EVERGLADES CITY — There are juried art shows in Southwest Florida this time of year, with national rankings, high-dollar price tags, and hotshot artists with their slick brochures and professionally crafted booths.
And then there's Art in the Glades.
This down-home festival, put on largely by locals for locals, with a critical mass of visitors as well as most of the exhibitors coming from Everglades City and its environs, returned to McLeod Park in downtown Everglades City Saturday. It is a distinctly low-key, not to say lowbrow, cultural event, with most artists' booths consisting of little more than a card table set up under the low wooden roof of the community center next to the old Collier County courthouse.
Peg Black from Naples and her husband Gordon sold their artwork, made from discarded wine bottles. He does the copper and stained glass work, and she does the mosaics and beadwork.
"Our motto is, 'saving the landfills, one bottle at a time,'" said Peg, showing off a planter made from the top half of a bottle and a "treasure box" made from the bottom halves of two. Locals Marya Repko and Helen Bryan sold books of local lore, seafood recipes and history, including several written by Repko, along with "Frog Poop" by Virginia Saalman and several others you won't find on the bestseller lists. Repko's books include "A Brief History of the Fakahatchee" and "Angel of the Swamp: Deaconess Harriet Bedell in the Everglades," a chronicle of the pioneering missionary who helped the local Native Americans in the 1930s and '40s.
Olivia Sanz, from even further south "toward the Florida Keys," set up her table right by the band, consisting of guitarists Mitch Mitchell and "Snooker Joe" Stem, whose photos you might find in the dictionary under "good old boys."
"I wanted to be able to see and hear them. I've had a great time listening," said Sanz. She was working on a handcrafted flower, sort of like origami made from felt. Her booth also featured T-shirts, snow globes, and homemade shopping bags.
Snooker Joe and Mitch played, with Joe taking lead vocals, a wide range of country, soft rock and old-time standards, along with original compositions such as "A Beautiful Day in Chokoloskee" and "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Crabbers," a tip of the cowboy hat to the local fishery.
If the only time you have visited Everglades City is for the annual Seafood Festival, by the way, you have not ever seen Everglades City. The tiny town disappears for that weekend under the crush of over 50,000 tourists and the carnival midway, with the local eateries overwhelmed by the big-rig traveling food vendors that will be set up at Jacksonville or Myrtle Beach next weekend.
Coming down for Art in the Glades affords the chance to experience E-City at its own pace, which is a relaxed amble with plenty of time to stop and chat along the way. Combine your culture quest at the art show with stroll over to the Rod and Gun Club, haunt of Presidents and notables during the Roaring Twenties, and enjoy some actual local seafood there, or at the Island Café or the Camelia Street Grill.
This little "city" was a thriving metropolis when Naples was a collection of fishing shacks, and what history Collier County can boast is all around you when you walk along the Barron River, check out the stone crabbing fleet. The Museum of the Everglades, just across the street from Art in the Glades, offers a fascinating glimpse at the past of Collier County in its pioneer days.
Art in the Glades returns on March 9, and in case you're wondering, the Everglades Seafood Festival is scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 9 and 10.