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A St. Petersburg artist turned lost Florida tourist attractions into coloring books

After losing her art teaching jobs during the pandemic, Summer Kluytman turned her childhood memories into a business opportunity.
A coloring book featuring many of Florida’s roadside attractions has been created by artist Summer Kluytman, who holds it in front of Sunken Gardens’ famous sign in St. Petersburg.
A coloring book featuring many of Florida’s roadside attractions has been created by artist Summer Kluytman, who holds it in front of Sunken Gardens’ famous sign in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 25|Updated Jan. 25

When Summer Kluytman was a teenager, she got a summer job working at Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach.

She’d strap kids into the swinging Viking ship and push the button that started the Abominable Snowman ride, a swirl of flashing lights and heavy metal music inside a chilly igloo.

By 2004, Miracle Strip shuttered, like many other hokey Florida tourist attractions of the past. But Kluytman found a way to remember them. The St. Petersburg artist has been documenting lost attractions and beloved landmarks in a new series of hyper-local coloring books.

Coloring books created by artist Summer Kluytman feature famous Florida landmarks and roadside attractions.
Coloring books created by artist Summer Kluytman feature famous Florida landmarks and roadside attractions. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

It’s been a dreamy escape during a turbulent time.

“You can’t really go anywhere right now,” said Kluytman, now 46. “Well, I don’t really go anywhere right now. So in a way, the research was really taking me away from this and helping me open my memory box.”

Kluytman’s first coloring book focused on the vintage signs of St. Pete. When she first moved to the city in the early 1990s, she was fascinated by the colorful neon motel displays, like the Sandman Motel on 34th Street N.

After she became an art teacher at St. Pete’s Makeme Studio for a couple of years, Kluytman would trace photos of customers’ families. She got bored and started tracing motel signs for fun.

Art instructor and coloring book creator Summer Kluytman poses for a portrait at St. Petersburg's Sunken Gardens, one of the many places featured in her Florida-centric coloring books.
Art instructor and coloring book creator Summer Kluytman poses for a portrait at St. Petersburg's Sunken Gardens, one of the many places featured in her Florida-centric coloring books. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Then the pandemic hit and she lost her art teaching jobs at Makeme and Creative Clay. She got a coloring book based on the TV show Schitt’s Creek and realized she could do the same thing — with a different niche.

“Anything with St. Pete on it, people go nuts for,” she said. “I wanted to jump on that.”

Love Letters from St. Pete published in July 2021. It features beloved city landmarks, past and present.

Her most recent coloring book, Next Exit, came out in December and is inspired by roadside attractions across the entire state of Florida during her childhood. Her dad was a television and radio personality, and she remembers traveling with him to the annual Wausau Possum Festival and the Jesus-themed King of Kings wax museum once based at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.

“Even as a child, I liked absurdity,” she said.

The book starts with Miracle Strip, featuring the hulking blue creature that stood guard outside the Abominable Snowman ride and the grimacing devil’s head of the Dante’s Inferno attraction nearby. It has pages for extinct attractions like Tiki Gardens (once in Indian Shores), Splendid China (once in Central Florida) and Six Gun Territory (once in Ocala). It also celebrates spots that are still kicking: Sunken Gardens, Gatorland in Orlando, Solomon’s Castle in Ona and the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.

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Related: Let's revisit Florida's bizarre lost theme parks
Coloring books created by artist Summer Kluytman, featuring famous Florida landmarks and roadside attractions, Tuesday, Jan.11, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
Coloring books created by artist Summer Kluytman, featuring famous Florida landmarks and roadside attractions, Tuesday, Jan.11, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Both books are sold in stores throughout St. Petersburg, including Tombolo Books, Neat Neat Neat St. Pete, the Merchant and the Morean Arts Center. Kluytman also has copies available for purchase online via her Etsy page. (She sells under the shop name SummerLoveLetters.)

“I just really enjoy all of the fun characters and castles and circus tents,” said Summer’s husband, Jason Kluytman. “Almost every page has something cute and quirky.”

For the past four years, a room in the couple’s home has been used as a creative arts and craft studio. Among the shelves upon shelves of art supplies, now there are boxes of coloring books — and plans for future volumes are in the works.

“This is a labor of love for Summer,” Jason Kluytman said. “You’re getting a big chunk of her heart in each of these coloring books.”

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