While Ernest Hemingway's legend seems to overshadow the notable writers who came to Key West after him, Tennessee Williams' legacy is getting a boost with two new exhibits. Key West Art & Historical Society's Custom House Museum is displaying Williams' rarely seen artwork in the exhibit Tennessee Williams: The Playwright and the Painter. Meanwhile, the Key West Business Guild Visitor Center's exhibit, Tennessee Williams in Key West, focuses on articles, photos, playbills and memorabilia from the decades the internationally renowned playwright spent in the Southernmost City.
Tennessee Williams in Key West exhibit — Photo courtesy of Susan Kent
Williams first visited Key West in 1941, and after living in a boarding house, he bought a clapboard Bahamian cottage at 1431 Duncan Street. He created a compound with a guest cottage and a swimming pool where he lived for more than 30 years - until his death in 1983. In his one-room writing studio he called the "Mad House," he completed Summer and Smoke and wrote Night of the Iguana, among other works.
Because of Williams' influence, the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of his play, The Rose Tattoo, was shot in Key West in the 1950s, and it premiered in 1955 at the San Carlos Institute on Duval Street. The world premiere of his play, Will Mr. Merriweather Return From Memphis?, was the opening event at the Tennessee Williams Theatre in 1980.
One of the typewriters used by Tennessee Williams — Photo courtesy of Susan Kent
Encouraged by close friend and artist Henry Faulkner, Williams also painted on his patio as a way to relax after a hard day of writing. Even though one of his paintings graced the cover of his book of poems, Angrogyne Mon-Amor, not many people outside of Key West knew of his hobby.
Now, the Custom House exhibit, up through early April 2014, showcases his other creative side with a collection of paintings done in acrylics, oil paints, pencil and chalk. He gave his images evocative titles reminiscent of his literary works, like The Flight of Peter Pan, A Child's Garden of the Roses, Fairy in a Wicker Chair, Great Silence of the Storm and Recognition of Madness.
The free-admission Key West Business Guild exhibit is located at 513 Truman Avenue behind Guild's Visitor Center. This exhibit is slated to run indefinitely. It was designed to educate visitors about the universal importance of the life and work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer during his 36-year tenure in Key West.
Highlights include personal photographs of the playwright at home with his partner and friends, original posters of local productions of his plays, books, playbills, a typewriter Williams used in Key West and more.