Taking Home a Piece of Nostalgia from the Sunshine State
What souvenirs do you buy when you visit somewhere new? A postcard? Fridge magnet? Keychain?
If your travels took you to Florida a few decades ago, you could have bought a ceramic alligator ashtray, plastic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of oranges, paintings of flamingos, and numerous other kitschy items.
It’s that kitsch and nostalgia that were recaptured at the Floridiana Festival & Highwaymen Artist Show in St. Petersburg on January 29. The show featured 30 vendors with Florida-themed antiques and souvenirs.
“We focus on vintage and tropical Florida. We focus on what was typical in an old Florida house,” says Annette Vedsegaard-Ross, owner of Hula Hula Productions, which has held the show annually since 2005. The Floridiana Festival has been held at various historical locations, including the Gulfport Casino and, this year, the historic Garden Club of St. Petersburg. The show attracted 1,500 people in 2010, and Vedsegaard-Ross was awaiting to see what the 2011 turnout would be.
At the recent 2011 show, attendees pack into the show area for a chance to buy a trinket from old Florida. It may make you think of “Antique Roadshow,” only more crowded and with a Florida twist. Blues, rockabilly, and Elvis music play in the background. “Is that a collector’s item?” someone asks one of the vendors. “Everything at this table must go!” exclaims another vendor. You have to move out of the way as someone warns they are coming through with what appears to be a four-foot tall conga drum. However, you don’t move too far before you stop to look at a change purse, from circa 1964, made from a real alligator’s claw. It costs $100, and the vendor warns that it’s very delicate. Beside the change purse is a key ring view finder ($7.50); when you look inside, it’s a picture of a happy looking white parrot with what appears to be a mohawk hairdo. The view finder advertises the famous Parrot Jungle in Miami (now called Jungle Island). As you might expect among the tiki bar figures, seashell napkin holders, postcards, and alligator tchotchkes, there are also Disney figurines.
The show also features books about historical Florida roadside attractions Weeki Wachee Springs in Weeki Wachee and Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. Since 1947, Weeki Wachee has featured girls dressed as mermaids who perform synchronized dances underwater as manatees, fish, and the occasional alligator swim by. Although the park has changed and grown to accomodate other attractions over the years, it still features some of the original mermaids who performed long ago, says writer Lu Wickers, author of “Weeki Wachee: City of Mermaids,” whose book was promoted at the show. Cypress Gardens was a well-known amusement park in Central Florida with rides and waterskiing shows–at one point in the 1970s, it tied with the Grand Canyon as the most popular place to visit in the United States, according to Wickers. “It was basically just waterskiiers and Southern belles,” says Wicker, who is also the author of “Cypress Gardens, America’s Tropical Wonderland.” The park closed in 2009 but was bought by the Lego toy company, which is converting the property into a Legoland to be opened in October 2011.
A special highlight of the Floridiana Show is the appearance of The Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 painters who sold their tropical-themed artwork around the state by literally traveling up and down the state’s highways. These African American painters are well known not only because of their colorful artwork but also because they thrived during a time of discrimination in the Deep South. The Florida Highwaymen were inducted in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004. (Read Florida Culture’s next article for more details on The Florida Highwaymen.)
A desire for a more simpler time seems to drive attendees to the Floridiana show. “I think people come here for nosalgia. When you look at what’s here, it’s incredible. There are things you can’t even make anymore,” says Vedsegaard-Ross.