In 1950 Rex Artist Supplies was just another business on Coral Gables' Miracle Mile. Purveyors of house paint, wallpaper, frames, and, of course, art supplies, the store was cofounded by artist E. Rex Gerlach and housepainter Joseph Platt. By the mid-Fifties, Rex had evolved into a reliable outlet for artists to buy their materials and for art lovers to have their work framed. Rather than accept a hefty rent increase, Platt, sole owner after Gerlach sold out to him, moved the shop to a mango grove on Douglas Road. At that location ever since, Rex Art has grown steadily under the careful guidance of family members and a slew of friends.
When Joseph Platt's grandson Aaron Morris took charge of the business (his son Lonny handles day-to-day operations), he enlarged the store's book department to include more than 5000 titles, increased the size of the picture-framing department, and added wholesale and graphic-services divisions. In 1986 Aaron also founded the nonprofit Cultural Development Group to increase opportunities for artists through consultation, education, and funding. They've even established a "starving artists fund," which doesn't throw money at struggling Picassos but allows them to barter or delay payment for supplies. The organization counts individuals and institutions among its members, including photographer Bunny Yeager, political cartoonist Jim Morin, choreographer Dale Andree, sculptor Panet, and the Bakehouse Art Complex, New Theatre, and Diaspora Vibe Gallery.
Seems stuffy Coral Gables has always had a hidden bohemian fringe. From the Sixties to the late Eighties, the yearly Coral Gables Sidewalk Art Show filled the area with art and music. Now as a celebration of Rex Art's 50 years and a tribute to those grassroots bashes of yore, Morris will throw Art in the Tropics, featuring works by more than 30 local artists, food and music presented by Satchmo's Blues Bar and Grill, and a series of art demonstrations and performances. If all goes well, this first fling may become an annual event. A special highlight of the weekend will occur when Panet unveils two Don Quixote sculptures outside the store. Why Don Quixote? Because he is Rex Art's long-time symbol, and according to Panet: "It will give you a sense of pride in being Spanish." But what about those who aren't? "Well, you'll want to be Spanish!" Artists!