The 10-day masking and costuming festival known as Fantasy Fest, running Oct. 21-30 this year, is internationally renowned for its outrageous, let-it-all-hang-out party atmosphere.
Yet it also offers a showcase for artists — primarily costume and float designers who devote their incredible talents to perfecting creations for costume contests, the Masquerade March and the grand parade.
Among them is Rick Worth, a soft-spoken and supremely creative man whose artistic triumphs range from small Key West-themed paintings to massive, over-the-top Fantasy Fest floats and festival facades for local emporiums.
Rick began his colorful career turning shabby cars into whimsical “art-o-mobiles” (like a shark car driven by a local attorney and a drivable coral reef).
He has also painted large-scale murals on the exteriors of local buildings, including an engaging vista outside Key West International Airport that features a rooftop view of the island’s historic Old Town architecture and greenery backed by the turquoise ocean.
And don’t miss Rick’s takeoff of the famed depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, incorporating the Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge, outside a small bar at Simonton and Olivia streets.
Just before Fantasy Fest this year, Rick had projects galore on tap — and in keeping with the festival theme of “Aquatic Afrolic,” they had an oceanic flavor. For example, recently he was putting last-minute touches on a float and overseeing costume design for a glittering marine-themed entry in the spectacular Fantasy Fest parade. His workspace was filled with a “ship” nearing completion, beautiful shell-adorned headdresses and gauzy costumes. At the same time, he was completing weird-looking eels to be part of a building façade.
Like Rick, Big Pine Key artists Susann and Bobby D’Antonio generally put enormous amounts of time and talent into Fantasy Fest endeavors. Since the early 1990s, the husband-and-wife team has become well known for crafting over-the-top entries for major costume competitions like Pretenders in Paradise and the Pet Masquerade — as well as the lavish parade.
Their trademark creations can best be described as crosses between gigantic costumes and small parade floats. Susann often comes up with the concept, and she and Bobby construct the pieces together — typically moving from sketches to a costume’s metal framework and fabric covering, and ending with embellishments and sequins. Challenges include keeping the piece light enough for Susann to wear and/or propel.
This year, they wowed crowds at the wonderful Pretenders in Paradise costume competition with “Neptune’s Reef,” featuring an alluring mermaid accompanied by vivid-hued, deliciously exotic denizens of the aquatic world.
Artists in more traditional mediums contribute to Fantasy Fest too. Each year, festival organizers request design submissions for the official poster. The winning artist this year was frequent Key West visitor Brian Johnson.
Inspired by the festival’s aquatic theme, he dreamed up a blue-eyed King Neptune surrounded by imaginative undersea creatures, and elements suggesting the island’s Old Town — all depicted in the vibrant colors of the Keys’ ocean and sunset.
Whether you’re an art lover or simply a connoisseur of craziness, don’t miss any of the creativity and pageantry of Key West’s Fantasy Fest. In fact, start planning now to attend next year’s festival. According to organizers — and they should know — the 2012 dates are Oct. 19-28.