Ingrid Brooks, the publicity chair of the Art Guild of the Purple Isles, expressed wonder that so many artworks were submitted during these pandemic times for the group’s 28th annual “Birds of the Keys” exhibit, at the Roberto Russell Galleries at Ocean Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Normally, it’s a big brouhaha, catered and with wine. It’s so sad that all we can do is show and we can’t promote it in the way that we’d like to. Maybe next year,” Brooks told Keys Weekly wistfully. 

The subject matter of the show has taken a spotlight in the media during this past year. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology said that on its annual bird-spotting event called Global Big Day on May 9, during the depths of the Covid-19 health crisis, a record-breaking two million observations noted 6,479 species on their online platform — the most documented bird sightings in one day.

“Birds of the Keys” exhibit co-chair and artist Shirley Abraham next to her oil “Peli Tease.” CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

This probably would not come as a surprise to the group of artists who submitted work to the “Birds of the Keys” exhibit, some of whom gathered at the show’s opening day at Ocean Sotheby’s on March 8 to discuss their work with Keys Weekly. They all described the pleasure of slipping a kayak through a mangrove tunnel and photographing a roseate spoonbill to remake into a work of art at home.

“We all are inspired by birds,” said photographer Kelly Walkotten. “Birding was one of the reasons that brought me this way to Florida.”

The other artists all nodded their heads vigorously and traded stories about their latest birding escapades. “You have to go out in their environment,” said painter Yvette Cotera. “I’ve driven to Flamingo Park to see a specific osprey.”

“People plan vacations for bird watching down here,” said Carlene Shedd, co-chair of the exhibit and artist.

“And it’s especially good during Covid,” agreed Shirley Abraham, also a co-chair of the exhibit and an artist with work in the show.

Painter Mariela Estevez said the rich variety of species locally has compelled her to document them in mixed media such as metal and fabric. “I wasn’t interested in birds till I moved to Key Largo.”

Artist Mariela Estevez stands next to her paintings “El Avila” on top and “Into the Wild”. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

“During lockdown, everything changed. The animals emerged,” Shedd said. “From an artist’s eye, with the birds, you’re looking at form and flight. Their grace and color. That will trigger something to try to express that in art so that other people can see it.”

“It’s also so that people can appreciate them and take care of them,” said Cotera. “If we don’t take care of the environment, they will disappear one at a time.”

“Birds of the Keys” exhibit co-chairs Carlene Shedd, left, and Shirley Abraham stand in front of the pastel “Herons at Sunset” by Gisela Llorens. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

Abraham said most of the artworks in the exhibit are for sale, and that the first show in 1994 was inspired by esteemed wood sculptor and former AGPI member Joe Cella, who delighted in making carvings of birds; he died in 1993.

“Birds of the Keys” will be held at Ocean Sotheby’s, 81888 Overseas Hwy, bayside, Islamorada, through March 21. This show is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment only on Saturday and Sunday by calling exhibit curator Maria Perez at 305-712-8888. More information on the Art Guild of the Purple Isles is at agpi.us.

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