Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Follow the Fish and Hibiscus Trail in Islamorada

Morada Way Arts and Cultural District, Islamorada
Look for the fish and hibiscus flower logo.

If you blink while driving down Route 1 at mile marker 85, you'll miss the area that makes up the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District. But don't let size fool you. The district is a thriving enclave of culture in a place where it's all about the water.

Folks come to Islamorada to look at fish, catch fish and eat fish but to see fish on canvas? That might be an afterthought, but it shouldn't be. Marine-inspired artists here capture the spirit of a community devoted to its aquatic surroundings.

The Morada Way district was founded in 2010 off an industrial road Old State Highway, which runs parallel to Route 1. Today, it's a non-profit that brings together artists and community partners featuring events such as a third Thursday art walk, live painting, classes, culinary gatherings and more.

Anchor galleries Redbone, Pasta Pantaleo and Gallery Morada, as well as Morada Way Clay and Blue Marlin Jewelry, are surrounded by some of the area's favorite restaurants, including Florida Keys favorites The Green Turtle Inn and Ma's Fish Camp. The Florida Keys Brewing Company is scheduled to open on Morada Way early in 2015 and will offer brewery tours and tastings.

To the undiscerning eye on drab Route 1, Islamorada seem like a flat, scrubby island, but from a satellite's point of view, the "rock" (as locals call it) is surrounded by the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay and the reefs of the Atlantic Ocean -- all in a dazzling array of green and blue hues.

Local artists bring to canvas what isn't immediately visible from land. Robert "Pasta" Pantaleo is one of them.

I first visited Pasta Pantaleo's gallery in 2011 one evening while attending a Ladies, Let's Go Fishing workshop. Housed in a historic cottage -- a Red Cross House built in 1937 -- the gallery offers a visual feast for anyone who loves sea creatures. Several signature pieces, many of which show off the vibrant colors and dynamic movement of marine life in large, bold brushstrokes, hang from the walls of the quaint gallery.

A marlin bursting out of the ocean.  Art by Pasta Pantaleo.

Can you guess how many turtles are in this Escher style painting? Art by Pasta Pantaleo.

Pasta Pantaleo Art Gallery, Islamorada
The very affable Pasta demonstrated his acrylic painting technique to us travel bloggers.

This time around, I had a chance to meet the artist and see him at work. Later, I gave him a call.

Brooklyn-born Pasta remembers his early fascination with fish. "Being a young kid, I was enamored with the water. I had fish tanks in my room," he said. "Fish had a gravitational pull. I watched Jacques Cousteau documentaries on TV. All the colorful aspects of the ocean inspired me."

The grown-up Pasta hasn't lost his passion for all things ocean and now he's inspiring younger artists.

"I try to mentor young artists to be larger than the canvas or whatever their craft is," he said. "Whatever you do, try to expand upon it and do bigger things. Share it and give back. You can make change. Once you get that voice, use it for betterment.  And you can still do what you love to do."

Sage advice for all, not just for kids or artists.

See more Pasta sharing his advice below or on Youtube.

To learn more about Pasta and the district, visit Art by Pasta and Morada Way Arts and Cultural District.

For this post, I visited Islamorada as part of a press trip. Opinions my own, as always.

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