Artist Eric Anfinson’s ‘Isaiah’ mural in Bahama Village has been removed for preservation while the city demolishes a portion of the former diesel plant in the neighborhood. ERIC ANFINSON/Contributed

In order to preserve a crumbling but historic 1880s-era power plant that straddles the Bahama Village and Truman Waterfront neighborhoods, two non-historic portions of the former Keys Energy Services Diesel Plant in Bahama Village are being demolished.

Fortunately, the Fort Street-facing mural will be preserved along with the historic structure.

“When the mural project began, I always understood it was going to be a temporary wall installation,” artist Eric Anfinson said. “I never dreamed that the image would become so important to those living in the neighborhood. To know that Isaiah will live on into the future is very humbling.” 

The street’s iconic angel was a towering and welcome presence on the wall previously covered in graffiti and a beacon visible from several blocks away. He would later watch over the adjacent unofficial pocket park that evolved below it in 2020, complete with a Key West Little Pantry and Bahama Village Little Library, a bench and several chairs to comfort those in need during the pandemic’s more difficult days.

The original is a 24- by 30-inch oil painting on canvas painted at the Lemonade Stand art studio on Thomas Street in Bahama Village, where Anfinson was a resident artist. Unlike many of Anfinson’s portraits of real people who sit for him, this image was imagined and one he started and finished quickly.

“It just kind of poured out at me,” he says. “When it was finished, I recognized his face as a protective presence I have felt for many years.”

Leaders from the Just 4 Kids art program on Fort Street approached Anfinson about using it as a mural on the nearby building, which had plywood covering an opening at the wall’s center. With the help of Laura Theobald, Anfinson transferred the image’s face and upper body to two new pieces of plywood to be attached to preexisting plywood. Friends, program volunteers and Just 4 Kids children painted the rest of the wall.

“The mural was my gift to the art program and to the neighborhood,” says Anfinson. “It was important for me that the children of the art program participated and also signed the mural. I wanted them to have ownership.”

Anfinson, the beloved painter of the beloved mural, is currently being celebrated in a retrospective exhibit at Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House Museum, 281 Front St. “Earthly Bodies: Two Decades of Nudes with Eric Anfinson” draws from private collections and works that span over 20 years. The show is on display until Feb. 12.

“As it happens,” he says, “in the next gallery over is a wonderful exhibit based on Bahama Village.”

The deconstructed plywood panels make the mural’s own preservation possible and are now being restored at Anfinson’s current Mockingbird Studio. 

God only knows where Isaiah flies next, but more than a few people hope he’ll land close by.

Cricket Desmarais is an MFA Creative Writing graduate from NYU who came to Key West “for now” when her mother lived here in 1997. The marine ecology, arts, & community make her stay. She joins her two teens each evening for homework—hers for the Marine Resource Management program at CFK, where she graduates with a B.S. in spring 23. Shout out to her at [email protected] to recommend people we should meet.