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Parade, Permanent Exhibit Honor Keys Sculptor

Carol Tedesco
Key West Art & Historical Society
Artist Steve King works on 'The Grinder,' his pedal-and-belt-driven entry for the first Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade in Key West.

  On Michael Gieda's first day at work with the Key West Art & Historical Society, he checked out one of the society's three museums, Fort East Martello.

There he found a couple of local artists working on some pieces that had been in the society's collection for almost 30 years.

Credit Carol Tedesco / Key West Art & Historical Society
Key West Art & Historical Society
On his first day at work at the Key West Art & Historical Society, Michael Gieda saw some of Stanley Papio's work and says he was 'blown away.' Now that work will be on permanent exhibit at the society's East Martello museum.

  "I remember walking up to the second floor of the citadel where all these pieces were being treated and just being utterly and completely blown away by this collection of sculpture," Gieda said.

The pieces were the work of Stanley Papio, a Key Largo-based folk artist who died in 1983. His family donated 70 of his works to the society.

Now they are getting a new, climate-controlled permanent exhibit at East Martello - a mid-19th century military installation better known recently as the home of Robert the Doll. The intent is to bring more attention to the artist and his work.

"To me, Stanley Papio is on the level of Mario Sanchez," Gieda said, referring to the Key West-born folk artist who is much better known. 

Papio had a welding shop on the Overseas Highway in Key Largo.

"He started putting a call out to anybody to drop off appliances, car parts, what everybody deemed as junk, and just put it on his property," Gieda said.

Papio turned that junk into art, but some of his neighbors objected. After he got in trouble with local authorities, he opened a folk art museum and attraction.

"This was a big deal. People driving down the Keys, they would stop and visit his roadside attraction. I think the admission was 25 cents," Gieda said. Papio's work got enough attention that he started to display throughout the U.S. and in Europe. He was planning a major U.S. tour but died suddenly in 1983.

His family then donated his work to the Art & Historical Society. Some has been on display at East Martello over the years, but the environment has taken its toll.

Now the work has a new home within the museum, where it will be on permanent display. And Papio will be honored with a new annual event, the Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade. The first parade is Saturday, May 14. The exhibit opens Saturday evening at East Martello.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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