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ArtSpotlight

Carmen Kelley
Painter and Teacher

"I am a Cuban American artist and proud of it. I draw the beauty of my homeland when I was a child and incorporate my marine background using the colors I see here in the Keys. What would the world be without color. I can spend a lifetime drawing and it would not be enough. Give me a paintbrush and I will find a surface to paint." Carmen Kelley has been involved in art shows since college. Carmen's media is mainly acrylics although she also works in prismacolor pencils. She has taught art, science and social science in three different Florida counties for the last twenty years. Presently, her art is found in The Key Largo Art Gallery, galleries in Miami, and Chocoloskee near Naples.

 

Carmen Sotolongo-Kelley of Key Largo moved to the US in 1962. She left Cuba with her parents and grandparents, living in Venezuela for a year. They fled like many others during that time with only the clothes on their backs and no money in their pockets. Carmen's father, a doctor, and her mother, a teacher with a Ph.D. in pedagogy, were stripped of their degrees and had to hunt for jobs to survive. From selling fruit in the streets to working midnight shifts and studying during the day. They spent the next seven years living in St. Petersburg recreating their careers. Her father studied to re-earn his degree in medicine and her mother he Ph.D. in education.

 

Carmen grew up learning the value of a good education and also being very thrifty. With little money for toys or luxuries, she would entertain herself by drawing and creating her own cutout t dolls, designing dresses and the places they lived on paper. Growing up, she says she always asked for art materials, pencils, and paper for birthdays and holidays. She took every art class in school and in college majored in social science and art. Later, she went into the filed of science with a focus in oceanography.

 

Carmen was lead teacher for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, and created the idea for the Oceanography Camp for girls based at USF Marine Science campus while working at Dixie Hollins. When her husband was transferred to Miami in 1997, Carmen has taught in Pinellas and Lee Counties and is presently teaching in Monroe County where she was voted teacher of the year at her school. Although a science teacher (focusing on the marine environment), Carmen always wanted to own a Gallery."I have spent my lifetime drawing. I went to college and studied Social Science along with art classes my first time around, and then I went back and added science to my education. I have combined the best of both worlds in my artwork." Carmen was selected as an artist representing the Keys to the Miami Sister Cities Art exhibit in Miami. Her art is sought out by many who visit the quaint gallery at MM103.

 

Carmen says, " I left Cuba when I was only 6 yet I remember in detail my home in Calimete, province of Matanzas, my grandparent's home in El Nautico, Havana, the house in Varadero, as well as the smells, food, beach, sand, music. Growing up in the United States, I lived two cultures. I was taught pride of being Cuban born, but I was also very proud to become an American. I know two languages, twice as many words. 'Soy Latina.' I am very proud to be a part of two worlds."

In her own words, "My art depicts a combination of my two cultures, my love for the environment, the colors of the marine life in the coral reefs, mangroves and places I have visited. Happy vibrant colors, blue greens of the waters surrounding us, royal palms of my past, guayabera dressed men, cigars and domino tables. Mix these all together and they represent my life."


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