by Shayne Benowitz
As I rode my bike past the Custom House on the way to work at Fury Water Adventures this morning there was quite a hubbub. Giant statue body parts were being dismembered and loaded onto flatbed trucks with the help of a crane. The staid bust of a humble old man with a thin ring of hair and a pitchfork in hand sat disjointed next to the torso of his wife in a plain prairie skirt. The sculptural rendering of this iconic farmhouse couple from Grant Wood’s painting “American Gothic” stood three stories high in front of the Custom House for months. Today, artist Seward Johnson was in the process of, yet again, changing his artistic installation.
The historic Custom House built in 1891 is home to Key West’s Museum of Art and History featuring exhibits on Ernest Hemingway, folk artists, pirates, and the unique role Key West plays in Naval history. Over the last year, giant sculptures by Seward Johnson have greeted passersby and museum attendees on the front steps of the red brick building.
First there were two dancers, an image Johnson borrowed from a Monet painting depicting his friend Vincent Van Gogh dancing with a woman at a picnic. The images soared to three stories high making them impossible to miss in Key West’s landscape. These were later replaced by the “American Gothic” couple who stood with suitcases at their feet placing a modern spin on this classic couple. Today, as the farmers were coming down, a steely and stormy gray figure was erected.
This statue is a part of Johnson’s Icon series and is an image of a downtrodden King Lear, the tragic protagonist of one of Shakespeare’s plays of the same title. Images of Johnson’s other Icon statues are on display within the Custom House and include Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, and servicemen among others. This imaginative artist creates full blown installations that bring to life famous paintings from the Impressionists to modern artists. His work is sweeping and affective and is definitely worth a trip to the Custom House.
Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer working on her debut novel. For more travel stories and a daily dose of what’s cool around the globe visit her Wanderlust Website at http://web.me.com/shaynebeth.