“Brooklyn of Key West, Haven for Artists, Studios” – Key West Citizen Article

“Brooklyn of Key West, Haven for Artists, Studios” – Key West Citizen Article

Key West Citizen Article

Sun Mar 22, 2015

by Gwen Filosa

 *Please note that online sales for this event have ended. Tickets are still available at The Studios office, 533 Eaton st. or at the first stop on Stock Island, 5700 Fourth Ave, Stock Island.

Tickets are $20

To find Cindy Wynn’s metal shop, where she creates furniture from discarded iron and steel, just look for the hard hats that hang in a row along the chain-link fence in the 5500 block of 5th Avenue on Stock Island.

“Ignore the ‘Bad Dog’ signs,” Wynn says, when giving directions Friday. “The dog never works anymore.” The scruffy corner, just steps away from the water, includes an auto repair shop, a neighborhood grocery store and a waterfront lot that stores walls of stacked lobster traps.

That dog, Herbert the pit bull, is about 15 and doesn’t climb storage shelves in search of cats anymore. He now lives in Old Town with Wynn and her girlfriend, Darene Cahill, but spent his formative years in the metal yard.

But Wynn, who has called the spot home for a decade by fashioning old shipping containers into a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and office, is going strong as a working artist.

For 17 years now, Wynn has worked in the heavy metal medium on this Stock Island spot, which she shares with her landlord, Stewart Andrews, who also does art.

Wynn’s metal furniture includes tables, chairs and lamps — all meant to be used in households.

“Chairs are really an art form,” Wynn said, at her open-air studio on Friday.

“For me, functionality is part of it. They are meant to be functional.”

She has shown her work at Lucky Street Gallery and Gallery on Greene in Key West, as well as shows in Chicago and New Orleans.

“Cold fabrication is really what I do,” Wynn said. “I never get any work piece

really 100 percent hot.”

Wynn is a veteran of the Stock Island arts community, which recently has expanded in a very public way.

The 2013 opening of the arts collective, Coast, 6404 Front St., where open-air work spaces sit behind the harbor shop offer a home to traveling artists, builders and designers and raised Stock Island’s hipster profile. “The setting is ragged and raw but full of potential and promise,” according to Coast’s mission statement.

Now, Key West’s premier arts nonprofit, The Studios of Key West, is turning its attention onto Stock Island, dubbing it “the Brooklyn of Key West.”

For its annual artist studios tour program, The Studios will venture off “the rock” known as Key West to its next-door neighbor, Stock Island, from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, making five stops to studios and visiting more than 15 artists.

Tickets are $20 and on sale via tskw.org or 305-296-0458.

Bus transportation comes with the ticket.

“This is a chance to go behind the scenes and explore a world you don’t usually get to see,” said Elena Devers, The Studios of Key West deputy director. “These Stock Island artists have created functional and fascinating spaces that stand alone as incredible works of art.”

Ticket holders have the choice of driving to Stock Island for a self-guided tour or ride along the studio route on trolley-style buses provided by Old Town Trolley.

A bus will pick up passengers every 45 minutes in Key West at The Studios; 533 Eaton St. Pick-up times are listed online at tskw.org. Seating is limited to 40 passengers per bus, arranged by first come, first served.

A second tour bus will do a regular loop around the five Stock Island tour stops from noon to 4 p.m., and ticket holders can hop on and off the bus as they like.

Artists will have work available for purchase on the day of the tour. Cash or checks will be accepted, the arts nonprofit said.

Works of metal, wood Wynn admits she’s doing some house cleaning in advance of a March 28 studio tour that will include her metal shop.

Rows of reclaimed metal items are packed away and she has cleared a path for visitors.

Born in Washington, D.C., Wynn was raised in Mountain Home, North Carolina, and found her artistic footing nearby at the University Of North Carolina at Asheville, where she was a ceramist until she took a welding-based sculpture class in 1988.

Metal has a permanence she respects as an artist.

“When you’re finished with the piece, you have what you have,” Wynn said.

Wynn’s metal furniture began with an inside joke gift to a former girlfriend, who was a fine furniture maker.

“I just made her a chair as a joke,” Wynn said, estimating it was nearly 300 pounds. “I used all my metal and tried to make it as heavy as possible.

I called it ‘Scrapintosh.’”

