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Early voting comes to close

In what has turned into an entire election season instead of just Election Day, early voting in Monroe County comes to an end on Halloween.

Local early voting, which is on track to set a record, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Florida Keys voters have many reasons to go to the polls this year — a hotly contested presidential election, a series of important local races and pivotal cruise ship referenda in Key West.

By Friday morning, early voting turnout was roughly 58%, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office. As of late Thursday night, 12,920 people had voted early and 20,568 had cast ballots by mail.

By comparison, 13,325 people voted early and 14,398 voted by mail in the 2016 General Election. In total in 2016, 79%, or 43,355 voters, of the 54,749 registered cast ballots in the general election.

Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin was so busy on Friday morning that she barely had time to talk with a reporter with The Key West Citizen. At that time, she was helping one voter with a problem to vote provisionally.

“We’re hanging in there,” Griffin said before having to hang up to help her staff.

Griffin did not report any major issues with ballots or with voters voting early. Griffin and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay chose not to station any deputies at early voting locations, saying they did not anticipate any disruptions or agitators.

Griffin did tell one poll worker who was concerned about safety that he did not have to work this election, she said.

Registered voters can vote at several polling locations across the county. Early voting sites are the Supervisor of Elections offices at 530 Whitehead St. in Key West, 10015 Overseas Highway in Marathon and 102050 Overseas Highway No. 137 in Key Largo, the Big Pine Key Community Park at 31009 Atlantis Drive and Islamorada Branch Library at Mile Marker 81.7.

On Election Day, registered voters will vote at their predetermined precincts, which are noted on voter registration cards.

For information, contact the Supervisors of Elections Office at 305-292-3416.

tohara@keysnews.com


Local
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THE LILLY LOOK
Suzie dePoo exhibit upcoming

Within the creative community of Key West, artist Suzie Zuzek dePoo is a bonafide celebrity — her name still so often mentioned, despite having passed at age 90 in 2011. Quiet and unassuming in her life, dePoo nonetheless continues to be celebrated for her whimsical creatures, inventively assembled with found objects and paint. The doors of the Key West Library open to her tile mural, a fantastical garden of fruits, flowers and books. The Key West Art & Historical Society holds a trove of her pieces in their permanent collection.

“I can’t paint on canvas,” she claimed at a KWAHS retrospective of her work at the Custom House in 2001. Yet with pen-and-ink, watercolor and gouache, dePoo designed fabric in a “day job” at Key West Hand Print Fabrics, an enterprise now gone, creations that in the 1960s and ’70s catapulted the Lilly Pulitzer clothing brand to international fame.

Those designs will take center stage in “Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand” at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York, an exhibition placed on a pandemic delay until later this year. An accompanying book — “Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Artist Behind an Iconic American Fashion Brand 1962-1985” (Rizzoli Electa) — taps into Zuzek’s creative genius in sumptuous color plates and descriptive text. A film, produced by the Cooper Hewitt, features interviews with family and those who worked alongside her and became her friends.

“The colorful, eclectic and whimsical prints that adorned Lilly Pulitzer’s simple shift dresses ... earned an immediate and devoted following, one that has endured for generations,” writes the show’s curator, Susan Brown, in the book. Yet, few people know, even in Key West, that many of those prints were created by Suzie Zuzek. In fact, she created more than 1,500 designs for Lilly, some 35 of which will be showcased at the Cooper Hewitt by the original artwork, screen-printed textiles, and finished fashions.

“She would be over the moon about her work being recognized at this level,” says Suzie’s daughter, Martha dePoo, a Key West artist herself. “I see it as coming full circle. She came from New York and now she’s home.”

DRAWN TO DRAWING

Suzie was always drawing, according to everyone who knew her. She best loved to draw the wildflowers around the dairy farm near Buffalo, New York, where she grew up as Agnes Helen Zuzek to Yugoslavian immigrants. To her colleagues in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II, Agnes was Suzie, a nickname that followed her back into civilian life.

