150” event (I drop in to Stone Soup, an enticing off-the-radar emporium, periodically to drool over the miniatures by William Welch), a pottery-making demonstration at the lovely new Rubies and Clay, a lively opening at the venerable yet contemporary Lucky Street Gallery, and a showcase of two-wheeled art (i.e. colorful bicycles painted by local artists including the one-of-a-kind Lady Outrageous) at Key West’s historic Audubon House.

Perhaps the most intriguing offering, though, was a demonstration that combined art and Key West’s intrinsic heritage at the incomparable Gallery on Greene.

Folk artist Andy Thurber paid homage to Mario Sanchez, the island’s late master of the genre, whose best-known works are painted woodcarvings depicting the Key West of his boyhood in the early 1900s.

Stig Lindow completes his portrait of Ernest Hemingway and his catch at Key West's inaugural ChalkFest.

Speaking of folk art, an event that took place in conjunction with Art! Key West! celebrated a creative tradition that dates back to 16th-century Italy.

The inaugural ChalkFest drew participants from around Florida to produce unique street art on the island’s Truman Waterfront.

The event was presented by Key West’s Art in Public Places board, and chalk artists were each assigned sections of the waterfront’s promenade to use as their palettes.

The results were flat-out wonderful.

For example, Sarasota–based multi-media artist Stig Lindow created a chalk portrait of Ernest Hemingway and a notable catch — positioned overlooking the Key West waters the legendary writer fished when he lived on the island throughout the 1930s.

Rick Worth's fantasy dragons emerged from the pavement to delight ChalkFest attendees.

The portrait took three days to create and earned a well-deserved second place at the festival.

Acclaimed local artist Rick Worth showed his talent in a fantasy scene with a twist. Vivid cartoon-like dragons (or maybe super-lizards) emerged from a cracked pavement, obviously ready for mischief, in his engaging chalk entry.

Rick, FYI, is well known for his public art — including a large-scale mural depicting a rooftop view of Key West’s historic Old Town that adorns a terminal at the island’s airport.

Top honors at ChalkFest went to this classic portrait by Sarasota artist Truman Adams.

Top honors at ChalkFest, however, went to Sarasota artist Truman Adams. His classic portrait combined cameo-like coolness and precision with a hint of tropical passion, and the result took many viewers’ breath away.

But then, those breathtaking moments tend to happen in Key West. Creativity and appreciative audiences serendipitously find each other, bringing a new richness to the finest art of them all — the art of exuberant living.

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