B’Nai Zion Synagogue & The Gallery on Greene Presentation of Mario Sanchez

At B’Nai Zion Synagogue & The Gallery on Greene in Key West
February 28: Opening & Panel Discussion at B’Nai Zion

March 6: Continuing exhibit at the Gallery on Greene

Mario Sanchez: Jewish Friends & Conchtown Neighbors, curated by Mario Sanchez specialist Nance Frank of Gallery on Greene, explores the aesthetic and cultural dialogue between Mario Sanchez (1908 to 2005), the Cuban community and Jewish shopkeepers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Key West, explored in the best-selling book of Arlo Haskins, The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar-Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969).

Bringing together more than a dozen intaglios and brown-paper-bag sketches from public and private collections, this exhibition is the first of its kind in any museum or gallery to embrace the connection between the artist Maria Sanchez and ethic citizens of Key West. Mario Sanchez: Jewish Friends & Conchtown Neighbors intends to enrich our knowledge of the personal and cultural conversation that sustained these two communities, Cuban and Jewish, for decades. The Opening & Panel Discussion at B’Nai Zion on February 28 will include Arlo Haskins and members of the families depicted in Mario’s intaglios and Haskins’ book. Despite their remarkably different cultural trajectories and their seemingly divergent interests, Mario and his “Jewish Neighbors & Conchtown Friends” struck up a relationship that endured for his entire 96-year life and some were his best collectors. 

Mario Sanchez was the greatest storyteller of the everyday people of Key West,” says Nance Frank. Born in 1908 and having lived 96 years as a poet, a painter, an actor and a pitcher for the Key West All Starshe encompassed the time when Key West was becoming a special place where people celebrated diversity. 

While still a boy, Mario Sanchez began his artistic career whittling small fish on Rest Beach. After his marriage to wife Rosa, his mother-in-law suggested a more radical aesthetic endeavor inspired by the charming people and architecture of Old Key West, telling the island’s history. Several of these celebrated and highly sculptural intaglios will be on display, such as Old Island Days #44 (B’Nai Zion), Boza’s Comparsawith the Aronowitz & Lewinski buildings and Applerouth Lane and Old Island Days #23. This is the Golden Era of the Wolkowsky, Wolfson and Markovitz stores. Other Sanchez art featured in the exhibition include his early work Good Old Key West Days with John Raisin’s Cigar Factory, one of many Jewish cigar producers. Old Island Days Hymie includes another of Mario’s Jewish neighbors in the exhibit. Fifteen works Mario carved with Jewish friends and neighbors have been identified for the exhibit—Colorful Solares Hill (Weintraub’s Grocery),Old Island DaysHeart of DuvalOld Key West1918 (paper bag), San Carlos Parade A. Louis & Sons, Markovitz Racket StoreHymie (corner of Greene & Duval) along with two images of B’Nai Zion.

Along with organizing and overseeing Sanchez’s major solo museum exhibitions in New York in 2005 and Havana in 2015, Nance Frank, a childhood member of B’Nai Zion, also worked tirelessly on behalf of the disciples of Mario Sanchez, Andy Thurber, Wayne Garcia, Papito Suarez and George Garcia, to bring Mario Sanchez’s philosophy of “One Race, the Human Race” and the autochthonous culture of Key West to the world. Mario Sanchez broached a number of similar themes in his work including depicting cigar factories, houses of worship, children playing together and visual and verbal puns. The artist was custodian and curator of his oeuvre; the studio under the trees was a venue for experimentation; the objectness of things and variations on a single subject or form were his trademarks. Through his wholly individual approach to the creative process (the intaglio work and painted, carved wood), Mario Sanchez upended traditional notions of the artist, and in so doing he extended the limits of what was possible in the realm of folk art.

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