Through the benefits of the G.I. Bill, Suzie went on to study illustration and textile design at Pratt Institute in New York. Afterward she landed a job at the textile firm Herman Blanc, where she worked for three years. She married John dePoo, who whisked his bride back to his native Key West in 1955. There she staked her claim. “She was enormously creative,” according to Cori Convertito, curator at KWAHS, “and became a central pillar in the growth of the artistic community that grew up in Key West.”

Still, “she couldn’t have just lived on her art alone,” says June Klausing, then General Manager of Retail Operations for Key West Hand Print Fabrics and Suzie’s close friend. “Hand Prints and Lilly came along, and it was a great opening for her.” In 1961, Peter Pell, Jim Russel, and Walter Starcke — all of whom hailed from the theater world of New York — started Key West Hand Print Fabrics out of an historic waterfront building; Bill Johnson joined later and steered the finances. Suzie was quickly snapped up, the only designer aboard with professional credentials. The job became critical after she and dePoo split, leaving her to raise their three girls on her own.

In an unlikely origin story that’s true, in the late 1950s Lilly Pulitzer ran an orange juice stand in her husband’s groves. To deal with the heat, she had unstructured shifts made up. Vibrant dime-store fabrics hid the inevitable orange juice stains that came with the gig. The straight silhouette was a hit with her friends. But it was Suzie’s fabric designs that turned those shifts into a sensation.

Lilly came into the picture at Hand Prints in 1962. Her mother, aka Big Lil, had passed through Key West on a yachting vacation and collected samples of Suzie’s work to pass on to her daughter. Impressed, Lilly headed to Key West to see for herself and, as legend has it, sauntered barefoot into the factory. “Is this your s--t?,” she asked Suzie, unceremoniously tossing a Gristedes bag of samples on to a table. And thus began their 24-year partnership. Lilly ordered 300 yards of fabric and increased the order to 3,000 on her return to Palm Beach.

“She got up at 4 a.m. every morning and did her own work,” remembers Suzie’s daughter Martha, “and then got on her bicycle and arrived at Hand Prints by 1 p.m.” Her home on Dey Street was known for the menagerie of animals she kept — cats, dogs, peacocks, goats, even a monkey — inspiration for the impish personalities of her animal prints. “There’s really nothing different in this world,” Suzie said. “It’s just the different twist you give a thing” — lions playing instruments and fish wearing crowns, for instance.

THE ‘LILLY LOOK’

In the context of fashion history, Lilly Pulitzer was “discussed dismissively,” remembers Brown, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology. The brand was “preppy” resort wear for the well-heeled. Lilly herself, married to heir Peter Pulitzer (of prize fame), “was as likely to be featured in the society as the fashion pages.”

Jacqueline Kennedy was among the celebrities who popularized the look. Vintage photographs show the first lady wearing different Lillys — notably, greeting her husband as he arrived in Hyannis Port for the weekend. “It was playful, a youth brand,” says Brown, “for the suntan lifestyle.”

The shift could be worn with flat sandals, without punishing undergarments, in place of shorts, and to cocktails after the beach. But to comprehend the fashion’s phenomenal popularity, it’s important to understand what preceded it: the cinched waists and structured skirts of the 1950s, with attendant girdles, stockings and garter belts. Lillys were freeing, and the prints projected happiness. “Zuzek’s designs were wonderful and strange,” writes Brown, “... she produced designs of incredible vitality.”

To own a closetful in riot of colors was a goal made elusive for most by the expense. But for thosewith modest clothes allowances, there was a hack. The fabrics — which were Suzie Zuzek’s prints — were sold in bolts at Lilly stores. Many turned out ersatz Lillys with the aid of a crank sewing machine and a Simplicity pattern. The secret of the “Lilly Look” was Zuzek’s designs.

Lilly expanded into fabrics for the home, as well as men’s and children’s clothes. Every single Lilly print was Suzie’s work. “Lilly was wholly dependent on Suzie and Hand Prints,” says Brown. “She tried to find different and cheaper sources, but nothing worked.” Hand Prints churned out more than 5000 yards a week for Lilly alone, who bought a controlling interest in the shop, which still managed to create its own lines. Key West Hand Print Fabrics would become a tourist destination and the largest employer in Key West with more than 150 workers at its height.

