November 22, 2017

Contributed
Valerie Perreault, a printmaker and artist who owns Portside Gallery in Islamorada, lifts a print at her shop. Her art gallery, which is planned to host poetry readings and other performances, opened Nov. 17 after a two-month delay following Hurricane Irma. The storm ultimately sank the sailboat she lived on with her husband and their dog.

Contributed Valerie Perreault, a printmaker and artist who owns Portside Gallery in Islamorada, lifts a print at her shop. Her art gallery, which is planned to host poetry readings and other performances, opened Nov. 17 after a two-month delay following Hurricane Irma. The storm ultimately sank the sailboat she lived on with her husband and their dog.

ISLAMORADA — Poet, printmaker and visual artist Valerie Perreault was living on a sailboat in Islamorada when she conceived of Portside Gallery, a venue to showcase local artists that she plans to grow into a village hot spot.

After her boat was ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Perreault and her husband were forced to scrap plans to hold the gallery’s grand opening on Sept. 15. Located on Morada Way in Islamorada across from Redbone Gallery and Florida Keys Brewing Company, Portside Gallery’s opening celebration was delayed over two months.

Last Friday, the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon and Perreault opened Portside after months of upheaval of her daily life, though she says she never lost sight of opening night.

“I had it all planned out in my head and I was waiting for the right location,” Perreault said. “But we had some weather.”

She describes a circumstance familiar throughout the Keys: She and her husband were left temporarily homeless by Irma. They stripped the art from the gallery walls and crashed with friends until they could find a place to live.

Though some art was damaged in the chaos, enough remains for the opening showcase, and Perreault sees the celebration as a point from which to develop Portside Gallery into an entertainment venue to include poetry readings, musical performances and film festivals.

In addition to her art, Perreault has a vision to include plenty of differing styles on a rotating basis.

“I want Portside to be a place where really exciting and different things are happening,” she said. “I intend to keep my own art in there, but I will be rotating other artists in every three months or so.”

She says she has connections in the poetry world around the country and hopes to lure recognized poets to the Keys to headline readings.

Perreault is married to a backcountry fishing guide, and the Midwesterner says the decision to move to Islamorada just shy of a decade ago was based on luck of the draw.

“We came down here kind of on a whim,” she said. “We were out one night, and we put a bunch of different places where he could fish on the backs of four different coasters. We asked an older couple who was sitting next to us to select one of the coasters, and (when) they flipped it over it said the Keys.”

She describes herself as a lifelong painter and visual artist who found poetry in Austin, Texas, later in life. A child of a career military father, Perreault has lived around the country, but says she’s most at home in Islamorada.

“We know everyone there, we love everyone there, we feel like that’s our neighborhood,” she said.

That neighborhood now boasts of another gallery to add to its collection, and Perreault says that the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District in the village is growing. She envisions the district as a destination for arts-minded travelers and those who may want to add a different element to their Keys vacation.

“Something really exciting is happening right now in Islamorada. The district is just booming, and I see Portside and the Morada Way area being where people are drawn to,” Perreault said.

Portside Gallery is located at 151 Morada Way at mile marker 81.5, oceanside. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, except for special events. It can be reached at 617-756-9919 or portsidestudioandgallery.com.

cwickenhofer@keysnews.com