Keys Homes
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Totem Protected

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

The totem pole was already guarding the front screened-in porch when Mally Weaver bought her property at Tamarac Park in 1983. She says she filled cracks and repainted it many times before shipwright artisan Thomas H. Avery moved in 18 years ago.

"Tommy recently replaced its wings," Weaver said, but when it comes to maintaining a well-weathered, finely honed light pole in the tropics, even professional artists in a two-studio home like theirs have their work cut out for them.

Bearing the name "Ghost of Tamarac", the totem was carved and erected by the property's former owner, sometime in the early 1970s -- not too long after Tamarac Park's canals were carved out of coral rocks on Geiger Key, and streets were officially named.

Weaver's 1970 Homette mobile home is located on Boundary Street and the name means exactly that; Boundary is the last street in the park that separates private residences from the federally owned Navy base on Boca Chica.

"For whatever reason, half of the Tamarac housing project was cancelled in the 1960s," said Avery. "The unbuilt side across Boca Chica Road is known as 'swim side,' and we're on the finished, deep-water side."

Naturally a shipwright wants access to deep water -- an Avery-designed and built flat-bottomed skiff is docked along the seawall behind the property--but he has other boats elsewhere.

He also has a studio elsewhere; actually, it's a commercial workshop on Stock Island. There, big-wood projects are the focus, while smaller furniture pieces are designed in Avery's covered studio on Geiger Key. Here, a wall made from 12 old windows, which he built between his studio and the side entry to the house, affords as much light for the watercolors and painted swordfish bills he creates as it does for the 100 or so orchids Avery grows here.

Weaver's painting studio is inside the house, just across the walkway from Avery's. She's been a member of Guild Hall Gallery in Key West since 1984, but both artists are represented in other galleries.

Although Weaver and Avery work at home in separate spaces, in effect, they paint side-by-side and share living quarters, which Avery redesigned in 1998.

"Back then there was some damage from Hurricane Georges," he said. "I asked Mally how she wanted me to repair the flooring in the four front rooms, and she said she didn't want them at all. She wanted a makeover."

So Avery reconfigured the small living room, kitchen and dining room into a great room, from which two doors open--one to the "production" studio, where Weaver mats and frames paintings by both artists, and one to a screened-in rear porch filled with more orchids.

Two bedrooms and a bath make up half of the 720-square-foot interior, and the kitchen makes up half of the great room. It features Avery's handy work in a central oak counter, open shelving above it and a wall of built-in cabinets.

The long counter dead ends at Weaver's painting station overlooking the rear garden and canal. And whether she's painting or cooking, light pours in from the production studio, the back porch and the wrap-around windows, all hung with hard-to-find wooden Venetian blinds.

"I got them from Reef Perkins, when he owned Perkins and Son Chandlery," said Weaver. "He salvaged the blinds from Truman Annex, after the Navy sold the property."

In spite of the periodic upgrades, vintage goods rule this household, especially in the working kitchen. For instance, Weaver's collection of old pottery sitting on the open shelves is more than decorative: "I use all the old stuff, including the cast iron skillets," she said. "Some are rare Griswold skillets that my dad collects."

She admits that she would never cook on Teflon, doesn't own a microwave and "all that new fangled stuff scares me."

No worries, though, Weaver and Avery have the Ghost of Tamarac watching over them, plus, the US Navy is right across the street.

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to barbara@bbowers.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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