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McKee’s record-breaking year adds cheer to Gatekeeper gala

Major supporters of McKee Botanical Garden were recently welcomed to the Gatekeeper of the Garden Celebration Dinner, sponsored by Wilmington Trust. The annual affair recognizes the Gatekeepers, McKee’s top-level donors, for their generosity and dedication, while also celebrating the start of another exceptional season.

The 120 invited guests mingled over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the picturesque Spanish Kitchen, while listening to students in the Vero Beach High School Band Jazz Ensemble, led by Jessica Russell, associate director of bands. Afterward, they headed into the Hall of Giants for a delicious dinner prepared by Elizabeth D. Kennedy & Co. Catering.

“I always look forward to this time of year, as the cooler temperatures arrive and we welcome our northern members back to Florida,” said Earl Morgan, board president, welcoming everyone and expressing appreciation for their support.

“I am excited to report that last year the Garden had another amazing and record-breaking year,” said Morgan.

He noted that at more than 136,000 visitors, the garden surpassed all previous attendance records, with the successful animatronic Dinosaurs Around the World exhibition drawing young and old alike, and that McKee now boasts more than 7,100 members. Additionally, he said, McKee has again been recognized as a 2022 Travelers’ Choice award winner and it was named as one of the Top 10 Percent of Attractions Worldwide by TripAdvisor.

“We have many new and exciting opportunities planned for our members and guests in the coming months,” said Morgan.

Upcoming events include the 12-night Magic of McKee Festival of Lights in December. In mid-January, McKee welcomes master glassblower Jason Gamrath, who has created a Garden of Glass Exhibit featuring 10 stunning glass sculptures of orchids, waterlilies and plants.

“We are delighted to have a special guest with us tonight, Xavier Cortada,” said Christine Hobart, McKee executive director, after thanking Morgan for his leadership and reiterating appreciation to the Gatekeepers.

“Xavier will be sharing his vision and process in creating his stunning, eco-inspired ceramic works which were commissioned as part of our horticultural revitalization,” said Hobart, referencing their 20th Anniversary Revitalization Project.

The Cuban-born artist, a son of Cuban exiles, was raised from age 3 in Miami. He earned bachelor’s, master’s and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Miami, where he is professor of practice in its Department of Art and Art History and is an artist-in-residence at Pinecrest Gardens in South Florida.

Cortada is creating five columnar artworks to celebrate McKee’s connection to Florida’s botanical and natural world, which will be placed in two areas of the garden. Each 5-foot-tall column will be capped with a sculptural ceramic planter and wrapped in a floristic “mural” of glazed tile representing Reverence, Joy, Love, Strength and Resilience.

“Through the power of art, Cortada believes we can cross social and cultural boundaries to create change so that future generations thrive,” said Hobart. “Over the past three decades, Cortada has created art at the North and South Poles and across six continents, including more than 150 public works of art, installations, collaborative murals and socially engaged projects.”

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Photos by Joshua Kodis

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