I am living on a quaint lane in Old Town Key West for the last six years in a wooden Victorian house. My first impression walking in as a tenant-to-be was the “good feeling” that oozed out of the old Dade County Pine. Standing sturdy like a ship on land it already embarked on a journey a long time ago and I just happened to board on one of its many pit stops. I would come across small odd clues and reminiscences hidden and cradled in wood of forgotten ghosts and on an Easter hunt I started collecting questions. Why is there different layers of bright neon green paint under the dull brown fresh painted floors? Why is there a photo of man with a goat staring at me from its buckled copper frame? Why is the house full of antique gaudy Italian carved mirrors with crumbling flying cherubs? This is how I got acquainted with Henry Faulkner, his art and his flagrant life.
Henry Faulkner was born in Egypt, Kentucky in 1924 into a sad childhood that has the makings of an Edgar Allen Poe tale. From a volatile father to the slow death of his mother his sensitive nature was formed and overcast by becoming an orphan dumped into the welfare system moving from one to the other foster family. He even had a foster-mother in the remote Appalachian that treated him like a girl that she rather wanted. His adult life was peppered with debilitating incidents like being mugged with a hammer as an adult with a blow to the head, discrimination against being gay that included slurs and beatings and after all these setbacks any other human might have sunk into self-pity, but not Henry. His insecurities and pain poured like syrup into manifestations of poetry, art and a flamboyant lifestyle. He became best friends with Tennessee Williams, the Bertolt Brecht family and befriended Ernest Hemingway. In his Key West days he became the life and heartbeat of many parties and art gatherings.
He also become the savior of the outcast and forgotten, any animal that he could find abandoned and tortured he will rescue and become part of his own bizarre family that included Alice the goat. The rumor goes that he had painted the floors in the house green so that Alice can feel more at home “galloping through pastures”. He wrote numerous poetry and was a prolific painter. His paintings reminds me of Marc Chagall,- see more of his paintings. He passed away in 1981 when his car was hit by a drunk driver. If you want to learn more about this amazing artist you should read “The Outrageous Life of Henry Faulkner” by Charles House.
Currently this house is in the Bertolt Brecht family trust since his son Stefan and Henry Faulkner were good friends. We are the temporary caretakers of this property. It is one of the last untouched houses in Key West that stayed exactly the same for the last 5 decades without any editions or changes. It still has a well on the yard and the kitchen is separate from the house, built to prevent the spread of fire. There was even a couple of movies shot in the house like ‘Criss Cross‘ with Goldie Hawn in 1992 (not a great movie. . .). I was told by a neighbor, that has lived on the lane his whole live, that Henry Faulkner and Tennessee Williams had major parties. The two will sit on the front balcony and some navy sailors will parade down the lane and only the selected ones were allowed to enter to join the party. No wonder the house has good vibes!
I cringe for the day that this house will be turned into the rest of Key West now sterile “Meringue cake” houses that are buffed and overly manicured by rich out of towners. But for now I enjoy the character of “Old Key West” the days of poets, hippies and famous writers. When I work in my studio I feel a solidarity almost as if Henry is peeking over my shoulder with that sweet ‘Mona Lisa’ smile of his.