Thursday, February 28, 2019

From Pencils and Brushes to Artists and Clams

About six years ago, Carol and I were feeling the winter cold more than usual and were dreading the late January/early February days when winter seems endless.  She asked me to find a place where we could spend a week or two, her criteria being someplace quiet and warm.  The second criterion kinda narrowed it down to Florida.  Quiet was another issue since most of Canada, the upper midwest, and the northeast reached a similar conclusion about warmth.  We had both spent enough vacation time in lively upbeat tourist traps to yearn for laid back relaxation and relative quiet.  A couple of hours with TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Wikipedia led me to Cedar Key.  Though labeled a city, this tiny place —year-round population about 1,000— is easily walkable.  A stroll that covers every street in the downtown area takes about an hour with time for browsing.

2nd  Street — The Main Drag

The South End of 2nd Street — The Main Drag is just over the rise

The city was named for the Eastern Red Cedar that provided the smooth non-splintery wood that spawned two factories devoted to making the slats for pencils.  Slats were then shipped to New York where the pencils were completed.  Other factories harvested young Cabbage Palms to fashion into brushes of various sizes that were shipped all over the world.

Among Cedar Key's other historic claims to fame is the fact that it was the western terminus of the first trans-Florida railroad, which ran from Fernandina on the Atlantic coast in northern Florida to Cedar Key on the Gulf.  Ships bound for the Gulf of Mexico no longer had to make the loop around Florida. Instead cargo was offloaded in Fernandina and sent by rail to Cedar Key to be loaded onto waiting ships bound for New Orleans and other Gulf ports.
All that's left

Enough history - let's talk about what this city became after the diminished supply of Eastern Red Cedar and a devastating 1896 hurricane caused Eberhard Faber and other factories to relocate.

With the will to survive and fortitude typical of Old Florida, Cedar Key gradually reconstituted itself into the country's largest supplier of farm-raised clams and a haven for artisans to practice their various crafts.
Clam farmer starting the day

There are two artist co-ops on 2nd Street about a block apart, each contains local pottery, sculpture, paintings, and photographs.  Surprisingly they are not in competition!  I believe local artists may put work in both places as long as they are willing to take a shift behind the counter.  Above the one named The Cedar Keyhole is a gallery that hosts local art which changes about once a month.  We've met several artists while there, finding that most of them are transplants from northern climes who visited and fell in love with this slice of Old Florida.

There is a sense of calm and acceptance in the place that pulls one in.  Maybe it's the fact that the nearest supermarket is about 30 miles away (the local market is more than adequate for most needs); or that, with no yoga studio available, folks get together upstairs at the library three days a week to practice to some CD selected by those who show up; or that the coffee shop puts out food and water for several feral cats that inhabit the area.

There's also some tourism, but it's a bit more laid back than jet skis and power boats.

Enough about our not-so-secret hideaway.
Until next time.
- Namaste