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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ronny Bailey - Key West Folk Art - Peter's Fish Market and Gas Station

If you are in Key West this coming weekend, you are invited to attend the 31st Annual Key West Craft Show being held January 30 - 31, 2016 between 10 AM - 5 PM on Whitehead Street between Eaton and Caroline Streets. Admission is Free. Among the featured artists is Ronny Bailey, Key West Folk Artist.  I have written about Ronny on several precious occasions. He is a Conch by birth, a contractor by trade, a Christian by choice, and an artist by inspiration. Ronny retired from his trade several years ago and began to tinker with old Dade County Pine he had saved from various jobs. After his wife Stephanie saw his first creation, she remarked "I didn't know you could do that!" to which he replied "Neither did I". Thus began his career as a folk artist. He has created numerous miniature cottages that portray the Key West architecture of yore. He used specific homes as his historic reference. Some of the homes no longer exist, and some that do exist have been gentrified and no longer look as bedraggled as before. Later he tackled commercial enterprises. Two of his most recent pieces, both of which are commercial enterprises, and shown in today's blog,  will be on display this weekend at the craft show.
The top black and white photo above shows Peter's Fish Market which is the subject of one of the new pieces. Peter's Fish Market which dominated the Key West fish scene for many years was located on Front Street on the waterfront. If you look to the right you will see an artist painting the building even then. The building was the inspiration decades later when Ronny Bailey decided to create a miniature version. Peter Roberts (the gent in the straw hat above looking down at the catch of the day) was the proprietor. The Coca Cola sign above the loading platform is original to the site. Ronny added a bit of whimsy when he added the red delivery truck.In fact all of Ronny's creations are dotted with whimsy. You'll note the perched pelican atop the Fish Market sign, the bucket of fish on the loading platform, and the idle "worker" standing around with his hand in his pants inside the market. In his book Grits & Grunts: Folkloric Key West Stetson Kennedy wrote "In 1940, the Key West waterfront, like the street fronts, was looking beat-up, unpainted, and picturesque". Today the old waterfront has been replaced by high priced hotels, restaurants, and t-shirt shops. Some call it progress.
I knew from past conversations with Ronny that he used salvaged Dade County Pine to create the majority of his projects. I questioned him how he created the details in this installation. He said he used his table saw to slice the Dade County Pine into small sheets and used the saw to create individual boards, timbers, and other wood pieces. He hand carved the male worker figure. He fashioned the metal roof from old metal. He painted and repainted the roof to create the patina.  He told me he always wanted to build a truck and he got the opportunity here. He bent old metal to create the truck's body. He carved the wheels out of wood.
You can "click"any photo to enlarge the image. You might want to click the image two above to see the cost of turtle steak back in the day. And if you click the image immediately above you will see the word "PEACE" on the rear bumper. Elsewhere you will see LOVE and JOY. These are the three watchwords of this gentle artisan. CLICK HERE to view more photos of Peter's Fish Market.

If you look closely at the red gas pumps you will see the Biblical reference to JOY and LOVE.  Ronny bent metal to create the pumps. Then he applied layer upon layer of various colors of paint to create the weathered and rusted surface. The old light bulb in the last image is actually wood that was repeatedly dipped into a white enamel paint which created the effect of the light bulb. The weathered floor boars and siding are the natural patina of old Dade County Pine which Ronny planed and sliced to perfection. Ronny confided that other carpenters have told him that he inspired them to create similar pieces. They became so frustrated in the detail work necessary to achieve similar perfection  that they smashed their pieces to smithereens. CLICK HERE to see more photos of the gas station.

I encourage locals and visitors to check out Ronny Bailey's stand this weekend. And if you really appreciate his work, to buy an original piece. He also has more affordable prints that you can take home. They will be a continuous reminder of how special Key West is. Like our old houses, these pieces of art will only go up in value. 

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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.