Cortez residents celebrate community with food and history

cnudi@bradenton.comApril 21, 2013 

CORTEZ -- There was good food, good weather and great company Saturday at this year's Cortez Village Community Picnic.

The fine fiddle playing of Soupy Davis and his band and a theatrical performance and artwork of Manatee School of the Arts students contributed to the event on the waterfront.

"I just love to see all the people get together," said Blue Fulford, who, at 82, was one of the longtime native Cortez residents the students interviewed to develop their presentations.

About 20 students spent several days in the historic fishing village that hugs Sarasota Bay interviewing residents and fishermen as part of a cross-curriculum study project the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored.

Steven Marshall, head of the social studies department at the Palmetto school, developed the course and used teachers from several disciplines to teach the students about history, art, drama and writing.

Some of the students presented monologues, taking on the personalities of several residents of Cortez, to demonstrate the culture and lives of the people of the village.

Settled in the mid-1800s, Cortez soon became a thriving commercial fishing town, due to the abundance of fish, crabs and shellfish in Sarasota Bay and nearby Gulf of Mexico.

Somewhat isolated from the rest of Manatee County, the residents became self-reliant, hardworking and a

close-knit community, traits the students portrayed in their performance.

"I was just hoping no one got offended or caused any trouble," said senior Gregory Timmons, 17, one of the students who performed after lunch.

Gregory, who will be studying mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa this fall, took on the character and personality of Tink Fulford, who was known in the village for his persuasive way of getting his fellow fishermen to work.

Other students had their photographs, paintings and fish prints on display in the workspace of the A.P. Bell Fishhouse.

The exhibition offered the students' interpretation of the people and places within the village after being given a tour by several residents.

"Talking with them gave me a different perspective of the whole city," said senior Jessica Lee, 17, "and why I'm taking the picture."

Jessica's two photographs showed one of the manyworking docks in the village from the viewpoint of afishhouse and a half-sunken boat still tied to its mooring. "I looked for the historical feel of the subject," she said.

Karen Bell, manager of the A.P. Bell Fishhouse and who helped organize the picnic, said the students really added something special to the annual event.

"I thought they were great," Bell said. "They did a great job of hitting points of history in Cortez."

Another change this year was opening up the picnic to the broader community, and everyone who showed up was treated to the finest of home-cooked food.

The crowd of 70 or so people sat under the pavilion at the end of the Few-Miller Dock to feast on the potluck side dishes, along with the mullet main dish supplied by Starfish Restaurant.

"This is just a wonderful opportunity to share and reminisce who we are," said Mary Fulford Green, 87, who is known for her love of Cortez history and persistence in preserving it.

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