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January 16, 2019 – (Key West, FL). Late Philanthropist David Wolkowsky gifts Mario Sanchez and Tennessee Williams artwork to Key West Art & Historical Society

Thanks to the generosity of David Wolkowsky, who recently passed away at age 99, estate items that were previously loaned to Key West Art & Historical Society have now been bequeathed to the organization whose mission it is to preserve the culture and heritage of the island. Visitors to the Custom House Museum will continue to enjoy “Mr. Key West’s” legacy: 17 paintings by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams, and 72 brown paper bag sketches and a bas-relief woodcarving created by celebrated Cuban-American folk artist Mario Sanchez.

Often credited with the revival of Key West, Wolkowsky was equal parts developer and preservationist, restoring the charm of the island’s old buildings while thoughtfully considering new ones. He understood the value of history and what it took to make Key West the magnet it is for tourists, artists, writers, and other eclectic luminaries and bohemians searching for Paradise.

“What he accomplished mattered to him; it was at the core of his being,” says Society Curator Cori Convertito, Ph.D. “Leaving the Society this legacy ensures that we will persevere in what he started – ensuring the community understands the importance of our history and culture.”

Part of that legacy includes rare paintings by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who visited and lived in Key West for more than 40 years and took up painting in the later decades of his life.  He rarely sold these sensual, psychological dreamscapes, instead gifting them to close friends. Wolkowsky was one such friend, whom Williams spent much time with at his home in the old Kress building on Duval Street and on his private island in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.  So close that, upon Williams’ death in 1983, Wolkowsky served as a pallbearer at the funeral.

“Due to David’s close friendship with Williams, he felt it imperative to donate the paintings to the Society so we can safeguard them and ensure that the largest audience possible views them,” says Convertito.

The paper bag sketches created by Mario Sanchez that Wolkowsky gifted to the Society offer a look into everyday Key West island life, exemplified by vivid details and outdoor street scenes that he sourced from his own memories. The Sanchez woodcarving “Old Island Days No.23 ‘Golden Era’” was commissioned by Wolkowsky in 1975 and portrays the men’s clothing store his father and grandfather operated on the corner of Greene and Duval Streets at the turn of the century. Wolkowsky “admired the artist’s sense of humor and ability to visually and accurately archive the island’s history,” says Convertito.

Wolkowsky was a longtime benefactor of the Society, and often brought dignitaries, friends, would-be donors, and local islanders to the Custom House Museum, a historic building whose restorations he continuously supported.

“This community was so blessed to have him,” says Convertito. “It is not about the money, it is about his positive attitude and his mentorship of people who he felt would carry on his legacy.”

For more information about these collections or to make your own loan or a tax-deductible donation to the Society, contact Cori Convertito, Ph.D., at cconvertitofarrar@kwahs.orgor call 305-295-6616 x 112.   Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island.


KWAHS_Wolkowsky Memorial 2:

During a short-film production shoot for the 2016 Custom House Museum exhibit “Pencil Me In,” the late philanthropist David Wolkowsky describes the experience of acquiring a collection of Mario Sanchez sketches from a woman who had kept them hidden under her bed. Wolkowsky, whose life was celebrated on Saturday at a memorial held at the Custom House Museum, has bequeathed the sketches, which were previously on loan, to the Key West Art & Historical Society.