KEY LARGO, Florida Keys - When guests check into Key Largo's Kona Kai Resort, they find far more than a relaxed, charming oasis fronting on Florida Bay. They also discover an art gallery of international repute, whose featured artists range from revered Florida photographer Clyde Butcher to French painter and sculptor Vincent Magni.
The gallery is the creation of Kona Kai owners and art collectors Joe and Veronica "Ronnie" Harris, who purchased the property in 1991 and took over its day-to-day operations in 1994.
They debuted the small, exclusive Gallery at Kona Kai in the resort's lush garden in January 1997. The gallery opened with the work of some of South Florida's most significant artists including Butcher, whose stark, spectacular black-and-white photographs of Florida's wetlands evoke comparisons with legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams.
Guests who stay in the resort's 11 guestrooms and suites, each named for a tropical fruit, find their accommodations alive with original art. For example, the work of Florida artist Greg Sobran, who has painted more than 70 Keys watercolors for the Harrises, is displayed in rooms and suites - enhancing and complementing Kona Kai's cottage architecture.
In recent years, the gallery's roster has evolved to focus on established European and international artists who work in various mediums. The Harrises travel widely, seeking artists with unique visions, talent and style to represent.
"Our goal in part was to attract some of these artists to the Keys to see how they would express our islands in their work," said Joe Harris.
Today, the Gallery at Kona Kai represents more than a dozen artists from France, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Venezuela and the United States. The Harrises choose only those who do original work, rather than prints or giclees, and are personally responsible for all aspects of their work. They have visited the studios of all but one of the creative spirits they represent.
Among the featured artists are French painter Dirk Verdoorn, a former ship captain who now creates maxi-realist scenes of ships; Italian landscape artist Franco Passalacqua, renowned for his visions of trees as objects; French sculptor of bronzes Pollés, who focuses on the human body; and sculptor and painter Magni, who displays his unique figurative oils at the gallery.
The Gallery at Kona Kai remains the sole gallery representative for the work of Butcher. His large-scale photographs, printed on selenium-toned archival paper, capture the attention of virtually everyone who enters the clean-lined gallery.
"The hotel guests find the gallery quite impressive and interesting, but so do the many visitors who stop in during their Keys vacations," said Ronnie Harris. "We have been lucky to have the gallery draw us a few guests who might have otherwise passed us by in their search for a hotel room."
The Gallery at Kona Kai resort in Key Largo represents more than a dozen artists from France, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Venezuela and the United States.
Landscape photographer Cyde Butcher is renowned for his wetlands' scenes.