Connections Project Florida Keys artists' mosiac mural
  • Creativity flourishes in the Florida Keys, as shown by the hundreds of small canvases crafted by Keys artists for "The Connections Project: A Mosaic of the Keys." The annual mural initiative is spearheaded by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts.

     

  • By: Carol Shaughnessy
  • April 15, 2020

In today’s world of coronavirus concerns, stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, it’s not possible to visit the Florida Keys in person. In fact, the island chain’s borders are temporarily closed to visitors. But while travel and socialization are largely at a standstill, one aspect of island residents’ lives continues to thrive: their innate creativity.

Florida Keys jewelry designer

Keys resident Karen Moore specializes in handcrafted “ZEN” gemstone jewelry with inspirational meaning.

Actually, creativity is characteristic of the Florida Keys pretty much ALL the time — maybe because the local lifestyle is generally free of the pressures felt by those in larger, faster-paced locales.

Distances are short in the Keys, so a trip to the grocery store might involve 10 minutes biking down a narrow palm-lined lane. Attire is comfortable and typically casual, without competition to see who can snap up the latest style. And since most Keys residents’ minds aren’t cluttered with routine day-to-day stresses, there’s head space for extraordinary creativity to blossom.

The relatively simple logistics of living also allow the time for creativity. It’s possible to explore, experiment and ponder concepts, techniques and ingredients for developing everything from the perfect hot pepper sauce to handcrafted pendants made of precious metal clay.

The Florida Keys are home to artisan sandal makers, jewelry designers who work with gemstones and sea glass, brewers of island-inspired beers and distillers of wickedly potent spirits.

Captain Randy Towe Florida Keys fishing rods

Captain Randy Towe wraps a guide on one of his custom rods that he manufactures in the Florida Keys. A Keys resident since 1983, Towe crafts top-quality rods from fly to heavy offshore gear. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

There’s an angling aficionado who crafts heirloom-quality fishing rods, people who ink and print actual fish using the ancient Japanese art of gyotaku, and a woodworker/sculptor who makes custom furniture pieces from local hardwoods such as wild tamarind, mahogany and Jamaican dogwood.

Foodies can appreciate the independent beekeepers who produce flavorful local honey, a chocolatier who specializes in truffles and other decadent indulgences, and purveyors of an almost limitless array of Key lime products (including dog treats craved by local and visiting canines).

The island chain also nurtures scores of other freethinking spirits who indulge their talent for making wares as individualistic as they are. Artisans abound whose passion is ceramics, distinctive beaded jewelry, woodcarving, stained and blown glass, metalwork and fine crafts.

But it’s not just the artisans who benefit from the creativity that flourishes in the Keys. It’s also a boon to people who discover the unique products made by enterprising locals.

Key Largo Chocolates

Key Largo Chocolates produces amazing treats like chocolate-covered caramels with a hint of sea salt.

A sampling of wonderful Keys-crafted products can be found here, and many items can be ordered online. During this time when travel can only be dreamed about, those products can provide a link to the island chain — and a much-needed antidote to the stay-at-home blues.

Why does it matter that something, whether organic skin cream or Key lime jelly or hand-shaped pottery, can be called “Keys crafted?”

It matters because such things are made by people truly invested in their creations, who work with care and take pride in quality — even in this time of global isolation and uncertainty.  

Actually, a “Keys crafted” object (or foodstuff or wearable or distillery product) represents both the artisan who made it and the easygoing island chain where creativity is free to flower. And it should be enjoyed and treasured as a tangible reminder of the Florida Keys.

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