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Exhibit Celebrates Key West Hand Print Fabrics

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Key West Art & Historical Society

In 1961, two New Yorkers who had worked in the theater moved to Key West and opened a screenprint fabric shop.

In short order they met two women who assured their success. One was Lilly Pulitzer, the Palm Beach socialite who had started selling brightly colored garments a few years before. The other was a Key West resident named AgnezZuzekdePoo, better known as Suzie.

DePoo became Key West Hand Print's lead designer and her colorful, Caribbean-inspired prints were commissioned by Pulitzer and others. Her work, and the history of Key West Hand Print, are the subject of a new exhibit at the Key West Art & Historical Society, called Suzie dePoo: The Art of Hand Printing.

Key West Hand Print closed in 2009 and dePoo died in 2011. This is the first exhibit to focus exclusively on her work in fabric; two years ago The Studios of Key West produced a retrospective of her work that included sculpture, ceramics and driftwood.

"Suzie dePoo's artistic influence on our community is extensive, and while several exhibitions have been presented, none seemed to focus on her livelihood -- Key West Hand Print Fabrics," said Cori Convertito, the exhibit's curator. "Seeing as she spent the better part of 30 years designing fabrics on the island, there was a considerable body of work just calling out to be explored."

Pulitzer was already selling her dresses, known as "Lillys," when she learned about the new fabric in Key West. Eventually she purchased 98 percent of her fabric, or 4,000 yards a week, from Key West Hand Print; the garments were created at a factory in Miami, Convertito said.

At one point, more than 200 people worked for Key West Hand Print, making it the island's largest private employer. The tea towels with calendars and recipes for local foods like key lime pie and conch chowder were favorites with locals and tourists.

Suzie dePoo: The Art of Hand Printing runs from Sept. 12 to Jan. 2 at the Key West Art & Historical Society, 281 Front St., Key West.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.