In the Florida Keys, the day-to-day business of living is easy. Distances are short, so a “commute” to work might involve 10 minutes pedaling a bicycle down a narrow palm-lined road. Attire is comfortable and generally casual (which inspired the concept of “dress flip-flops” for so-called formal occasions). And socializing is most often impromptu, without the pressures of party planning or the need for elaborate menus to “wow” guests.
Since Keys residents’ minds aren’t cluttered with mundane concerns (“Can I make it across town to the dry cleaner on my lunch break and still have time to get the dog to the vet?”), there’s head space for extraordinary creativity to thrive.
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 fishing gear.
In the Florida Keys you’ll find artisan sandal makers, jewelry designers who work with gemstones and sea glass, brewers of island-inspired beers and distillers of wickedly potent beverages. There’s a milliner who constructs whimsical hats from fabric and feathers, 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 seek out a guy who whips up near-addictive smoked fish dip for restaurants and markets, an artisan salt-maker who uses traditional solar-evaporation methods, independent beekeepers who produce flavorful honey, a chocolatier who specializes in truffles and chocolate crocodiles (really!), and purveyors of an almost limitless array of Key lime products (including dog treats).
Plus there are scores of other freethinking spirits who, in the island chain’s nurturing atmosphere, indulge their talent for crafting wares as individualistic as they are.
But it’s not just the artisans who benefit from the creativity that flourishes in the Keys. It’s also a boon to visitors who discover the unique products made by enterprising locals.
Visitors seeking artisans’ wares can find them literally from one end of the Keys to the other. Emporiums abound featuring ceramics, handcrafted jewelry, woodcarving, stained and blown glass, metalwork and fine crafts — and many restaurants delight in serving local foodstuffs and libations.
Periodically in the coming weeks, “Keys Voices” will spotlight some of the enticing offerings made by creative citizens of the island chain. But first, why does it matter that something — whether 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. These pieces are as different as possible from the mass-produced items that are all too available today.
In fact, a “Keys crafted” object (or foodstuff or wearable or distillery product) represents both the artisan who made it and the island chain where creativity is free to blossom. And it should be enjoyed and treasured … as a tangible reminder of the Florida Keys.