The Key West Art Center is currently housed in a historic quaint wooden building in the midst of the city’s old town waterfront area. It was originally constructed in the 1850’s near the waterfront for use as a grocery store. A fire seriously damaged the building in 1886. It was rebuilt as a single story building and the second floor added in the early 1900’s. The grocery was owned and managed by the George Babcock family for many years. In later years the building was the location of the first WPA Art Project under President Roosevelt.
The KWAC membership prior to 1960 had several locations, one of which was in the 400 block of Simonton St. This group of local artists was joined by several businessmen and persuaded city officials to save the historic building on Front Street which had been condemned. It was then converted into a city sponsored art center and gallery.
It was one of the first buildings to be restored in the old Mallory Square area and became the home of the Key West Art Center in 1960.
The Key West Art Center and Gallery is incorporated as a non-profit organization, devoted to the encouragement of local artists by furnishing them with a central market place for their work. The Center is supported by membership dues and a commission of sales. A wide variety of art by dedicated local artists, both in style and price can be found here.
Martha Watson Sauer was a uniquely talented and prolific artist who lived most of her life in Key West, but also traveled the world documenting her experiences through drawing and painting, making notes all along the way in her detailed sketchbooks. She was an early member of the Key West Art Center. A permanent exhibit about her life and work as well as the history of the Art Center is on view in our upstairs gallery. The exhibit includes examples of her watercolors and sketchbooks, as well as her block prints created for tourist brochures under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) a program that emerged out of the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 to help America get back to work and prosperity in the wake of the Great Depression and hard economic times. She did the artwork for the Key West Aquarium, as well as other newly developed tourist attractions of the 1930’s including the Ernest Hemingway House, the Peggy Mills Garden, now The Gardens Hotel, and the West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Garden Club. Martha was also employed by the WPA to teach weaving and watercolor classes at the Art Center location -- then known as the Key West Community Art Center -- the WPA’s first public art project, and the seed that eventually grew into today’s Key West Art Center.