| Special to The Post
Jupiter resident Jefferson Blakeslee started his collection of vintage Palm Beach post cards about 40 years ago. In the last decade it has blossomed into a business specializing in tropical prints with an Old Florida flair.
Palm Beach Native offers more than 700 classic images such as early 1900s Lake Trail, The Breakers, Henry Flagler’s Whitehall, the Biltmore, the Palm Beach Pier, Bradley’s Beach Club and more. While the collection focuses on Palm Beach, it also encompasses vintage art from 1907 through 1999 from most counties in Florida, including West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street, Cuba, The Bahamas and Barbados.
Like many other small businesses, Palm Beach Native had been selling primarily at events such as the Sailfish Marina’s Thursday night Sunset Celebration, the West Palm Beach Antique and Flea Market on Saturdays, the Junior League of the Palm Beaches annual holiday boutique Deck the Palms and SunFest, which is held in downtown West Palm Beach each spring. Now most of those types of events are not being held due to the pandemic.
But Blakeslee recently sold some pieces at a fishing tournament at the Sailfish Marina and at an event on Hutchinson Island. He sells prints on paper and canvas; ready-to-hang prints on canvas account for a third of his business. Prices range from $30 to $190.
On Oct. 3-4, he plans to offer prints and framed art at the 10th annual Treasure Coast Marine Flea Market and Boat Show at Indian River Fairgrounds, Vero Beach.
“I have found that we have been completely able to do business with safety protocols, with masks and social distancing,” Blakeslee said.
Blakeslee, 65, was born at the then-Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach and grew up on La Puerta Way in the north end of Palm Beach with five siblings. He graduated from Twin Lakes High, formerly Palm Beach High, in West Palm Beach. The buildings now house the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
“Palm Beach was more pedestrian. It wasn’t all rich people,” Blakeslee said. “We used to hitchhike. It would generally be somebody’s mom who would pick us up.
“The collection emanates from Palm Beach. Palm Beach is so historic with the Breakers, the Royal Poinciana Hotel, the Flagler and the bike trail. That is why it is called Palm Beach Native. It is special to us in a way,” Blakeslee said.
In 2012, Blakeslee and his high school sweetheart Margaret were married. Both previously married, they had reconnected at their 30th high school reunion. After living in the Seattle area, in 2014 they moved to Jupiter to be near family and because they missed the Gulf Stream.
A year ago, Blakeslee began selling 15” by 19” prints for $30 each including shipping from his website, but sales have gone slowly there.
The prints are grouped by collections, such as Classic Palm Beach, Dade/Broward, Palm Beach County, Caribbean and Kim Neilson. Neilson, who died in 2018, was a fisherman, surfer and artist who created a lot of maps and artwork with fish. Blakeslee obtained the rights to produce some of Neilson’s originals.
The website also features the Decorator’s Gallery, with prints depicting places such as McKee Jungle Gardens in Vero Beach, the old Lido Pools in Palm Beach, the Everglades and idyllic scenes with palm trees.
Kim Bozetarnik and husband Pete Bozetarnik own their own accounting firm in West Palm Beach. She first saw Palm Beach Native’s prints at SunFest in 2019. Blakeslee visited their office and showed them the art. Now they have 17 prints. A panoramic of Palm Beach in 1930 is among her favorites.
“We decided it was time to remodel the office. We were going back and forth about what kind of art we wanted on the wall. I was at SunFest with some friends, and we walked into Jefferson’s booth, and I said, ‘This is it,’” Bozetarnik said.
“Every time someone comes to our office, they comment on the art. It’s wonderful and fun,” she said.
There’s a certain energy when people gathered at an outdoor event see the works in person and begin chatting about Old Florida and Old Palm Beach, learning about the area’s storied history.
“It is a great pleasure to have people say, “Is this your idea?” Blakeslee said. “There is something about when people hold it up in front of them.”
There were no issues with copyrights because the companies who produced the images are long gone, Blakeslee said. He sells prints on paper and canvas.
Blakeslee left Palm Beach in 1975 and moved to Minneapolis, where he studied broadcasting at Brown Institute and then worked selling radio advertising. While browsing in thrift shops, he found a bounty of old Florida postcards, many with his hometown of Palm Beach on them. People had sent them home to Minneapolis while vacationing in Palm Beach and Miami.
“I liked shopping for antiques, and I always had a love of tropical art,” Blakeslee said. “I bought a postcard of people on bicycles on this path by a lake, with a boat out there. I knew it was the Lake Trail in Palm Beach. Another time I bought pictures of people fishing in a boat in high seas. It was the Fayaway, Palm Beach. Those became benchmark pieces,” Blakeslee said.
“The thing I got hooked on was colorized postcards.”
Blakeslee started going to Kinko’s and using their copiers to crop and enlarge the images in color. He began giving away pictures of old Palm Beach as gifts to family.
“I began turning the images into a product, something to hang on the wall, about 10 years ago,” Blakeslee said.
Around 2011, he decided to drive from Minneapolis to the boat show on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach where some friends were showing a boat. They let him display his prints. He has made his own prints for years.
“I piled some prints and a couple of framed things in my car. It was my test marketing. It sold very well,” Blakeslee recalled. “Later on, I went on a week’s vacation to Jupiter and rented a table at the Sailfish Marina. That was in 2013. I sold as much as I could get into a big suitcase,” he said.
After those successes, he began selling at other outdoor festivals and events, where he found his products to be the only ones like them.
Customers range from locals and transplants to tourists.
“There is a whole trunk of people 55 to 65 to 70 who have all this memory that are natives of Florida and used to come down on vacation. You think that is your market. The truth about vintage anything is that it is kind of like music. It goes through all ages…22-year-old women or a 30-year-old guy buy it,” he said.
During the pandemic, he’s spent time collecting more images, and adding pieces such as old brochures, magazine covers from the 1950s and even postage stamps.
“There are a whole bunch of things that I do, old advertising, things that are kind of kitschy, old fonts, it is all just a feeling,” Blakeslee said.