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January 3, 2019 – (Key West, FL).  Key West Art & Historical Society celebrates local Bahamian culture in upcoming exhibit

Key West Art & Historical Society invites the public to celebrate the island’s Bahamian heritage and culture in their upcoming exhibit “The Key West/Bahamas Connection,” which opens with a special reception on Friday, January 18 from 6:00pm -7:30pm in the Bryan Gallery at the Custom House Museum. The exhibit will reveal both the historical and contemporary connections between the two locations, demonstrating how much of Key West’s culture and community is deeply rooted in the Bahamas.

“Our island is routinely associated with a Cuban influence, but, in fact, the Bahamians inhabited the Keys much earlier and most definitely shaped our resulting history,” says Society Curator Cori Convertito, Ph.D.

Florida Keys settlers came from a variety of places, including Cuba, New England, the mid-Atlantic and Europe, but the most influential of the initial settlers were of Bahamian descent. Driven by the poor economic situation in the Bahamas and the ability to start afresh in an area that provided a number of opportunities in trades they were readily proficient in (salvaging shipwrecks, fishing, and sponging), Bahamians moved to the Florida Keys and settled along the length of the island chain.

“Once it was established that Key West could be prosperous, Bahamians moved to the island in large numbers, sometimes bringing everything they owned, including their homes, with them,” says Convertito. “The result was that Key West effectively became an extension of the Bahamas; the food, the architecture, the industries, the music and the families all were closely aligned with their former lives.”

The exhibit will highlight many aspects of local Bahamian culture and history and will include objects and photographs generously from the Society’s permanent collection and objects loaned by members of the community. Visitors can learn about the Bahamian influence on Key West’s development from the 1820s – 1930s; Bahamian settlers and the architecture of Key West houses, featuring a model of Tuggy Roberts House/Bahama House created by Ronny Bailey; Bahamian industries with artifacts from the shipbuilding, wrecking, sponging and turtling industries; Junkanoo groups featuring an authentic junkanoo costume and spotlights on musicians to include Coffee Butler, the Lopez family, Harry Chipchase and Edwar Weech; the Goombay and Island Roots Festivals; and prominent Key West citizens of Bahamian ancestry. There will also be a selection of prints created by Winslow Homer in 1899 when he visited both Key West and the Bahamas.

“Homer’s beautiful watercolors are nearly interchangeable, location-wise, demonstrating how he possibly viewed our island an extension of the Bahamas,” says Convertito.

In addition, the Society’s annual Conch Revival Picnic at Key West Lighthouse celebrates the island’s Bahamian culture with a picnic-style dinner that celebrates the island’s Bahamian culture, prepared by acclaimed Isle Cook Key West chefs Martha Hubbard and Dave Furman on Tuesday, January 22 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm.

“By focusing an exhibition on the connection between our island and the Bahamas, we pay homage to our rich heritage and celebrate what makes Key West special.”

“The Key West/Bahamas Connection” will run through April 7.  For more information call Cori Convertito, Ph.D., at 305-295-6616 x112, email her at, or  Your Museums.  Your Community.  It Takes an Island. 

This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and the State of Florida” (Section 286.25, Florida Statutes). The exhibit and Custom House Museum are handicap accessible.

Photo Caption:

Side-by-side images of Key West Bight (left) and Hope Town, Bahamas (right) from the 1880s reveal the unmistakable connection between each location.  Images courtesy of Monroe County Public Libraries.