How did this book lead to a chance encounter with a fellow artist...in an airport gift kiosk, no less? Only in Key West, my friends!
And how did this chance encounter lead to my bringing home this print...signed on the spot by the artist himself? Or was he a clever imposter? And if so, why would he give away this print instead of attempting to pry the few remaining vacation dollars from my purse?
Let's backtrack a bit...
One of the highlights of my five days in Key West, aside from the beaches, of course, was a morning spent with a delightfully knowledgeable tour guide at the home of Ernest Hemingway. Her admiration for the man and his literary legacy were obvious and her meticulous attention to preserving his memory left me curious to know more. But, as is bound to happen when on vacation with friends, beaches and sunset cruises intervened, and scholarly pursuits were abandoned.
And then departure day arrived...
Let to my own devices after the earlier departures of my two friends, I wandered into the "Last Call Beach Bar" in the hopes of finding at least a magazine rack or newspaper stand for a little reading material to pass the time. Sure enough, around the corner and behind that soda vending machine, was a very small "Last Chance Souvenir Shop". I quickly spotted the bright red cover of "Hemingway's Key West", and walked over to see if this might suffice. As I was fanning the pages to determine whether to make the purchase, a gentleman dressed very casually in Key West style walked over and asked if I wanted to purchase the book.
Not ready to make a commitment, I responded by saying that I had found the tour fascinating and considered it one of the highlights of my stay because of the very engaging tour guide. Turned out that he knew her and that she was considered one of the best tour guides on the island...and here is where my encounter with the mystery artist really begins!
Our friendly conversation continued for a bit, as I had plenty of time until my flight, and as we chatted about my work at home as an art teacher and occasional artist, I noticed a small, hand-lettered sign..."Free print with any purchase". Of course, I was curious and upon asking was presented with this rather interesting print. The man assured me that it was signed by the artist, Michelle Kennedy, since he knew her personally.
Although this artist's style is not quite my taste, I thanked him and he began to roll the print to put it in a tube. Suddenly he stopped, turned to a rack with much larger prints, and said to me, "I think I have a print from the Hemingway House. Would you like to have it, too?" I was pretty certain that a sales pitch was forthcoming, but instead, the man pulled out several prints of watercolor paintings highlighting Key West landmarks. None proved to be of the Hemingway House, and he seemed a bit disappointed, but he turned to me and said, "You teach art...I'd like you to have one of these." Surprised, I chose this one of the oldest house on Key West.
"He smiled, confirmed my choice by saying, "Nice one, I believe", then proceeded to pick up a pencil, saying "This one's not signed," and quickly wrote a name in the corner of the border. He wrapped it up and handed it to me with a smile, and before I could say another word, wished me safe travels, spread the curtains behind the table with the cash box, and said, "Guess I'll get back to work now." Behind the curtains, I saw an easel with a partially completed painting, a watercolor paint box, and several brushes.
Had I met the artist...or just another interesting Key West character? Now I needed to find out who is he really was. Was he an unknown "wanna be" working at the airport kiosk to support a simple Key West lifestyle? Or was he someone more...someone who preferred a simpler life and a chance to meet people just for the fun of it?
As it was, I had a long day of travel ahead, with long layovers in two different airports. Plenty of time for a little research on the name "Kennedy" and any possible connections to Key West. And midway through a two+ hour stay in the Tampa airport, I found this link www.kennedystudios.net/index.php/robert-e-kennedy/florida/key-west.html. Robert Kennedy (no apparent relation to the famous Kennedy family in Massachusetts!) is indeed a watercolor artist with a gallery in Key West and several others up and down the East Coast. Although I couldn't find a reference to the print I was given on any of his gallery sites, the similarity was obvious...so I will always believe that I did, indeed, meet the artist in an airport gift shop kiosk!