Legacy of the WPA Artists Celebrated at the Custom House!

Reviving two revivals, The Key West Art and Historical Society opens “Coping with Depression: The WPA” and “Celebrating the Colors of Key West: Jack Baron” on August 16th at The Custom House.

Two galleries of etchings, watercolors, acrylics, and tapestries await visitors of the museum and exhibit how the stories behind local art are a poignant reflection of the spirit inherent to the Florida Keys.

Once one of Florida’s most affluent cities, Key West was not immune to the financial devastation afflicting the nation during The Great Depression as it fell into bankruptcy in 1934.  Its conch houses and city streets succumbed to ruin in the tropical climate, the majority of its residents relied on government assistance to live, and its flailing sponging and cigar-manufacturing industries moved from the islands in search of economic stability.

Legacy of the WPA Artists Celebrated at the Custom House

A. Johnson, By The Ocean, Key West

Julius Stone, administrator of Florida’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), realized that physical and cultural restoration was essential in transforming the unkempt island into a traveler’s paradise and bolstering its dying economy and struggling residents.  Through assistance from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), he imported artists from across the country to bring their vision and talents to Key West.  Their collective creations projected the allure of an ideal vacation destination and helped build the Key West Community Art Center, a sanctuary and educational facility for professional artists to share their work with residents and visitors alike.

Decades later, influences like the WPA still encourage artists to make the Florida Keys their home, and Jack Baron was no exception.  Moving to Key West in 1977, Baron found himself inspired by the diversity in his neighborhood, using brightly colored acrylic paintings and woven tapestries to portray his personal pointillism on daily life in his community.

Presenting his first exhibition at The Custom House in 2001, KWAHS also became the recipients of his collection after his untimely death in 2005.  Preserved in Fort East Martello’s Mario Sanchez Gallery until now, KWAHS is proud to revive his whimsical style, which much like the works of the WPA, visually reaches out to visitors and reminds them of the colorful characters and lush landscapes the Florida Keys have to offer.

Join The Custom House in welcoming these two exhibits that tell the stories and display the significant contributions that the WPA and Jack Baron made to Florida Keys cultural legacy.

Learn more about the WPA.