In recent weeks, a middle school art class at Horace O'Bryant School in Key West has been working on a big project. It's a float for one of Key West's many parades. In this parade, every entry is a "kinetic sculpture," which means it must have moving parts — and be powered by people, not pulled by trucks.
This particular float is about the different faces of Key West: the version that tourists see and the reality that these kids know.
Seventh-grader Lexi Alewine came up with the idea for the float for this year's Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade, and all the kids agreed. She learned the word "vaunting" in another class — vaunting basically means bragging or making a big deal out of what you have — and saw how it applied to the island. There's a Key West that gets sold to visitors who pay big money for short stays, versus one she and her classmates know.
"Luxury island life versus the machinery and all the people who have to keep Key West up and clean — everybody who is behind the scenes, basically," she said. "I thought of a flower opening and then the roots that keep it all down — just like the jobs that keep Key West together."
That flower is a big hibiscus blossom, yellow with pink in the middle. And there's some trash down in the roots, left behind by the tourists for the locals to clean up.
Famous landmarks surround the flower, like the Southernmost Point and Sloppy Joe's, the bar on Duval street where Hemingway hung out. It also features some things that transcend the idea of local versus tourists' ideas, like key lime pie.
The pie is a small detail on the float but the kids are still intent on making it look good. They're deciding whether to use crumpled newspaper or a piece of bubble wrap to make the meringue.
Suzanne Brown is a local mixed media sculptor who is serving as the class' "kinetic coach."
"One person is going to be turning it and it's going to be a tourist, a classic tourist looking thing. And on the other side there will be a local, maybe with a T-shirt that has Conchs or something like that," she said.
Her job is to help turn their ideas into a rolling, moving reality.
Brown says this float — with its theme of revealing the reality behind the image of Key West — fits right in with the parade's inspiration.
The parade is named for Stanley Papio. He was a sculptor who turned junk-like car parts into art. And some of those sculptures were satirizing neighbors who complained about his property or developers who were changing the character of the Keys.
"He made these amazing, visionary sculptures but he was also saying something," Brown said.
The class isn't quite up to welding car parts but there are lots of power tools being wielded around the classroom, along with paint and glue.
Brown coaches a group of girls on drilling screws into a piece of wood attached to one of the flower petals. That will hold the hinges that help the petals fold and unfold.
"I want everybody to use power tools. I'm a mixed media sculptor. I'm an artist. I have more tools than most men," she said. "I really want [them to have the opportunity to] cut with the saw and drill and do some things that are life skills, that you're going to have to learn how to do at one point or another."
Some parts of the job don't take power tools — just human strength. The students crumple up the hibiscus petals that are made out of chicken wire, covered with pieces of the Key West Citizen newspaper attached by papier mache.
"We are re-using the newspaper of Key West," Uliana Ivanikova said proudly. Recycling is part of the mission in this project, as well as keeping it very local.
Ivanikova is in sixth grade and she came to Key West from Ukraine last year. She's learning about the island by recreating some of its landmarks for the float.
"I've never been to Sloppy Joe's," she said, "but I just wanted to do it."
The fourth annual Papio Kinetic Parade starts at noon Saturday at the Custom House, home of the Key West Art & Historical Society, which organizes the parade and holds a collection of Stanley Papio's sculptures.