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Floridiana Festival offers oceans of kitsch, memorabilia and Highwaymen art

Fans of vintage Florida items are likely to make several fun finds at Saturday’s event. About 40 dealers of Florida souvenirs and memorabilia are expected at the ninth annual show.

LARA CERRI | Times (2008)

Fans of vintage Florida items are likely to make several fun finds at Saturday’s event. About 40 dealers of Florida souvenirs and memorabilia are expected at the ninth annual show.

GULFPORT — Nothing makes a Florida house a home like a flamingo figurine or a picture of the Weeki Wachee mermaids.

These memorabilia — including original paintings by Florida Highwaymen — will be on sale Saturday at the ninth annual Floridiana Festival and Highwaymen Artist Show at the Gulfport Casino.

"The show is all about old Florida kitsch, with almost 40 dealers of Florida souvenirs and memorabilia, so many flamingos and alligators that you can immediately start a collection. And postcards and ephemera, and home decor and tropical anything," said Annette Vedsegaard-Ross, show sponsor.

Brandon collector Pat Knepp and her husband, Richard, have been doing shows for 33 years and have been at the Floridiana fest for the past six years.

"When we first got down here — we've been in Florida nine years — I couldn't understand what the big deal was with old Florida stuff. Then I went to the show and I got the bug," Knepp said.

When she returns to her hometown in Jamestown, N.Y., she scours yard sales and antique shops for anything Florida.

The kitsch she'll have for sale Saturday includes framed shell art from the 1950s, an old photo album filled with pictures of people vacationing in St. Petersburg and Clearwater in the 1920s and old cookbooks, Florida advertising plates and tablecloths.

Is there anything she can't part with or regrets selling?

"There was this bobblehead I had. It was Miss Orange. It was old and adorable. After I sold it, I thought, 'Oh, I should have kept that,' " she said.

More serious art available at the show includes the Florida Highwaymen. They are a group of 26 African-American artists who got their name from selling vibrant landscape paintings to banks, hotels and travelers along the roadways of Fort Pierce in the late '50s. They unofficially disbanded in the 1980s, but a surge in demand for their work has brought some of them back to painting.

Six of those original Highwaymen will be at the show, including 70-year-old Willie Reagan of Vero Beach.

"I'm from the east coast but you get the beautiful sunsets from the Gulf Coast," he said.

He said he sold his paintings out of his station wagon from 1966 to 1980, but he was different than the other Highwaymen.

"I had a leg up because I had a degree in art education," Reagan said. He taught in high schools and junior high schools before retiring in 1995 after 30 years.

In 1966, Reagan said, he'd sell an original 24-by-36 painting for $45 to $50. Today, they go for $3,000 to $4,000.

The other Highwaymen who will have works for sale are Issac Knight, Robert Lewis, James Gibson, Roy McLendon Sr. and Curtis Arnett.

Ken Breslauer, St. Petersburg author of Roadside Paradise: The Golden Age of Florida's Tourist Attractions: 1929-1971, will be at the show to sell his book and roadside attraction kitsch.

He'll be selling things like a pennant from Weeki Wachee when it opened in the 1940s, a Cypress Gardens scarf from the 1950s and lots of decals.

And while roadside attractions are diminishing, the desire for their memorabilia lives on.

If you go

Floridiana Festival and Highwaymen Artist Show

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Gulfport Casino,

5500 Shore Blvd. S.

Admission: $6; children under 2 are $3. Free parking

What you can buy

Alligator ashtrays, flamingo figurines, citrus-shaped radios, old parks souvenirs, Highwaymen art, citrus and cigar box labels, carved alligator canes, souvenir sterling silver spoons, hotel china, postcards of bathing beauties, alligator purses, vintage Aloha shirts.

Who you can meet

Robert LeBlanc of will appraise old Florida art.

Lu Vickers, author of Weeki Wachee: City of Mermaids

Larry Roberts, author of Florida's Golden Age of Souvenirs: 1890-1930

Wayne Ayers, author of Tampa Bay's Gulf Beaches, and Florida's Grand Hotels from the Gilded Age

Highwayman James Gibson will give a painting demonstration at 11 a.m.

Floridiana Festival offers oceans of kitsch, memorabilia and Highwaymen art 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 5:00pm]
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