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09
Feb

Everglades City Seafood Festival

Written by Ryan S.

Every February, the tiny island of Everglades City which sports a population of only 400 full time residents swells to more than 10 times that as people from all over the world come to the Everglades City Seafood Festival. Cars back up for miles to fight for prime parking wherever they can find it on the barely more than 1 sq. mile gateway to the Glades. Fish have sustained the Everglades City population for more than a century from finding to catching to eating, and the Seafood Festival is further evidence of that. Mobile restaurants pop up everywhere and vendors from all over the state fight to sell everything from hand made hand bags to hand cut metallic sculptures, elk jerky to gator on a stick. While all of the food may not be caught in local waters, the knowledgeable Floridian knows where to find the smoked mullet, stone crabs, and deep fried gator. 

 


While the food and the fish certainly had me buzzing, I found myself drawn to something else at this year's festival. Something that I never really thought that I would write about on this site. Art. It really all started last year when a group of us stumbled into a tent display sent up by Adam Welsch from FishBone Design (www.designsbyfishbone.com). Adam makes 2-D metallic sculptures, primarily relating to fishing, scuba, spearing, and other things oozing Florida goodness. I'm usually not very interested in art; in fact I had never bought any piece from any show anywhere even though I've been dragged to quite a few. However, a vaguely tribal hammerhead shark silhouette made from polished metal (aluminum? I'm not sure) was speaking my language. I also picked up a foot long sticker--a silhouette of two guys poling the flats in front of a backdrop of sabal palms in the distance. 

Before I even got to the festival this year, I had made a mental note to track down this display. I found Adam in the exact same spot as he was last year, just outside the center where the bands were playing on stage. Seeing his art for the second time was no less jaw-dropping. This time, he had added a few larger pieces. A school of snook chasing whitebait. A foxy lady freedive spearfishing. New sharks, birds, game fish, all with hints of color. The prices were typically out of my price range, but Adam gave me a good deal last year so I started chatting with him again. He had discontinued making the stickers but he still had a handful left over that he let me peruse and take a few for very cheap. We talked a bit about his business, and it became pretty obvious that Adam is the poster boy for the Do Florida Right art division. Based out of Key West, he travels the state going from show to show selling his art. He must do pretty well, because he also finds enough time to fish, dive, spear, and live out the Florida Dream. Do yourself a favor and check out FishBone's website. It has an online store with dozens of pieces, although truthfully the pictures do no justice to the true scale of what he's producing. 

   

My wife and I took our new stickers and wandered off in search of more like Adam. Small businesses making one of a kind uniquely Florida art. We made it about 40 yards before we found the next one. Matt and Marc DeMichele work out of Sarasota. Their grandmother taught them years ago that if you sculpt out figures in the sand, fill it up with lightweight cement and beach sand, and wait for it to dry, what results is pretty spectacular. At one point or another we have all made a sandcastle or other masterpiece out of sand. These guys have figured out how to immortalize these masterpieces, move them around the state, and sell the crap out of them. They also figured out how to get really good at sculpting things out of sand. My personal favorite, which regrettably I forgot to snap a picture of(the picture below is from their Facebook page), was a massive piece featuring a school of snook (noticing a pattern?) swimming side by side frozen in sand. While the $1,500 price tag was a bit steep for me, they did have many works that were far more affordable for average folks. When you buy one, you can rest assured that nobody else will have the same one. Each one is hand made and individually cast right there on the beach using authentic Florida Gulf Coast sand. Check out www.islandsandsculptures.com or better yet, www.facebook.com/nautical.sandsculptures to see recent works and figure out where they will be next. 

 

We kept walking around the loop and saw some tents with the ubiquitous fishing shirts, landscape painting, other interesting Florida stuff. None of that, however, struck my fancy because I had seen it all before. Then there was this guy. 

We happened upon a tent that was literally crawling with bugs. Well, Florida bugs, also known as spiny lobsters. They were incredibly realistic. What talent this guy had! "What are these made out of?" I politely inquired. "Lobsters." Duh. It turns out when you take the actual once living organism and add a few coats of shellac, it still looks a lot like a very shiny version of the organism. But surely that 6lb Florida spiny lobster wasn't real. Was it? "I've got one 3 times that size. 16lbs. It's as wide around as a SCUBA tank." Ross informed me. I had no reason not to believe him. Apparently the process is a bit more complicated than putting a few coats of shellac on, but Ross from RJ Oceans really does make some stunning works of art. Crustacean taxidermy may be a bit of a niche market so I don't know many... any others, but it's hard to believe that there is someone out there that does it better. RJ Oceans immortalizes everything from a ghost crab to an Alaskan King crab straight off a "Deadliest Catch" boat, but he specializes in Florida crustaceans caught mostly right off some of the east coast beaches. RJ Oceans doesn't have a website (yet), but hopefully I can help him out with that to expand this unique Florida talent. For now, you can call him at (352)-249-6279 if you must get your hands on a preserved blue crab the size of your head. 

I didn't expect to spend my time seeking out art at the Everglades City Seafood Festival, but to be completely honest, there wasn't a lot of food that was all that unique or local. The same can't be said for the art scene at a place like that. Unique? Definitely. Local? Well, relatively. Do Florida Right worthy? Absolutely. 

 

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