Reuse Became the way of life. To read the story from the inception of the Name Hong Kong Willie.
Famed, by the humble statements from the Key West Citizen, viable
art from reuse has found its time. Important living artist to Tampa Bay Hongkongwillie .To Live a life in the art world
and be so blessed to make a social impact. Artists are to give back,
talent is to tell a story, to make change. Reuse is a life experience
THE IRONY OF IT ALL
Hong Kong Willie Art ,Blue Marlin Dream of Key West. $225,000
My Father was a generous man . Hillsborough County was in need for a dump. They showed him studies that DUMPS(they called SANITARY LANDFILL) WERE SAFE. HE DONATED THE LAND FOR THAT USE. NEVER RECEIVED ONE CENT OF COMPENSATION,AND DID THIS AS A PUBLIC SERVICE.
It,(was the dump) that had all this media, and a young enterprising mind. Not enough time to capture it all.
Predestined for the Green Movement
Eye-catching landmark at Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75 ,Famous Florida Artist Hongkongwillie Art Gallery
Famous Florida Artist R
of MSW from 1958 to 1962.
New Tampa Patch
The Story Behind the Eye-Catching Art at I-75 Exit 266 Tampa Florida
Sometimes, it’s the smallest experiences that have the biggest impact on a person’s life.
While attending an art class in 1958 at the age of 8, Famous Florida Artist, Joe Brown recalled being mesmerized by the lesson. It involved transforming a Gerber baby bottle into a piece of art.
Gerber bottle had no intrinsic value at all,” he said. “But when (the
instructor) got through with me that day, she made me see how something
so (valueless) can be valuable.”
the time class was over, Brown learned many other lessons, too, such as
the importance of volunteerism, recycling, reuse and giving back to the
community. He recalled being impressed by the teacher’s volunteer work
in Hiroshima, Japan, helping atomic bomb survivors.
of the last words she ever spoke to me about that was, ‘When I left, I
left out of Hong Kong,’ ” he said. After turning that over in his young
brain for awhile, he decided to use it in a nickname, adding the name
“Willie” a year later.
You’ve probably seen Hong Kong Willie’s eye-catching home/gallery/studio at Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75. But what is the story of the man behind all those buoys and discarded objects turned into art?
practiced his creative skills through his younger years. But as an
adult, he managed to amass a small fortune working in the materials
management industry. By the the ’80s, he left the business world and
decided to concentrate on his art. He spent some years in the Florida
Keys honing his craft and building his reputation as a folk artist. He
also bought some land in Tampa near Morris Bridge Road and Fletcher
Avenue where he and his family still call home.
purchased the land just after the entrances and exits to I-75 were
built. He said he was once offered more than $1 million for the land by a
restaurant. He turned it down, he said, preferring instead to make part
of the property into a studio and gallery for the creations he and his
family put together.
all of it is made of what most people would consider “trash.” Pieces of
driftwood, burlap bags, doll heads, rope — anything that comes Brown’s
way becomes part of his vocabulary of expression, and, in turn, becomes
something else, which makes a tour of his property somewhat of a visual
adventure. What at first seems like a random menagerie of glass,
driftwood and pottery suddenly comes together in one’s brain to form
something completely different. One moment nothing, the next a powerful
statement about 9/11.
One Man’s Trash …
Trash? There is no such thing, Brown seems to say through his art.
He keeps a blog about his art at hongkongwillie.blogspot.com. He also sells his creations through the Website Etsy.com.
his shop, he has fashioned many smaller items out of driftwood, burlap
bags and other materials into signs, purses, totes, bird feeder hangars
and yard sculptures.
sells a lot to the regular influx of University of South Florida
parents and students every year who are are at first intrigued by the
“buoy tree” and the odd-looking building they see as they take Exit 266
Brown Sells More Than Art
Of course, the real locals know Brown’s place for the quality of his worms.
there’s one thing that Brown knows does well in the ground, it’s the
Florida redworm, something he enthusiastically promotes, selling the
indigenous species to customers for use in their compost piles. Some of
his customers say his worms are just as good at the end of a fishing
be honest, what made me come here is that they had scriptures on the
top of his bait cans,” said customer John Brin. “Plus, they have good
service. They’re nice and they’re kind, and they treat you like family.”
