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Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Art and Culture category.

A Tattoo Story

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m a mother of three, my husband’s wife, and I got my first tattoo when I was 35.

Would you like to know how a conservative Christian from the heart of the Bible Belt wound up with a rock-n-roll butterfly tattoo?

Just a few years ago, I was having some serious issues with my self image, and it was wrecking my marriage.  My dear hubby and I have been married for 14 years. We’ve been through all the usual fights and misunderstandings and trials that all couples go through. But I had a lot of baggage I needed to deal with. I had a very conservative upbringing. And since I was a very nerdy kid, I was too involved in school books to even consider dating as a teenager. I didn’t really start dating until college, and even then I was way too uptight to explore. I had dated a total of four guys by the time I met future-hubby.

I was 19 and he was 36. He took two years to be sure that we were going to work before he proposed. We got pregnant about a year later. By our fifth anniversary our third child was on the way. In the midst of all the changes the pregnancies were making to my body, I automatically defaulted to my mother’s modeling. I spent all my time and energy on the babies and covered up my body.  Adjusting to family life caused me to take very little care for myself. I call it being stuck in the “Mommy Mire,” and I completely lost myself in it for a while.

When we moved to Florida, thousands of miles from the rest of our families, we continued to fight and tear each other apart. We were getting close to talking about divorce, and I fell into depression. There were days that I couldn’t  function. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and sleep to escape. NOT good. I hated what I had become and was desperate to change.

All of the sudden I cracked, but in a very good way. Out of the blue it occurred to me to let go of the hang ups. All of the sudden I decided I liked who I was and what I looked like. That, in turn allowed me to begin to open up again to my sweet man. No doubt all of you guys know THAT went a long way to healing the issues between hubby and me.

We started talking. Talking about what felt good, what we dreamed about, what we wanted; everything really.

Talking got me back to writing. My very first short story was written as a birthday gift for hubby. He loved it so much and thought it was so well done, that he encouraged me to find a way to share it.

Writing became a way for me to explore options I had never considered before. I reconnected with the flirtatious and teasing side of myself that I’d stuffed away for years.

Existing butterfly tattoo on my lower back

To say the least I had changed. I had changed in some pretty big ways and will never go back. And that was the inspiration for the butterfly tattoo. I gave up being a caterpillar, broke free of the cocoon, and now I have wings on which I intend to soar. And since I don’t ever want to go back I made a change to myself in the way of a tattoo, so that I can’t ever physically be the same again.

That was a little over a year ago now, and I’m seriously considering adding to that first tattoo.  Like the first one there is a story to go with it.  For a while I’ve been pondering adding to it just because I liked the first one.  It appeals to the creative, artistic side of me.  I’ve also wanted to memorialize how much living here has influenced me.  I love the ocean and the tropical plants and weather.  But it was the recent passing of my last living grandparent that gave me a reason to act on the impulse.

I like the idea of something up one side of my back

I was very lucky growing up, because I lived very near one great-grandmother and both of my grandmothers.  I was very close to them, and they all had a huge influence on my life.  My great-grandmother lived long enough to see me get married.  She passed away about seven months after the wedding when I was 22.  Both of my grandmothers lived to get to know all of our children.  My paternal grandmother passed away a few years ago not long after she turned 89.  Just this last month my remaining grandmother passed on as the result of the slow progression of Parkinson’s Disease.  As I said, all three of these women had a very strong influence in my life, so I decided to memorialize that with an addition of a tattoo.

It didn’t take long once the decision was made to find just the prefect design.  I wanted something tropical and all three of my grandmothers loved flowers.  When I came across this design with hibiscus and a butterfly, I knew I had found what I was looking for.  There are a few changes and additions I’d like to make for this to be perfect.  I have three people I want to remember, so I need one more hibiscus.  I’d also like the design of the butterfly to be adjusted to match the style of my existing butterfly.  And, of course, it needs some color.  I’m thinking pinks, yellows, oranges . . . shades of the beautiful Key West sunsets.

This is the design I'm considering

All I need now is the right artist to take these elements and bring my tattoo to life.  So the search begins to find someone in South Florida to make my plan a reality.  With so many fantastic shops and lots of amazing artists here, I thought I’d bring you along for the journey.


Via Key West – Bring Funky and Fabulous Home

Ever have those days at work when you just want to run away?  Would even a few hours of sandy beaches and frothy drinks do your mind good?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few reminders of that last trip to Key West at home?  Of course the answer to all these questions is, YES!!!

My dear friend, Lisa Malcom, has the cure for your ills.  Well, okay, maybe a really good band-aid until you can get back to Key West.  I’d certainly call it the next-best-thing to being here.