In her essay from “Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer,” historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank points out that Suzie’s art defied imitation — much like the designs of Emilio Pucci, another brand that was ascendant at the time. “She could really draw,” agrees Brown, “and she had a loose hand that was her individual style.” But Suzie’s real gift was her ability to connect. “What looked like a paisley print from a distance might be walruses, and polka dots were actually puppies with a spot on one eye,” explains Brown. “It was as if she had created these details just for the person wearing it.”

NEW GENERATIONS

Nonetheless, the fashion trend ran its course. In 1984, Lilly folded up shop after a more than a 25-year run. She sold Key West Hand Print Fabrics and later, separately, her trademarked name. Suzie left Hand Prints, pursued her own work and mentored Key West’s fledgling artists. “She was the original pop-up gallerist,” according to Martha dePoo. Hand Prints was reorganized, bought, and struggled on. It was reported by The New York Times in 2008 that Lilly’s design archive had been tossed — or so it was thought, until St. Louis lawyer Becky Smith went in search of it.

“These were the prints of my childhood — my mother dressed me in them,” says Smith, who claims an emotional connection to the original brand.

Within Smith’s family, it is tradition for a mother to bequeath her daughter with a slipper (aka boudoir) chair. When Smith prepared to make a chair for her daughter, she intended to use Lilly Pulitzer fabric, as her own mother had done for her in the 1970s. However, the current Lilly Pulitzer company didn’t sell fabric by the yard. Secondary markets, such as eBay and Pinterest, turned up only faded relics of the prints she cherished long ago.

Turning her search into a quest, Smith flew to Key West in 2007. On a call to a gallery, she serendipitously found Martha dePoo, who had also designed for Hand Prints during her mother’s time. Martha told Smith that most of the fabrics for Lilly were largely her mother’s work. “Frankly,” says Smith, “I didn’t believe it.”

The two of them headed over to Dey Street. “We were greeted at the gate by a peacock and a couple of roosters. I was totally enamored by the whole thing,” reports Smith. They spent the rest of the day talking to Suzie, in her 80s at the time. But it wasn’t until Smith later tracked down Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau, in the last year of her life, that Lilly herself fully acknowledged Suzie’s impact on her eponymous brand. “The fabulous success of the ‘Lilly Look,’” to use Pulitzer’s words, “would not have been possible without Suzie’s whimsical and magical creations.”

In 2016, Suzie’s archive was finally found and unearthed, so to speak, from the sub-flooring of the old Hand Prints factory, in miraculously good condition in spite of less-than-optimal storage conditions. “When we found them, Zuzek’s lions and tigers and giraffes leapt out of the boxes and begged, ‘please don’t leave us,’ “ says Smith — of course, speaking metaphorically. Smith assembled St. Louis investors and purchased it.

“It was common then, as it is now, for individual designers’ work to go unrecognized in the name of building a strong brand identity,” maintains Brown. “What is unusual in this case is that the ‘Lilly Look’ was so closely identified with the prints and the prints were so overwhelmingly the product of one woman’s imagination” — that of Suzie Zuzek. Or as Lilly put it, “she constantly amused me, not only by the genius of her art but also by the sheer numbers of designs she created. I couldn’t wait to see what came next.”

Smith has since painstakingly matched the patterns to their copyrights at the U.S. Library of Congress. She calls the Cooper Hewitt “the perfect venue for this exhibition.” Zuzek’s prints will be brought back to life, but first, Smith wants the art work to be cared for and conserved and story of Suzie Zuzek to be told to the public.

“Suzie was an incredible artist,” says Smith. “and this was an iconic American look. I am excited that whole new generations will now get to experience it.”

ewhite@keysnews.com


A 3.2-acre parcel of land, currently used as a soccer field, is the site of proposed workforce housing at the Truman Waterfront.


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