Brin knows Brown sells them mostly for composting, he said they are
great for catching blue gill, sand perch and other local favorites.
He also added that he likes getting his worms from Brown “because his
bait stays alive longer than any other baits I’ve used.”
For prices and amounts, he has another blog dedicated just to worms.
course, many people also stop by to buy the smaller pieces of art that
he and his family create: purses made of burlap, welcome signs made of
driftwood, planters and other items lining the walls of his store.
He’s also helped put his mark on the decor of local establishments too, such as Gaspar’s Patio, 8448 N. 56th st.
Jimmy Ciaccio said that when it came time to redecorate the restaurant
several years ago, there was only one person to call for the assignment,
and that was his good friend Brown.
known Joe all my life, and we always had a good chemistry together,”
Ciaccio said. “He’s very creative and fun to be around, and that’s how
it all came about.”
says he still gets compliments all the time for the restaurant’s
atmosphere he created using the “trash” supplied by Brown. He describes
the style as a day at the beach, like a visit to Old Key West. “They’re
so inspired, they want to decorate their own homes this way,” he said.
that kind of testimony that makes Brown feel good, knowing that others,
too, are inspired to create instead of throw away when they see his
work. He simply lets his work speak for itself.
Live a life in the art world and be so blessed to make a social impact.
Artists are to give back, talent is to tell a story, to make change.
Reuse is a life experience
Blue Marlin Dream of Key West.
Hongkongwillie Famous Florida Artist was once told to keep telling the story and they will keep coming,and
they always do.”Every piece of art that is made, and every project we do
is done for a reason. It doesn’t matter if that reason shows up the
next day, or walks in six years later; every piece of art will find a
home.” Famed, by the humble
statements from the Key West Citizen, viable art from reuse has found
A Tampa couple devotes itself to creating something from nothing
Drive south on I-75, look to the right around East Fletcher Avenue,
and you can’t miss it. The tree appears first, hundreds of buoys wrapped
around its branches, resembling a sort of Dr. Seuss-ian Christmas
ornament. Then the rest of the 20,000 buoys come into view — thousands
of strands of the multicolored foam balls stretching from the tree to
two wooden shacks, hanging from their roofs and walls, and stretched out
over the property.
Strewn about the lawn is a menagerie
of surfboards, car doors, CB radios, wooden sculptures and painted
signs. A 1979 Ford pickup sits in the front driveway, painted with a
rainbow of colors, four racks of antlers affixed to its roof. An old
stuffed caribou sits in a lawn chair beckoning visitors.
the thousands of motorists who pass by this eclectic landmark off Exit
266 every day, few stop in the funky gift shop and Key West-themed folk
art gallery that is Famous Florida Artist Hong Kong Willie’s. But this is not your typical
roadside store selling cheesy Florida magnets and beach T-shirts
(although they have those, too). From the moment the owners come out to
greet you, it’s clear that for them this isn’t just a business — it’s a
As I step out of my car, Joe Brown ambles
toward me wearing a red Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. With his
disheveled shoulder-length brown hair and strong jaw line, Brown, 56,
looks a lot like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. He ends most of his
sentences with “Do you follow me?” and stares with wild gray eyes until
you nod in agreement. His 46-year-old wife, Kim, who bears a strong
resemblance to Grace Slick, sits near the shop’s open sign, branding her
latest creation. Wearing large sunglasses, she gives a smile, hardly
Joe and Kim — Tampa natives — bought the
half-acre property off Fletcher Avenue and Morris Bridge Road in 1985.
For the next two decades, the Browns operated A-24 Hour Bait and Tackle,
living on the premises and bagging worms for K-Mart and Wal-Mart to
make a few extra bucks. But in 2001, they decided to abandon fish food
to pursue the fickle business of art, although they will tell you Hong
Kong Willie’s was always “part of the journey.”