Now she uses an industrial strength shear and punch machine, a pedestal grinder,

handheld angle grinders, cutting torch and a stick welder to create commissioned works. The Studios calls her work “phantasmagoriacal,”defined as a bizarre combination or a show of optical illusions.

Stock Island, still home to a major commercial fishing fleet and known for its scattered trailer parks and cheaper rents in comparison to Key West proper, is also an artist’s haven.

Though it has grown more residential over the years and is in the midst of some major commercial development, Stock Island still wears its rough-and-tumble reputation on its sleeve.

A little over a year ago, the sheriff’s department led a drug raid that turned up nearly 8 kilos of cocaine from the Juan Soca family’s trailer compound on 6th Street and later sent three relatives to prison, including one getting

22 years.

But for many, Stock Island is the antidote to cramped apartments, sky-high rents and lack of parking that comes with living in the city’s historic district.

Full-time artists feel they can stretch out on the island, which sits three miles north of Key West proper and is mostly zoned as unincorporated Monroe County.

Jimmy Wray, a sculptor and woodworker, has called Stock Island home for 32 years, working and living in the upstairs of former shrimp boat warehouse at a marina that offers a waterfront view.

“Don’t tell anybody,” Wray said the other day, when a visitor complimented his picture perfect, mariner style living quarters, next door to the Hogfish Bar and Grill. Wray’s workshop is about a half-mile away from Wynn’s, which is just a few blocks down from Renegade Clay, run by artist Simone Lasswell.

At 60, Wray has been an elementary school art teacher on Stock Island, where he moved with his wife after they bicycled across the country, camping along the way, and estimates he’s taught 1,000 kids how to juggle — another art form he’s been doing for decades.

His wife, Karen Wray, is a sign maker in Key West. “I took her name,” Wray

said. The couple has a son, Louie, and a daughter, Lena.

Wray, an Alabama native, started honing his skills at 14 as a carpenter’s helper. He moved to Tampa for college, and graduated from the University of South Florida, with “the unlikely degree of art,” he said.

He honed his woodworking skills at a work-study job during college.

“I remember just something about the smell of wood,” Wray said. “I come from an art background with my aunts and uncles.”

In Key West, he has made a name for himself rebuilding boats, from replacing a keel on a 62-foot yacht to replacing the interiors with woods such as Cuban Mahogany, white oak and seaside mahoe.

Wray also makes mirrors from reclaimed wood and other items he hunts for, like a set of 1903 wooden dominoes he scored on eBay.

“I’ll be in my studio giving them the nickel-and dime tour,” Wray said, of the March 28 tour.

Wray has watched Stock Island transform from mostly a commercial fishing community known for its hard-living shrimpers.

“This building was abandoned,” Wray said, of his early days when he was alone as a renter in what are now four separate spaces.

“When we first took over, it was filled with shrimp equipment.”

Survivor’s tale On Saturday, Wray’s work was featured at a reception at Gallery on Greene. Those pieces in the show, Wray said, will be on display during the March 28 artist studio tours.

“I just finished a whole body of work,” he said, pointing out some of his stored remnants. “We have a sawmill here.”

Wray said the smell of wood still calls to him all these years later.

“It’s always alive,” he said. “The downside is it can always move. If you build something, inevitably it’s going to move. If I build something down here in this environment in the middle of summer and I ship it somewhere else, the joints are going to move.”

As Wray likes to say, “Embrace it or quit.”

That philosophy resonates in the way Wray describes a recent horrendous injury directly related to his woodworking passion.

Four years ago, Wray had quit collecting logs. It was too much work and he hadn’t enough storage space for it. But then, he heard from a local man offering him the woman’s tongue tree he had taken down. He couldn’t resist the rare wood and set off with a truck to collect it.

He points to a huge chunk of the tree, which sits atop one of his huge table saws, as he recalls the moment he stumbled and fell. “I went airborne and landed on this,” he said, tapping the long, sharp edge of the heavy root.

The blow left Wray with grave internal injuries, which required surgery, nine days in intensive care and more than two months of


Wray sent the woman’s tongue tree trunk to a friend in North Carolina who has a sawmill so big it can cut right through it.

But the part that nearly killed him remains in Wray’s Stock Island shop.

“I’m going to actually carve the symbol for ‘forgiveness’ into this,” Wray said. “It wasn’t the tree’s fault.

It sits right behind the most squeamish tools in my shop that I use all the time as a constant reminder: You can’t be careful enough.”

The Studios of Key West