From Sandals to Sea Glass: Artisan Offerings in the Keys
FLORIDA KEYS — For nearly a century the Florida Keys have beckoned many with their natural beauty and vibrant yet laidback atmosphere. But it’s not just travelers that gravitate to the intriguing destination. Quaint, quirky and filled with a free-spirited charm, the subtropical islands are a haven for the creative. Artists and artisans from across the globe flock to the Keys and stay, making the island chain their home while helping shape its reputation as a cultural mecca.
Travel U.S. Highway 1 from Key West through the Lower, Middle and Upper Keys to discover fine artisans offering a wide selection of gifts and treasures, many inspired by the sea and year-round tropical lifestyle. Whether textiles, jewelry, housewares, reclaimed wood furniture or other temptations, their quality handcrafted items are quintessentially “Keys.”
Begin by exploring the artisans and artistry here.
Kino Sandals, Sandal Maker 305-294-5044
Ask many locals where they got their sandals and the answer is likely to be Kino’s, a family-owned sandal factory in downtown Key West. For over 50 years, the Cuban-born Kino has employed traditional techniques to assemble the island’s iconic handmade shoes. Using only natural leather uppers and rubber soles, he creates more than 20 different styles of sandals. These sandals are a Key West classic, and you’ll want a pair in every style and color.
Judi Bradford, Milliner 305-304-4190
Put away your floppy sun hat and make way for Bradford, an award-winning milliner whose accolades include global recognition: the Niche Award and the Arts & Crafts Design Award. Bradford designs dramatic and sophisticated one-of-a-kind hats and Arashi Shibori silk scarves with a color palette inspired by the local landscape — turquoise and jewel tones that shimmer like the sea itself.
Many of her scarves and hats have made their way to “hat heaven” — the Kentucky Derby and the Ascot races in England. Capture a bit of Key West’s theatrical flair with an original Judi Bradford “fascinator.” You might even find one with an authentic rooster plume.
David Gard, Tropical Wood Artisan Ye Old Hippie Workshop; 305-747-0035
Bring home a vessel that doesn’t need a motor and fill it with memories of your Key West vacation. Gard crafts vessels and furniture using indigenous tropical woods whenever possible and keeps a natural edge on his tabletops, trunks, and bowls “to keep it closer to the earth,” he said.
The artisan “makes wood sing,” said Jeffrey Cardenas, proprietor of SALT Island Provisions in Key West, where Gard’s bowls and cutting boards are sold. Stop in to see if they’re in tune with you.
Dorthe Thure, Fragrant Oils 305-587-8960
Want to take the magical fragrance of the islands home with you? Designer Dorthe Thure merges her passion for natural skin care with her Danish design aesthetic, creating luxurious oils for the body and hair. The Night Blooming Cactus, Heartwood, Mermaid, Key Lime and Sea Citrus blends are made from an alchemic combination of organic oils that include sunflower, almond and avocado along with a variety of pure essential oils. The products made by “TUA” (the pronunciation of her last name) can be found at Key West’s SALT Island Provisions.
Karen Moore, Jeweler 716-308-7588
Designer Karen Moore quit her corporate job five years ago and has been creating her positive energy ZEN Jewelry line since. Her love for the Keys’ native beauty is evident in her designs, which use only natural elements consisting mostly of semi-precious gemstones and shells — including her signature collection based on the conch shell.
“The inspirational energy of the conch is all about clarity and growth,” said Moore, a Sugarloaf Key resident who is equally passionate about gemstones’ beauty and their holistic elements. “It’s also a reminder of the beautiful ocean here and the Conch Republic.”
Kim Wallen, Textile Designer 305-394-4055
Textile artisan Kim Wallen takes fishing to an entirely new level, using her family’s fresh catch to make what she calls “Fish Printz,” otherwise known as Gyotaku, a Japanese art form of pressing fish onto rice paper using ink. Wallen merges her design background with the process, trading out the ink and rice paper for fabric paint. She presses the fish onto fabric that is sewn onto shirts, hats and tote bags, creating designs that are swimmingly fun and beautiful. The Summerland Key mother of three young sons keeps their fish tales alive with a “year-round trophy” and helps customers take home a little piece of paradise. Find her KDub Designz at Mellow Ventures in Key West and Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon.
Cornelia Hoover, Sea Glass Crafter 305-731-9083
Cornelia Hoover captures the magic of island life through copper wire and glass, constructing everything from a sprawling three-foot octopus to glistening purses and jewelry to a mystical mermaid atop a scallop shell. She pieces together different gauges of wire, sea glass and tumbled recycled glass to craft creations that are both whimsical and elegant. Hoover’s work can be found at DK’s Beach Boutique in Marathon, the Hurricane Grille and Key West’s Guild Hall Gallery.
Stephanie Martin, Fused Glass Artisan 727-776-3389
Fused glass artisan Stephanie Martin of Seaside Glassworks creates ocean-inspired glass, jewelry and art in her Islamorada working studio, which is open to visitors for tours. In her retail gallery you can browse her signature line of handcrafted fused glass pendants of scallop shells, turtles, dolphins and fish in a rainbow spectrum of colors, as well as lamps designed with Florida Keys colors in mind. If you happen to have a photo of Fido on hand, she can also make a custom glass pet portrait — a cheeky keepsake that’s totally one of a kind.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Florida Keys cultural information: fla-keys.com/culture/