“We were artists,” says Joe. “We were born that way. We had no choice. You follow me?”
underlying theme of Hong Kong Willie’s is creating art out of objects
destined for the landfill, and while browsing the items, I get the
feeling the Browns are trying to make a point rather than a sale.
percent of the gifts given will be in the dumpster by next Christmas,”
Joe says. “Most Christmas gifts will be given because they think they
have to. Very few will have a social impact.”
at Hong Kong Willie’s is either art made out of an object destined for
the landfill or products that other companies were throwing away and the
Browns retrieved before they made it to the dumpster. But don’t call
this recycled art. The Browns prefer “preservation.”
implies the material will be used for the same purpose. “If you get
stuck in that word, then you get stuck in that form,” Joe explains.
Instead, the Browns create a whole new use for an item that would have
been otherwise thrown away.
Kim looks up from her painting
after Joe finishes his long ramble. “We’ve always been able to take
nothing and make something out of it,” she says.
most people assume Joe is “Hong Kong Willie,” he says the name refers to
the origin of junk: Hong Kong produces much of the useless merchandise
that Americans buy and quickly throw away, he says. So it’s up to the
Willies of the world — i.e. the Browns and other conservationists — to
find new uses for the trash.
“All of us who believe what we believe is Hong Kong Willie,” Joe says.
gift shop is a space not much bigger than a tool shed, cluttered with
handmade candles, pottery, ceramic figures and deer skulls painted
tie-dye style. Joe, who’s not content to allow me to wander by myself,
darts from item to item, sharing each one’s origins. One of the first
objects he shows me is an old scuba tank cut in half, stenciled with
yellow and purple spray paint with a weighted rope attached on the
inside. What would have been a heavy addition to a landfill or junkyard,
the Browns now sell as a nautical-themed bell. Another popular item: a
used Starbucks Frappuccino bottle filled with sand and shells, and the
words “Florida Beachfront Property” written in paint on it.
it really pragmatic to say this had one life — to have Frappuccino in
it?” he says, holding up the $3 gift. “That’s not true. You follow me?”
picks up a droopy glass vase — the result of an Arizona Ice Tea bottle
stuck in a kiln for too long. He says it’s a collector’s item: Only 300
were made and none look alike.
“People really want
something that is one of a kind and something that means something,” he
says, holding up the vase and pointing to a stack of Beanie Babies.
“Which one is the real collectible? The one that cannot be copied or the
one that is mass-produced just on a small scale? You follow me?”
of the materials the Browns work with come from Key West. Every few
months they hop in the pickup, drive the 425 miles to the Keys and start
looking for the junk no one else wants: used dive tanks, the lobster
trap buoys, burlap bags and even old wooden planks from ships or homes
destroyed by storms.
In fact, the latter is one of their
biggest sellers. They bring back an imperfect piece of lumber, slap some
urethane on it and Kim paints everything from colorful fish and birds
to old Key West landmarks on it. Every piece is branded, marked with a
lobster cage tag and affixed with brass rings or forks with which to
hang them. In the building opposite the gift shop, among stuffed animals
and fish (Joe was once a taxidermist), 30 of these painted planks hang
from the walls.
Customers are few at Hong Kong Willie’s,
but the Browns say they’re doing well. They never try to push their art
on anyone, figuring that if someone stops and buys something, it was
meant to be. (“A piece of art is a love affair,” Kim says.) They count
Gaspar’s Patio Bar and Grille in Temple Terrace as one of their best
customers. Their other business comes from Tampa residents looking to
add a tiki feel to their backyards. Among Joe’s most popular creations
are old car doors outfitted with waterproof speakers. A few Key West
bars bought the unique sound systems to hang from their ceilings.
the Browns are not just content to sell their art to passersby — they
want to live the ideals that inspire their art. The couple is working on
getting their business off the electrical grid and powered completely
by solar energy. Kim wants to start a coffee and ice cream shop with
free wireless Internet to bring in likeminded people. Joe wants to be in
the Guinness Book of World Records for hanging the greatest
number of buoys to a structure (it’s not a category yet). And they’re
always trying to find new uses for the trash they see lining area roads.
not just sitting out here being weird,” Joe says suddenly. “We’re
actually taking objects and making these thousands of people say,
‘What’s that?’ We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
His eyes get wide.
“You follow me?”
Hongkongwillie Art Shabby Chic Burlap Art,on Vintage Silk Screen Frame.This is a Hongkongwillie Exclusive.
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Famous Florida Artist of Google,Facebook ,Twitter ,WEIRD FLORIDA: ROADS LESS TRAVELED Charlie Carlson visits one of the weirdest guys in the world, Hong Kong Willie. WEIRD FLORIDA: ROADS LESS TRAVELED
Weird Florida Hong Kong Willie episode
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S.L. GIMBEL FOUNDATION.
IN THIS EDITION OF “
BY SOHINI LAHIRI
Growing up in Tampa, I spent a period of time fascinated by a quirky,
eye-catching landmark at Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75. This was
also the period of time I spent obsessed with making binoculars out of
toilet paper rolls and necklaces out of pop tops. To me, this sight was
the epitome of similar creative craziness, and I often found myself
looking for it during car journeys, hoping it hadn’t disappeared
But time passes and so does the urge for pop-top necklaces, and
observant eyes don’t notice the same sights. It wasn’t until recently
that I once again took note of the scene, with its broken down orange
helicopter, a tree made of what seems to be indestructible balloons and a
blue-and-white house covered with trash remade into art.
It’s the home of Famous Florida Artist Hong Kong Willie.
I finally paid a visit to this art gallery after many years of
wondering about the story behind it. The pavement leading to the door is
painted with handprints and splatters, the store edged with upside down
Coke bottles. Streams of lobster buoys hang from the roof and also make
up the “tree” I marveled at so often from my car window.
Various shoes, bottles, clocks and signs are glued to the side of the
store, and there’s a tribute to Sept. 11 off to the side. No one seemed
to be home, so I called the number on the “WE’RE OPEN” sign, which
brought a middle-aged man in a bright Hawaiian shirt from behind the
After a few basic questions, Joe Brown begins to open up about the history surrounding his art.
Brown, better known as Hong Kong Willie, says he was an artist from the
start. “Everyone is born an artist,” he said. “However some are granted
the gift of being able to express that art.”
As a young boy, his mother decided to send him to art school, which he says changed the course of his life forever.
At the age of 8, Brown recalls being heavily influenced by the lessons,
which included transforming a Gerber baby bottle, something with no
real value, into a piece of art. His teacher had spent an enormous
amount of time and effort in Hiroshima, Japan, helping those affected by
the atomic bombs. Brown learned many lessons about recycling from this
teacher, who had come from Hong Kong. Brown added an American name,
Willie, to Hong Kong for his nickname Hong Kong Willie.
While Brown grew up to be an artist, he left the world of mainstream art to return to his background in technology.
“But on Nov. 13th, 1981 … on a Friday at 1:30 in the afternoon, I had
an epiphany,” Brown says. “I was at a friend’s house right across the
street,” pausing to point at a row of apartments across from his store,
“and a series of events led me to rejoin the art world.”
With the help of two other artists, Brown set up his business in the
Florida Keys in the early 1980s, then moved it to Tampa. Together, they
believed that they were predestined for the Green Movement, and have
been making art out of recyclables for close to 30 years.
How’s business? He smiles. “It’s pretty wild.”
Inside, Hong Kong Willie’s art includes glossy pieces of driftwood
restored and painted with beautiful landscapes and kernels of truth,
some of the gorgeous work priced in the six figures. But there’s also a
wide collection of handmade bags, wooden sculptures and sassy bracelets
for more moderate prices.
A portion of the proceeds go to benefit the Green Movement, Brown says.
With a laid-back swagger, Brown continues. “We live pretty minimally.
And all the funds we get from donations and our art sales are delegated
to green projects.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I decided to visit Hong Kong
Willie. Certainly not the breathtaking art inside, and definitely not
the history behind it. I’m feeling thick-headed for not visiting years
ago, and say so.
Brown offers a last bit of insight:
“I’m a big believer in predestination and timing. If someone is not
ready to view art, the door is closed. Every piece of art that is made,
and every project we do is done for a reason. It doesn’t matter if that
reason shows up the next day, or walks in six years later; every piece
of art will find a home.”
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
$176,000 U.S. Dollars
By Kerry Schofield
The year was 1958. Famous Florida Artist
Joe Brown, 8, lived next to a county dump site in Tampa, Fla. Brown
found old junk, fixed it up and sold it. Brown knew he had a higher
calling in life — he was destined to be an artist.
is as colorful as the gallery — he wears a bright tropical shirt with
red, white and blue plaid shorts. Patrons tell him they can smell the
salt water when they drive up. The gallery, however, is perched inland
near Morris Bridge Road and Interstate 75 where a rusty-hair hen named
Fred, first thought to be a rooster, patrols the property. Fred,
abandoned five years ago by tourists, trots between the gallery and
adjacent hotel leaving a trail of droppings behind her.
lived on the Gunn Highway Landfill from 1958 to 1963. The Hillsborough
County landfill operated for four years and was closed in 1962. “It was
astounding how quick they could fill the 15 acres in pits that were
enormous,” Brown said.
apartment complex now sits on top of the old landfill. A report by the
Florida Department of Environmental Protection indicated that a lining
was placed underneath the complex when it was built to block methane gas from leaking. The gas is a byproduct of rotting garbage.
a child, Brown lived on his father’s dairy and beef farm. Brown said
during heavy rain, the low land on the farm flooded the neighboring Gunn
Highway. In 1957, Hillsborough County officials offered to elevate the
low land to stop the flooding by turning it into a landfill. When the
property was sold in 1984 by Brown’s father, soil testing revealed heaps
of old paper and punctured cans of spray paint.
dug up and took out newspapers like the day they were put in,” Brown
said. “It reminded me of nuclear bombs that were going to go off. They
dumped everything in the landfill.”
a child, Brown foraged at nearby dumpsters. County workers saved junk
for him that people dropped off. One day, Brown’s parents got a call
from his elementary school teacher and told them that Brown had $100 in
his pocket and that he must be stealing.
picked up the saved junk after school and turned it into something new.
Contrary to his elementary school teacher’s accusation, he wasn’t a
thief after all. Instead he was a young entrepreneur who sold other
Brown’s mother wanted him to pursue his talents and dreams, not money.
But he developed a business sense during his young junk collecting days
and told his mother, “I’m not going to be an artist. I’ve read that
artists starve to death.”
mother became concerned. He said his mother knew “the value of
happiness and the travels of life” and sent him to a summer art class.
art teacher inspired awe in Brown. She taught him how to reuse baby
food jars by melting the glass and adding marbles to the mix to create
paper weights. The teacher had traveled to Hong Kong, China and
Hiroshima, Japan after World War II. She saw how people were forced to
recycle and reuse items out of necessity after the war. This left an
impression on Brown.
was at this time that he personified the name Hong Kong Willie, which
harkens back to China where the mass production of merchandise occurs.
The “Willies” are people like Brown and other environmentalists who try
to reuse trash instead of throwing it into landfills.
high school, Brown went to college to study business but dropped out
after three years. He worked in the material handling industry until
1981. Although Brown had achieved a successful career and lifestyle, he
had become discouraged in 1979.
had been diagnosed with depression in 1973, a condition that was caused
from high fructose intake and that lasted for more than four years.
1985, Brown and his artist wife, Kim, bought the half-acre property off
Fletcher Avenue and Morris Bridge Road. For two decades the two small
wooden shacks, built around 1965, that now house the gallery operated as
a bait and tackle shop.
Brown raises and sells worms by the pound mainly for composting. He
recycled 250 thousand pounds in the worm bed in 2009. Brown still sells
the worms for $3.50 a cup for fishing.
1981, Brown resurrected the Hong Kong Willie name from his childhood
art class. In the early 1980s, both he and his wife, Kim, began
upcycling trash into art. Brown entered another world when he left his
mainstream lifestyle behind — he joined the art scene and booked rock
bands at the same time.
Brown family spent half their time in Tampa and the other half in a
small home on Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. Brown gained the reputation
of the Key West lobster buoy artist.
in Key West, Brown became friends with local fishermen. He and others
organized efforts to clean up plastic foam buoys that had collected in
the waterways from years of fishing.
Earth Resource Foundation reports that plastic foam is dumped into the
environment. It breaks up into pieces and chokes animals by clogging
their digestive system.
sells the buoys from the Hong Kong Willie Art Gallery for $2.00 a
piece. He said he has sold from 30 to 40 thousand buoys in the last ten
years. Some of the buoys are more than 50 years old and are collected by
tourists from China and Japan.
you go to the Keys right now and you see a buoy floating, you’ll see
someone slam on the brakes to get it,” Brown said. “They’re the most
prized buoys of the world.”
made a holiday buoy tree 12 years ago from the Key West buoys. Hundreds
of buoys are strung on rope and wrapped around a utility pole next to
the gallery. Brown hopes the novelty of the buoy tree will inspire and
stimulate children to find new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle
Kate Shoup’s “Rubbish! Reuse Your Refuse,” the author said much of what
we get is designed to be scrapped after only a few uses. We easily
throw away pens, lighters, razors and dozens of other items. Shoup said
Americans consume 2 million plastic drink bottles every 5 minutes.
Brown finds uses for items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
He buys used burlap bags from coffee and peanut producers. He sells them
to the U.S. National Forestry Service for the collection of pine seeds
and Samuel Adams for hops production.
also an artist, paints fish, turtles, crows, parrots and the like on
driftwood and on wood that Brown has salvaged from saw mills and from
old buildings in Key West.
said art is viewed and appreciated by certain people. “If it all came
out the same, it would be like bland grits all the time,” Brown said. He
likes to refer to the gallery art as reused rather than recycled, which
takes waste and turns it into an inferior product. Reuse on the other
hand involves remaking an item and using it again for the same intended
also try to stay away from imprinting a definite use for a definite
item,” Brown said. He explains that 2-liter bottles are not limited to
making bird feeders. The bottles can be used for art and craft projects
“I still have the original Gerber baby food bottle that I melted” Brown said. “It’s sitting on my mom’s little table.”
allurement of the winds blowing in the palm trees and the moon shining
through and the “Black Bird of Key Largo” looking upon.
KONG WILLIE artist Kim Brown, chose aged Florida sawmill stock as
canvas. Recovered Brass Hanger: Key West lobster trap rigging.
Originally connects and suspends rigging of spiny lobster traps in Key
West waters. Candy-like appearance due to multiple protective layers.
Assigned number in artist register by Fisherman ID tag, corresponding
burn-etched # rear of piece. Key recovered by Robert Jordan, acclaimed
treasure hunter: also in identification of piece and artist.
FOX World News Famous Artist
Tampa, Florida -
Junk Art of Hong Kong Willie
The Hong Kong Willie Story
University of South Florida
Tampa Art Galleries
View photographs of the Hong Kong Willie art gallery
FOX News, Famous Florida Artist
Business more than kitsch, Famous Artist
NORTH TAMPA – Passers-by traveling south on Interstate 75 at Fletcher Avenue might wonder: ‘What’s up with the lobster buoys?’
Strings of the colorful floats adorn Hong Kong Willie, a roadside business with roots in a northwest Hillsborough County landfill and the garbage dumps of Hong Kong.
Poised among chain businesses common at interstate interchanges, Hong Kong Willie sells Florida-centric art, artifacts, worms and even soil for gardeners. As diverse as the inventory seems, there is a theme: promoting a close-to-the-ground, sustainable approach to art and living.
The unusual business is run by Joe Brown, 61; his wife, Kim, 51; and their adult son, Derek.
The enterprise is not named for a particular person. It’s more of a conceptual amalgamation, its owners say.
The recycled burlap coffee bags, lobster buoys and driftwood sold at the store are reflective of Joe Brown’s childhood. As a boy he watched garbage trucks haul Tampa’s trash to a dump on property owned by his family.
“It really made an impression on me,” he said. “It became very easy to think outside the box and know where I could find things from resources that were just abounding.”
* * * * *
When Brown’s mother took him to an art class taught by an instructor who had spent time in post-World War II Asia, he learned how artists there scrounged for materials that had creative potential.
“It was a different kind of recycling because it was done out of need and touched the human spirit and the heart,” he said.
During the past 28 years the Browns have transformed a bait-and-tackle shop into a shrine to sustainable art. But aside from a robot waving an American flag and wearing a “For Sale” sign — and the overall spectacle of the shack-like store itself — there is no signage beckoning drivers to pull into the parking lot of 12212 Morris Bridge Road or to wander over from a nearby Bob Evans restaurant.
“There has never been, in all the years of being here, some massive sign saying who we are and what we do,” Joe Brown said. “Because when people finally decide out of inquisitiveness to slow down and stop, they’ve finally slowed down enough to hear the most important message of their life.”
Most of their business is conducted online through sites such as Etsy. Their catalog includes crafts and artwork created with recovered material such as wood from sawmills and the sides of demolished Key West homes. Kim Brown paints on the recycled materials; her “Eye of Toucan” painting, for example, is for sale for $8,100. Other featured items include handbags made from decorated burlap coffee bean bags for $25, and potato chip platters morphed from heated and shaped vinyl records for $4.99.
The ubiquitous painted lobster buoys are big sellers. They go for a few dollars each depending on condition and artistic application.
The Browns travel frequently to the Florida Keys, promoting their art and gathering raw materials such as the buoys, driftwood and even an orange helicopter. Joe Brown said the chain of islands at Florida’s southern tip hold an attraction for the family beyond being a source of creative flotsam.
“That is a place of resourcefulness,” he said, “because they’re not the kind of people to rely upon the government.”
* * * * *
Customers include people with a taste for subtropical creations. Gaspar’s Patio Bar and Grille in Temple Terrace, for example, bought décor from Hong Kong Willie to complement its island-themed menu offerings, such as Key Largo burgers and margaritas.
Gaspar’s owner Jimmy Ciaccio, whose family opened the 56th Street restaurant in 1960 as the Temple Terrace Lounge, said the Browns’ inventory reflected his vision when he remodeled the restaurant.
“Joe’s work inspires me,” Ciaccio said. “I always see something different every time I look at how he decorated the place.”
In much the same way the Brown family creates art with recycled materials, they produce gardening soil by composting vegetation and waste material.
Florida red worms are Brown’s natural allies in this endeavor. They, too, are for sale — by the pound for gardeners and by the cup for fishermen.
Whether it’s creating and marketing sustainable kitsch or fertile soil, Joe Brown, whose other occupation is providing trend analyses to businesses, finds satisfaction in the work.
“I just feel so fortunate to be able to sit here and see assets that could be sitting in a big trench and there would be no energy coming from it,” he said. “And now a lot of it is finding homes in peoples’ houses and businesses and getting people to think about reuse.”
Eye of Toucan – Hong Kong WIllie
Original Art $8100.00
To Buy Click This Link
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IN THIS EDITION OF “WEDU ARTS PLUS,HongkongwillieA LOCAL ARTS AND ARTIFACTS BUSINESS TRANSFORMS TRASH
>> I THINK I WAS MEANT TO TELL THE STORY ABOUT REUSE.
THE PERSON IS NOT IMPORTANT.
THE STORY IS IMPORTANT.AS A BOY,Florida Famous Artist JOE BROWN WATCHED GARBAGE TRUCKS HAUL TRASH TO A
DUMP ON HIS FAMILY PROPERTY.
TODAY, HE RUNS A TAMPA PRESERVATION ART BUSINESS CALLED HONG
KONG WILLIE, WHERE BURLAP BAGS AND LOBSTER BUOYS ARE
CONVERTED TO WORKS OF ART.
>> MY NAME IS JOE BROWN.
MY ART NAME IS HONG KONG WILLIE.
I AM A REUSE ARTIST TAKING MEDIA THAT WOULD HAVE NATURALLY
BEEN DISPOSED OF IN LANDFILLS AND ADDING THE GIFT THAT I’VE
BEEN GIVEN TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT SOMEBODY POSSIBLY MIGHTHAVE AN ALLUREMENT TO AND ATTRACTION TO.
REUSE AND RECYCLING CAME FROM BEING RAISED ON A LANDFILL ON
GUNN HIGHWAY HERE IN TAMPA.
IT WAS AN ENTRAPPING WAY WITH VERY LITTLE FUNDS TO MAKE
SOMETHING THAT WAS ATTRACTIVE AND REWARDING TO ME
>> ACQUIRING MEDIA, SUCH AS BOARDS, STARTED WHEN WE WERE
PICKING UP BOARDS MAYBE FROM BUILDINGS THAT HAD BEEN
DESTROYED FROM THE HURRICANES.
BOARDS THAT CAME FROM HISTORICAL BUILDINGS IN THE KEYS.
SOME OF THE REAL THICK, THICK HEAVY BOARDS WERE BOARDS THAT
I THINK WERE CUT ROUGH CUT.
THE SMOOTHNESS CAME OUT OF MANY YEARS OF WEARING.
WE ACQUIRED SOME BOARDS THAT CAME FROM THE ORIGINAL RAILROAD
BRIDGE THAT FLAGLER BUILT.
I THINK ALL ARTISTS SOMETIMES INVOKE THE FEELINGS AND THE
STORIES ABOUT THE MEDIA THAT THEY ARE WORKING WITH.
I THINK THAT ART, ESPECIALLY WHEN SOMEONE FALLS IN LOVE WITH
IT, THEY WANT TO KNOW THE STORY.
AND BECAUSE OF THE KEYS HAVING THE TREMENDOUS EFFECT THAT IT
HAS ON US, AND BECAUSE OF WHAT HAS SHAPED THE KEYS, THERE
COMES A TIME WHERE ALL OF IT COMES TOGETHER AND THAT’S WHAT
MAKES IT SO SPECIAL.
THROUGHOUT THE YEARS, THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING CHANGESWITH DIFFERENT MEDIA THAT WE’VE ACQUIRED.
AS YOU DRIVE IN THE DRIVEWAY, YOU’LL SEE HAND PRINTS AND
SOME SPRINKLED PAINT WITH ACTIVITY.
WE TRY TO USE LITTLE DIFFERENT MINIPICTURES OUT THERE WHERE
YOU MIGHT SEE A SIGN HANGING ON A TENNIS SHOE WITH A TV
SHOES THAT HAVE FLOATED UP FROM THE OCEANS THAT WE’VE USED
SOMETIMES TO INVOKE THOUGHTS OF WHERE WE WERE AT A
THE TRAVELS OF THOSE SHOES.
THERE ARE BOARDS OUT THERE THAT WE’VE ACQUIRED THAT WE’VE
MADE LITTLE DESIGNS ON.
I FOUND THAT MOST WOOD, PROBABLY THE WORK IS ALREADY THERE.
YOU’RE GOING TO DO A LITTLE BIT OF SHAVING, A LITTLE BIT OF
BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, THE OBJECT IS FINISHED.
AFTER 9/11 HAPPENED, I REALIZED HOW GREAT A MIRACLE WAS.
I HAD A LOT OF MEDIA AROUND AND I STARTED WITH THE CROSS.
AND I PUT THE CROSS UP.
THEN I HAD SOME LITTLE OBJECTS THAT WERE POLICEMEN AND
FIREMEN, AND I PUT THEM IN THERE.
AND THEN I HAD SOME OLD BEEPERS FOR THE TECHNOLOGY, AND THEN
ANOTHER TWO OBJECTS THAT WERE SHERLOCK HOLMES AND NAPOLEON
FOR POWER AND INVESTIGATING.
I LOOKED OVER IN A PILE OF WOOD, AND THERE WAS A SHAPE OF APIECE OF WOOD AND A NINE.
NEXT TO IT WAS TWO PIECES THAT LOOKED LIKE 11.
BEFORE I KNEW IT, IT ALL CAME TOGETHER.
I BELIEVE THAT EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST.
AS TO WHERE IF WE CAN FIND MEDIA THAT’S EASILY OBTAINABLE
AND ADD OUR TALENTS TO IT, IT BECOMES VERY REWARDING IN THAT
FACTOR, BECAUSE WE HAVE LESSENED THE COMPLICATED FACTOR AND
TAKEN SOMETHING THAT’S WITHIN US AND HAD THE MEDIA ANDI THINK I AM JUST A PERSON THAT’S IN THIS ELEMENT TELLING A
THE PERSON IS NOT IMPORTANT.
THE STORY IS IMPORTANT.