Lisa is a long time resident of Key West, and an island style entrepenure.  Her website brings all that is funky and fabulous about this little tropical paradise to anyone anywhere in the world.

Maybe what you need is a tropical treat, something to remind you of the famous Key Lime Pie.  Why not order one of Oprah’s favorite things, the Key Lime Bundt Cake?  Personally, I’m all about the chocolate.  Via Key West has an absolutely amazing Triple Chocolate Chip Fudge Cake.  Let’s all pause a moment while the chocoholics take care of where they just drooled all over the keyboard.

Maybe you’d like to recapture the memories of good times with friends hanging out on Duval Street? I bet a little live music from Yankee Jack would bring back all sorts of fond memories.

What about all of the beautiful historic homes and places that make Key West so unique?  Don’t you wish you had picked up some art in one of the galleries? has a fantastic assortment of photography, water colors, and mixed media art to choose from.

Maybe you need something sentamental for that someone special you’d like to remind of lazy days falling in love and watching the sunset together.  How about a lovely pearl bracelet to remind her of long walks on sandy beaches?

And what if you haven’t made it to visit Key West and are waiting for the opportunity to go? Via Key West has several books to help keep the dream alive.  There are books to help plan your destination wedding, tales of what it’s like to live here, and even a book on how to “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West.” 

So take a break and satisfy that need for something uniquely Key West.  You’ll be so glad you did.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like …

Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book

Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony



Today we continue with part 4 of our 5 part special photo walk feature of Key West as presented by our friend, photographer, designer, and blogger Lynda Quintero-Davids.  Join us as we share Lynda’s inspiring viewpoint in this installment entitled: Key West: Shipwrecks, Shells, Squares, & Sunsets.

While putting together this series this week, I’ve learned about all the industries Key West has thrived on – some of which were: fishing, turtling, sponging, pineapples, cigars and pink gold: shrimp (from the GULF). One of the most surprising factoids I discovered was learning about how Key West was once the RICHEST city in the United States. How did they achieve such wealth & status? Back in 1828, Key West thrived on the salvaging of shipwrecks, which was known as the wrecking industry…

Photos above I captured at Mallory Square and edited on

“Long established trade routes came close to the Florida coast and the reefs just seven miles offshore of Key West. Stormy weather, or a captain’s inexperience with this treacherous area, could easily cause ships with valuable cargoes to founder just off shore. As a result, wrecking and salvaging soon became the island’s primary business and its citizenry became wealthy on the proceeds. Storehouses and chandeliers abounded, and people came from all over to bid on the valuable salvaged items. Between 1828 and the 1850s, Key West was considered the richest city, per capita, in the United States.”

(Learn more about the history of Key West here.)

The Shell Warehouse at Mallory Square was a great little find because for our past three anniversaries, we’ve spent them on the Florida shores (Key Largo, Naples, and now – Key West). I’ve been collecting treasures of coral, starfish and shells from our trips. This shop – by far – has had not only great prices, but a wonderful selection – I may even turn the photos into coastal wall art… (click to read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment)

For more information about planning your Key West activities as well as booking them please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Key West – Blue By You – Photo Walk Guest Post part 3

Bio picToday we continue with part 3 of our 5 part special photo walk feature of Key West as presented by our friend, photographer, designer, and blogger Lynda Quintero-Davids.  Join us as we share Lynda’s inspiring viewpoint in this installment entitled: Key West Color Blocks Blue By You.

Just a play on words for Hurricane Season and the color of the season: BLUE … A color block post packed with so many blues to discover down in Key West: Caribbean and cool water blues, Gulf and pool aquamarine blues, navy and news blues, teals and turquoise blues, baby and sky blues, and peek-a-boo-blue … And mind you, this was unintentional. I was … (click to  read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment) Key West T-Shirt Factory doors Key West colors
For more information about planning your Key West activities as well as booking them please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Key West Photo Series Guest Blog Part 2

Bio picMy friend, Lynda Quintero-Davids, is back with part two of her Key West series.  This amazing photographer, designer, and blogger recently visited Key West and has a wonderful viewpoint to share.  I hope you enjoy this installment in a taste of:

THE HOUSES OF KEY WEST PART 2 – Hurricane Alley and America’s Southernmost Point

With the start of summer also comes the start of Hurricane Season. And like a carrot dangling in front of a rabbit, so is Key West. Builders far and wide come to Key West (and some should) to study its resilient architecture to learn how these homes have withstood hurricanes, termites, neglect and even the Great Depression. I too am learning about its style & architecture… Here’s some of what I’ve found, along with some photos I captured from our recent anniversary trip to Key West

Love the painted underside of the portico…
On Simonton gingerbread details and painted shutters
More details on Duval
Grand architecture of a conch house

One of the most recognizable architecture styles of Key West homes are simple shotgun homes (aka cigar makers house) and which can also be found in New Orleans architecture. Simple shotgun style Key West architecture traces its origin to West Africa and the French Caribbean. These balloon-frame homes for cigar makers were small and simple, one story and one room wide — with three rooms end to end so a shot fired from the front door could exit the back door without resistance.

