With a unique history as the home of world-renowned authors and a natural beauty that has inspired generations of artists, the Florida Keys feature cultural offerings that can’t be found anywhere else.
Whether exploring a new museum honoring playwright Tennessee Williams or following a trail of distinctive large-scale sculptures, visitors can find a wide range of “only in the Keys” experiences along the island chain this winter and spring. Discover five of them here.
Tour a New Museum Honoring Tennessee Williams
A Key West exhibit memorializing iconic playwright Tennessee Williams, who called the island home from the late 1940s until his death in 1983, has expanded to become the Tennessee Williams Museum. It features the largest permanent collection of Williams memorabilia currently on public display, according to exhibit founder and curator Dennis Beaver.
Williams lived in Key West as an openly gay man with his partner Frank Merlo, and had a pivotal influence on the island’s literary culture. He penned classics including “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Now operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, the museum is open daily at 513 Truman Ave. Items on display include personal photographs of Williams at home with Merlo and friends, first-edition plays and books, a typewriter used by Williams when he lived in Key West, an artist-crafted model of his island home and even the original steps from the film adaptation of Williams’ play “The Rose Tattoo,” which was filmed in Key West.
In addition, the annual Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration pays tribute to the playwright’s life and work Feb. 28 through April 9, with a special celebration on his March 26 birthday. For information, visit kwahs.org.
Discover the Connections Project Mural
A 24-foot mosaic mural featuring art by more than 300 Florida Keys resident artists is to debut Feb. 6 and tour the island chain to celebrate the connection between the community and local cultural initiatives.
The Connections Project mural, spearheaded by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts and titled "A Mosaic of the Keys," begins its tour at the Murray Nelson Government & Cultural Center in Key Largo. Starting Feb. 15, it is to travel to Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and finally Key West, with a reception celebrating the artwork’s arrival at each display site.
The mural is made up of nearly 400 individual canvases measuring 6 inches square that were provided to local artists and creative residents. The completed canvases typically feature art in mediums including painting, photography, mixed media and quilting.
Once the Connections Project tour is over, art lovers can acquire individual canvases through a unique “random choice” purchase process. Proceeds benefit Keys artists and arts organizations through arts council grants. For details, visit keysarts.com.
Shiver at the True Tale of ‘Undying Love’
In 1930s Key West, the self-styled “Count von Cosel” fell in love with a terminally ill girl named Elena Hoyos — and her death was the start of one of the most bizarre love stories ever told.
Theater fans can discover the stranger-than-fiction saga in “Undying Love: A Key West Musical,” written by island city author and musician Ben Harrison, debuting on Valentine’s Day at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.
Harrison previously wrote a nonfiction book, also called “Undying Love,” that chronicled von Cosel’s demented obsession with Elena.
The full-scale theatrical production features a cast of 10 actors, a five-member orchestra and a set with projections and historical photos that evoke the atmosphere of Depression-era Key West.
Both macabre and darkly humorous, the show includes more than a dozen original songs including the eerie “La Boda Negra (Black Wedding).”
“Undying Love” runs through March 3 with 10 performances only — and the haunting, unforgettable production is not to be missed. For tickets and details, visit tskw.org.
Follow the Emerging Florida Keys Sculpture Trail
Visitors traveling between Islamorada and Key West can follow an 80-mile trail of large-scale outdoor sculptures whose installation is being completed along the island chain.
The new Florida Keys Sculpture Trail is a collaboration between the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Key West philanthropists John Padget and Jacob Dekker, and the Monroe County Art in Public Places Committee. Six sculptures are currently installed, with three others to debut soon.
Visitors flying into Key West International Airport are greeted by the giant sculptures “Avis Gloriae,” or “bird of glory and praise,” and “Nature Eternal.” Both were created by Sheila Berger.
Other Keys works include “Leaves of Grass,” by Markus Holtby, located in Marathon at The Art Studio at 12353 Overseas Highway. “Wind Tower,” a collaborative work of seven sculptors, is located at the site of Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key.
Three additional works are to be installed on private property in Islamorada, and two can be found on Grassy Key at Keys Cable at oTHErside Adventure Park.
The sculptures first stood in Manhattan’s Riverside Park South along the Hudson River as part of the “Model to Monument” program. The public arts program is a partnership between the Art Students League of New York and New York City Parks for emerging artists.
The sculptures’ Florida Keys locations are detailed on an easy-to-use map in the arts council’s 2018 Gallery Guide. For more information about the trail and a link to the guide, visit keysarts.com.
Turn Back Time on Pigeon Key
The historic 5-acre Pigeon Key has a new gateway in Marathon, with ferry tours to the island departing from the iconic Faro Blanco Lighthouse marina at the Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club, a Hyatt Place.
“Stepping onto Pigeon Key is like stepping back 100 years in the Keys,” said Kelly McKinnon, Pigeon Key Foundation’s executive director.
Pigeon Key was home in the early 1900s to about 400 workers who helped build Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. It was also a supply depot, dormitory with commissary and a passenger train stop.
The hourlong tours run daily at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Visitors can explore a former section-gang quarters, former paint foreman’s dorm and a historical museum, formerly the home of an assistant bridge tender.
Pigeon Key’s visitor center and gift shop is located at mile marker 47.5, just north of the Faro Blanco resort. Visit pigeonkey.net.
Florida Keys cultural information: fla-keys.com/culture
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS