Papio Who? Key West Art & Historical Society Prepares to Kick off Parade and Honor Pioneering Florida Keys Folk Artist

Portrait of sculptor Stanley Papio in Key Largo, Florida, 1977. Photo provided by Florida Department of State, Division of Library & Information Services.

The Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade— a family-friendly, art-inspired, human-powered, mobile sculpture and art-bike parade that celebrates creativity and innovation—is just around the bend, set to roll through downtown Key West on Saturday, May 6th, along with a bevy of special accompanying events on Friday the 5th and Sunday the 7th. While many are “gearing up” their kinetic creations, some might be wondering, just who exactly is Papio, and why a parade named after him?

“Barefoot” Stanley Papio was a man whose ingenuity and spirit sparked our islands more than thirty years ago with his clever sense of satire, tenacity, and innovation, creating recycled metal sculptures that garnered him attention and respect as one of the Florida Keys’ pioneering folk artists. He arrived in Key Largo in 1949, when the Upper Keys were little more than an isolated stretch of Highway U.S. 1, and lived there contentedly for many years using his welding skills acquired in the U.S. Army during World War II for both commercial and creative purposes. Over time, his yard, piled high with old cars, washing machines, and other metal appliances surrounded by a welded bedspring fence, became a treasure trove of recyclable materials that he transformed into art.

Unfortunately, as the area developed and the gap between he and his neighbors diminished, what he saw as potential art, others simply called junk.

“I don’t have a junkyard,” Papio once said. “That’s all my future works out there, but you can’t tell that to people with nothing in their heads. Even when I’m done with something, they think it’s just garbage because it’s made out of junk.”

Despite disagreeable neighbors and the mounting pressure they imposed (which included his being jailed six times for zoning violations), his innovative and rebellious spirit continue to evolve; Papio went on to create “satirical metal sculptures that depicted his neighbors, naysayers and people he considered to be ‘environmental rapists,’” says Key West Art & Historical Society Curator Cori Convertito, Ph.D.

“He transformed his collected metal into extraordinary pieces of art, many that tell a story of the defilement of the natural beauty of the Florida Keys,” says Convertito.

The Rabbit” (left) and “The Preacher” (right) are among the Stanley Papio sculpture collection pieces on exhibit at Fort East Martello.

True to his irreverent nature, Papio renamed his welding shop “Stanley’s Art Museum” and charged a quarter for admission, creating a roadside exhibition of folk art for travelers as well as a repository for his often comical and caustic creations. Critics, collectors and museum owners eventually discovered this outsider artist, all recognizing his creativity, imagination, and remarkable welding skills. Later, he exhibited his creations in Canada and his work toured Europe as part of the U.S. State Department’s America Now exhibition. He is listed in the Directory of American Folk Art and The World Encyclopedia of Naive Art.

Papio’s vision to have a traveling exhibition ended when he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 67 in 1982. But his work, which was donated by his family to the Key West Art & Historical Society, is now housed at Fort East Martello Museum, where more than 100 of his restored sculptural objects and other three-dimensional constructions are exhibited in a climate-controlled, permanent exhibit. While he never had the chance to have his own traveling exhibition, the spirit of his vision lives on in The Society’s Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade, which features community-made kinetic sculpture float teams and art bikes created with his rebellious ingenuity, recyclability, and humor in mind.

Channel your inner Papio and sign up to make your own kinetic sculpture float or art bike today, and add to the zany fun sure to be had on parade day, May 6th. For Parade registration information, event schedule, entry guidelines and sponsorship information, visit

The Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of the Arts and Culture, and the State of Florida. Additional support provided by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Historic Tours of America, Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina and Southernmost Beach Café. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island

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