Oh so coastal…

One of the more famous cigar houses of Key West was actually converted into a historic cottage inn called Simonton Court, and is located on Hurricane Alley. Cigar houses were established by Englishman William Hall in 1831 and the Cubans. The cigar industry was one of the three main thriving economies at the start of Key West’s history (wrecking industry*, sponge industry (from the Bahamians) and cigar industry (from the Cubans). I would have thought that with Key West having been so heavily populated with Cubans, the roof tops would have been finished with Cuban barrel tile (shaped on the leg of a woman), but because of fires, many roof tops were constructed of tin to deflect flying embers.

Although many of the houses were constructed of wood, over time and devastation from havoc of not only hurricanes but fires, buildings were also constructed of concrete or brick.  A portion of this brick can still be found at an old cigar house turned inn called Simonton Court.  If you’ve picked up a Summer Catalog from Pottery Barn this year, you’ve already been introduced to Simonton Court, and if not, you can learn more about Pottery Barn’s photo shoot in the Florida Keys here.
“Simonton Court is a group of very unique rooms,
created from an old cigar makers’ factory –

No two are alike, but each are charming.”
Simonton Court Resort
“A brick walkway, once a lane,
runs past sparkling pools and historic cottages
built in 1880 as the homes of cigar factory workers.”
Pineapples – the symbol of “Welcome”
are a prominent decor detail throughout Key West

Simonton Court resides on Simonton Street, which is said to be also named Hurricane Alley. Simonton Street was named after the purchaser of the island, John W. Simonton. Although he purchased the island in January 1822, he was deemed the legal owner of the island (Key West aka Cayo

Hueso) until May 1828. His story is actually a part Florida’s first land scam. Learn more about the history of Key West here.

For the rest of Linda’s beautiful photography and commentary please visit her blog “FOCAL POINT”

Key West – Cigar Paradise

Laura Murphy of Key West

As ocean breezes stir the sultry night air and the Key West night life begins to heat up, in many parts of town you can hear the sensual rhythms of Cuban bands.  It is but the first taste of the significant influence that the descendants of immigrant Cuban cigar makers have had on this little island.

Excerpt from “A Key to History,” by Ann Boese as published in the November/December 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado.

Key West is finally blowing the dust off an unheralded chapter of its heritage–the cigar industry. Few realize that at the turn of the century, Key West was the nation’s number one producer of clear Havana cigars, and that today the island is saturated with the descendants, remnants, landmarks and symbols of the industry. Between the onset of Cuba’s Ten Years War, which began in 1868, and 1900, thousands of Cuban cigar workers had crossed the Florida Straits to relocate on this tiny island. Only 90 miles from Havana, Key West was a place where they could escape Spanish rule and continue to roll the prized Vuelta Abajo tobacco that made Cuban cigars the best in the world. In little over 20 years the island had transformed itself from a fishing village to the primary producer of clear Havana cigars.

With Cuban workers rolling clear Havana tobacco in Key West, manufacturers were able to produce the best cigars at two-thirds the cost of production in Cuba. The workers were paid as much as $30 a week, and sent money to Cuba to support the revolution, which raged from 1878 to 1898. The Cuban revolutionary José Martí organized the collection of $20,000 to $30,000 a month to support the Cubans’ fight against Spanish control.

Opportunities rose, and the people poured in. Key West’s population grew from 700 in 1840 to more than 18,000 in 1890, with Cubans by far the cultural majority. Cigar factories in 1885 numbered 86, and 20 of those employed more than a hundred workers each, with the Eduardo Hildago Gato Cigar Factory leading the way with 500. By 1890 the number of factories had grown to almost 130 and cigar production had risen to 100 million. Today there are 28,000 year-round residents or Conchs (for a local mollusk), as natives and inhabitants of the Keys are known, and two million annual tourists. The Cuban influence remains strong, with Cuban-owned restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries open every day. The number of cigar shops has increased from two to nine in the past five years. Five sell house-brand cigars, hand-rolled in some cases by elderly Cubans who have come out of retirement to revive their craft, selecting and handling their tobacco and tools.

To read all of Ann Boese’s original article please visit the Cigar Aficionado Library

Keep in mind that Boese wrote that article 13 years ago.  You can’t stop anywhere along Duval Street that you aren’t but a few paces from a fine tobacco shop.  Here are just a few of the suggestions from the cigar connoisseurs that know at

Tony Trupiano

Key West Havana Cigar Company

Toward the top of Duval street, you’ll find the Key West Havana Cigar Factory – owned and operated by Tom Favelli. Located in the landmark Speakeasy Inn, this tobacconist boasts one of the best assortments of “classic” cigar brands, along with several wonderfully complex house brands.  Relax in the island atmosphere of their comfortable smoking area or sit out on the porch and watch the world go by. Perhaps you’ll meet some of the “locals” like Paruchio – a 90-year-old cigar smoker who’s full of tales of Old Key West and the fascinating cigar factories of the 30’s….

The Conch Republic Cigar Factory

Another classic Key’s style shop, located on Green street just a block from the Famous Sloppy Joe’s bar, is the Conch Republic cigar factory. A small but interesting shop, their house brand may not be for everyone…

Historic Cigar Alley

Located across from the historic Gato factory, this smoke/wine shop is Key West’s hot spot for smoking cigars, enjoying a fine bottle of wine, and  discussing Key West’s historic cigar legacy. Its friendly patrons, Becky and Chris will introduce you to their favorite wines, an excellent array of cigars from the largest humidor in Key West, and  love to discuss Key West’s cigar legacy. The relaxing ambiance for cigar smoking or wine tasting in the shop extends outside to a large  gumbo limbo tree shading an outdoor patio. It is perfectly located adjacent to several excellent restaurants.

Rodriguez Cigar Factory

One of Key West’s oldest traditional rollers, a true small factory, can be found almost across the street from Caribbean – the Rodriguez Cigar Factory. Owned and operated by Cuban rollers who remember Key West’s cigar days, this is a must-see on your cigar tour of the city.

Lisa Wade

Original Key West Cigar Factory

A true Key West tradition, don’t miss this stop on “Cigar Alley” – it’s as much of a museum of old-style cigar paraphernalia as a cigar shop.  An on-site roller creates several of the house-brands here, and you’ll see old cigar molds, photos, tins, presses, you name it, in every nook and cranny of this shop. A recently added walk-in humidor contains some modern classics, and you’ll find plenty of their locally-produced smokes for sale!

Cigar City, USA

Near the end of Duval, is a unique cigar shop and exhibit area. Located right along Mallory Square in an old brick warehouse once used for tobacco products, Cigar City, USA is the place to find exhibits, reproductions of antique cigar art, and a large modern tobacconist. Cigar City USA features an awesome collection of cigar art collectables – on mugs, coasters, calendars, placemats, and framed reproductions. There’s also a small exhibit of Cuban history and a wonderful outdoor cafe.

Cork & Stogie

Cork & Stogie was established in September of 2009, and has been welcomed into the community ever since. Their specialty is Wine and Cigars.  Featuring the most intimate porch on Duval St.

Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop

Matt and Laura Murphy

Featuring fresh rolled cigars that are made daily by our two Cuban Rollers, brothers Raul and Saul, you can join the crowd in front of the store as they watch through the window as our masterful rollers create our fresh rolled cigars. Or enter into the store and walk into our large humidor and look over their shoulders as they create each fresh rolled masterpiece.

While you are in the humidor check out the wide variety of cigars. You will see the famous names, the hard to get, special editions, and boutiquette brands. The staff at Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop know the cigars, the blends, the taste, the strengths. They can help everyone from the beginner to the aficionado select the perfect cigar for your palate.

Cuban Leaf Cigar Factory

A real treat for vacationers in Key west is a visit to the street-front kiosk of the Cuban Leaf Cigar Company on Duval Street right across from the Hard Rock Cafe. Featuring many inexpensive brands of cigars, this open-air shop manufacturers their own tasty La Liga line.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help.

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West and a Local’s Favorite Bars

Key West: Coffee Island Style

Key West Photo Series Guest Blog

I have been given the great honor of reposting a fabulous blog series by Lynda Quintero-Davids.  This amazing photographer, designer, and blogger recently visited Key West and has a wonderful viewpoint to share.  I hope you enjoy this first installment in a taste of:


Bio picBorn and raised in New Jersey, Lynda evolved into an innovative and creative individual right here in South Florida. Her experience as a display stylist & visual director has helped influence her love of objects, decoration, and display. Her passion for interiors, architecture and photography stems from her love of history. FOCAL POINT is the result of merging her passion & her experience.

