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Virtually the Florida Keys: History, Arts and Culture

By Laura Myers 

Most visitors to the Florida Keys & Key West enjoy the island chain’s centuries-old and richly diverse history and its unique sense of place that’s like no other.

Even while most people are continuing to practice some form of social distancing, it’s possible to immerse yourself — virtually — in arts and culture offerings straight from the Keys. So why not mix up a cocktail or pour your favorite beverage, sit back and tune in?

For example, Islamorada’s Florida Keys History & Discovery Center features “Field Trip Fridays” on Facebook Live at 10 a.m. with Curator Brad Bertelli, who visits an Upper Keys historic site each week.

Register for a fascinating discussion Wednesday, June 10, from 6-7 p.m. EDT as the center explores “The Stock Island Site in Context: An Intriguing Native American Settlement Near Key West” with archaeologist Ryan Harke. Artifacts such as shells, sea turtle bones, shellfish and remains of the now-extinct Caribbean Monk sea and pygmy sperm whale indicate that the site on Stock Island was occupied more than 800 years ago.

As well as these upcoming events, some of the center’s previous presentations, including “Capt. Ed and Fern Butters: A Love, Hurricane and Key Lime Pie Story,” are archived on YouTube at youtube.com/channel/UC5xL37r24waf3Zyroz1jPJQ. Visit keysdiscovery.com/virtualprograms or @FloridaKeysHIstoryandDiscoveryCenter, or call 305-922-2237.

Join the Key West Art & Historical Society, which operates four museums — the Custom House Museum, Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters, Tennessee Williams Museum and Fort East Martello Museum — for an occasional “Happy Hour with the Historian” featuring Curator Cori Convertito.

The society also has a Distinguished Speaker Series about historical topics such as Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. Learn about the astonishing engineering feat that linked mainland Florida to Key West, or take a Historic Marker Tour of Key West historic sites ranging from Civil War forts to military landmarks and homes of famous authors.

The society’s collection of online exhibitions also is available to cultural and history fans, including four outlined here.

“Depicting Hemingway” is an online gallery of 59 of artist Guy Harvey’s original sketches following the narrative of author Ernest Hemingway’s iconic novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.” And “Hemingway in Key West” examines the life of the Nobel Prize–winning author in the island city during the 1930s.

“Mario Sanchez: Painter of Key West Memories” showcases works of Sanchez, billed as one of the nation’s greatest folk artists, who was born in 1908 and lived in Key West’s Gatoville cigar-making neighborhood.

The tale of “Robert the Doll” begins after the turn of the 20th century, when Robert was created by the Steiff Co. and given to young Gene Otto, son of a prominent Key West doctor.

And “Coping with Depression: WPA Artists in Key West” studies how the Federal Art Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration operating from August 1935 until June 1943, was the incubator for Key West’s emergence as the “Island of the Arts.”

Visit kwahs.org and kwahs.org/exhibitions_category/online-exhibitions and kwahs.org/education/distinguished_speaker_series/videos.

Key West Art Center & Gallery, Key West’s oldest art gallery, showcases artist members on its Facebook page and sells works online. The center, believed to be the first federal Public Works Administration Art Project, was established in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Visit keywestartcenter.com or @KWArtCenter, or call 305-294-1241.

Key West’s landmark Gallery on Greene has a Coronavirus Relief art gallery with works by Mike Lukovich, Mary Jean Connors, Andy Thurber, Ruben Alpizar, Wayne Garcia, Priscilla Coote, Jesse Capps and A. Rose. Half of sales go directly to the artist, with 50 percent to the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys’ Sister Season Fund, assisting out-of-work service workers. Visit galleryongreene.com or call 305-294-1669.

Fringe Theater of Key West, a community-focused theater with unique and offbeat performances, has archived Fringe Friday Performances, with online videos available Fridays at 7 p.m. to Sundays at 10 p.m. Visit fringetheater.org or call 305-731-0581.

Love photos of the Florida Keys and unique history? The Monroe County Library, invited to submit its archival scans to the prestigious Digital Public Library of America, has tallied its 30 millionth (yes!) view of the library’s online historical photo archive. Visit flikr.com/keyslibraries or call 305-292-3595.

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The Florida Keys History and Discovery Center has enhanced its virtual offerings on a weekly basis.

The Florida Keys History and Discovery Center has enhanced its virtual offerings on a weekly basis.

Key West Art & Historical Society operates four museums and a collection of online exhibitions is available to cultural and history fans.

Key West Art & Historical Society operates four museums and a collection of online exhibitions is available to cultural and history fans.

Key West Art Center and Gallery is Key West’s oldest art gallery.

Key West Art Center and Gallery is Key West’s oldest art gallery.

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