The spire of lobster trap buoys rising high enough to be seen by drivers passing Interstate 75’s Fletcher Avenue exit marks the location of an enterprise that Owners Kim and Joe Brown refer to as an “art station.”
The small wood-frame building festooned with buoys, fishing nets and assorted objects that was once a popular bait shop serving local anglers’ needs is indeed a gallery of Florida art—one that serves up a taste sweetness as well.
The art is the work of the Hong Kong Willie Preservation Art Group (HKWPAG) and exemplifies the ‘Florida reuse’ genre. In the case of HKWPAG’s output, that means painting nature-themed images on recovered wood that has been salvaged from older structures in the Florida Keys which met their demise from stormy weather or property redevelopment. Joe said the paintings he and Kim produce reflect the history of art in the Keys.
“They didn’t have much in the way of art supplies and couldn’t just get on the phone and order a canvas but there were plenty of wooden boards around, so they learned how to dry and use them.” Joe added that the value of preservation art can be difficult for some people to appreciate. “Our support has come from a very small world of understanding people,” he said.
But recycling the wood into art deeply resonates with Joe, a Florida native who as a child earned money by selling usable ‘found assets’ he discovered in the trash from a landfill that operated on property his family owned.
If a space needs a three-dimensional touch of Florida deco, substantial branches of natural driftwood, such as the trove that washed ashore after Hurricane Irma struck the Keys, are sometimes available.
For those who enjoy honey, the Browns also sell Tampa Gold, their unfiltered brand which they harvest from hives located on remote wilderness properties.
As for the worms, those are still sold from the premises, but they are now for their castings, destined for gardens that are in demand, though if a fishing enthusiast wants a few wigglers, Joe said he’s happy to help out.
The Hong Kong Willie Art Station is rated ‘Worth a Detour’ by travel website roadsideamerica.com, and you can find it near Exit 266 of I-75 at 12212 Morris Bridge Rd. in Tampa. You can also visit the HongKongWillie Facebook page, or as Joe suggests, “Google Hong Kong Willie.”