Jetting out from the US mainland, is a cluster of about 1700 islands known as the Florida Keys. At the tail end is a wonderful little escape known as Key West. Even though it’s been called “close to perfect, but far from normal”, this island is rich with history, from its historic seaports and devastating hurricanes to its famous residents (including presidents), resilient & timeless architecture styles and breathtaking sunsets…

To set sail into summer this Memorial Day, FOCAL POINT will be featuring a blog a series I’ll be posting this week called Key West Week. Key West , aka Margarita-ville and also known as “The Conch Republic”, has not only been a destination for divers, bikers, and party-goers… but many famous people have called Key West home throughout the years. The island’s relaxed, eclectic, and carefree atmosphere has been a draw to writers such as Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway… as well as artists such as John James Audubon, musician Jimmy Buffet and even fashion designer Calvin Klein.

The area of Truman’s Annex was first established in 1845 as a part of Fort Zachary Taylor, a U.S. Army installation. The base was eventually taken over in 1947 as the “Fort Zachary Taylor Annex” to Naval Station Key West. It became known as Truman’s Annex after president Truman spent several winters here – at a getaway called the Little White House.

For the rest of Linda’s beautiful photography and commentary please visit her blog “FOCAL POINT”

Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony

For such a little far away spot in the great big ocean, Key West is an amazing place for art, culture, music, and history. In particular, it is an artists’ colony like none other. Artists come to visit, fall in love, and eventually stay. The amount and variety of visual arts that can be found here in the Conch Republic is staggering. Come along with me and I will give you a little taste of what can be found in the Key West art scene.

When you arrive, I HIGHLY recommend that you pick up a couple of things right away. Get a Gallery Guide printed by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts and the 2010 Key West Art Guide. Both will give you a map and descriptions of the over 42 art galleries in Key West. They are simply a couple must-haves if you want to be sure and not miss anything.

Like I said, there are over 42 galleries in Key West alone. They cover every form of visual art from paintings, photography, and sculpture to amazing fabric art and jewelery. This blog would be a mile long if I tried to profile them all, so I will give you a little sampling of what you can find just along Duval Street.

My first stop was the Wyland Gallery at 623 Duval Street. Wyland is best known world wide for his life-sized Whale Wall murals. The gallery in Key West features many of his sea creature sculptures and marine paintings. He is not the only artist in the gallery, though. You will also find works by David Wight, Steve Barton, Adam Rote, and Steven Quartly. If you will be visiting the island very soon you can catch Quartly at the Wyland Gallery April 15-18 and Adam Rote with Michael Cheval during Memorial Day Weekend.

Next, I stopped in at the Guild Hall Gallery, 614 Duval Street. Established in 1976, this gallery is a co-op of only local artists, so if you truly want a local piece to take home and treasure, this is the place to find it. There are over 20 artists currently showing at Guild Hall, and you will find a little bit of everything. There are plenty of painters, photographers, as well as crafters of various kinds. With two levels of art to browse, I found it very difficult to tear myself away and move on.

Just a few doors up the street from Guild Hall is 7 Artists. The seven artists featured here were originally part of the co-op at Guild Hall, until their work began to take up more space than the Hall had room for. All of the artists are long term residents of Key West, and highly accomplished in their own right. They each take turns working in the gallery greeting customers and working the register. The day I dropped in, David Scott Meier was there to greet me and answer all my questions.

Then I crossed the street to visit Galerie Rue Royale, where I met Steve. Luckily it was a quiet morning and Steve was able to take his time and show me around. Not only is there a great deal of amazing art to be enjoyed in Key West, but there are lots of lovely people happy to share their art passion with anyone that walks through the door. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed talking with Steve about the incredible world class artists featured at Galerie Rue Royale. I particularly loved the collection of Todd White’s work available there.

After that I wandered further up to the two Key West Galleries on the corner of Duval and Southard. Both of these galleries feature fine art from all over the world and Gallery II specifically features the work of Bill Mack. Bill Mack is an absolutely amazing figural artist, and he just finished a showing at the New York Art Show. All of those works are now in Key West and he will be joining them April 29, 30, and May 1. His show will be kicking off a month full of weekend showings by major artists at the Key West Galleries.

But my friends and art lovers, I have saved the very best for last. On a whim, I entered the Peter Lik Photography Gallery at 519 Duval Street. The amazing images taken by this outstanding photographer absolutely took my breath away. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. The gallery director, William Dammann, very kindly took the time to show me around and explain how Lik captures these amazing living, breathing landscapes. All I can say is, you MUST see it for yourself.

Truthfully, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There are sculpture gardens to see at the Botanical Gardens, and so much more.  So, hop on a scooter and take a tour of the cultured side of Key West for yourself.

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