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RETRO SHOW LIKES GULFPORT

When all the things that embody the Florida of yesteryear, kitschy souvenirs from the '50s, landscape paintings by the Highwaymen artists and even alligator wrestling come together, it makes for a unique event.

After bouncing from one locale to another for a few years, the Floridiana Festival may have finally found a home built of the same mystique.

Today, artists and antique collectors from around the state will bring their wares to the Gulfport Casino and Ballroom overlooking Boca Ciega Bay.

"We're going to try to make Gulfport the home because it fits in with all that Old Florida stuff as a nice, sleepy town," said Annette Vedsegaard-Ross. Her company, Hula Hula Productions, and the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce are promoting the event.

If all goes as planned, the antique and art show will become an annual event at the casino the first weekend in February, Vedsegaard-Ross said.

Collector and vendor Larry Roberts said collecting Florida memorabilia and antiques is "starting to be pretty popular."

Roberts, who is the author of Florida's Golden Age of Souvenirs, 1890-1930, said potential collectors will find a wide range of items and prices at the show.

A collector of 27 years, he specializes in antiques from the first wave of Florida tourism and will feature items from hand-carved alligator walking sticks for $150 to Seminole Indian dolls for $1,200.

There will also be plenty of vintage alligator-, flamingo- and orange grove-themed gifts from the legendary tourist traps and roadside attractions of the '50s and '60s that many newcomers may find more accessible.

These collectibles, which Roberts jokingly refers to as "too tacky to touch," have started to draw a greater number of collectors because of their reasonable prices.

Also on hand will be a number of the Florida Highwaymen, a group of 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.

James Gibson, known for his renderings of the Royal Poinciana, will exhibit his work alongside fellow Highwaymen artists Issac Knight, Robert Lewis, Roy McLendon and Willie Reagan.

After 50 years, Gibson still lives and paints in Fort Pierce, where he and his colleagues once sold their works for $15 to $35.

"But I could paint real fast, so instead of one or two paintings I could paint five or six," he said, adding that their skills were honed by friendly competition.

Now Gibson's paintings sell for $850 to $15,000, so he takes his time, working on five or six alternately over the course of several weeks.

"Every year it seems like there is more interest and new people buying," Gibson said.

Tourist reels featuring the Weeki Wachee mermaids and, of course, alligator wrestling will be shown throughout the day, and the Highwaymen will answer questions after a documentary on their movement.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

IF YOU GO

Floridiana Festival

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at 5500 Shore Blvd. S, Gulfport. Admission: $6, includes an art valuation and all film showings.

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