Best has been part of the beach scene for years. His art has been worn across chests, graced walls, and his tikis have lined many yards. Few tourist have left town without posing with one of his tikis posed throughout Cocoa Beach.
Best was always drawn to art. He focused on industrial art in high school.
“I started off just working on little woodworking projects. After I graduated, I wound up working for Wave Riding Vehicles (WRV) out of Virginia Beach. I ended up running the art department and we were on the cutting edge of T-shirt design. It was the 80s. The era of New Wave and Punk Rock. Quicksilver and Billabong had just started. The surf industry was on the cusp of things just taking off. It translated into WRV making huge money with T-shirt designs. That’s where I learned art on the ground level and grew from there.”
Best traveled and thrived as an artist but was ultimately pulled to Cocoa Beach.
“I ended up here working for the late Wayne Coombs, his wife Beki and Chester Abelin at Mai Tiki. We worked together and had a good time. There’s still a lot of work that Wayne and I worked on together around town. We did the tikis at Coconuts and made the concrete ones in front of Ron Jon’s. He was a big inspiration and improvised a lot of tools and how things were done. I already had an art background so everything fell together naturally. Now I’m carrying the torch forward in honor of Wayne and Chester.”
TRASH TO TREASURE
Wayne’s gift of turning trash to treasure rubbed off on Best. “I have some prints and the originals were simply colored paper from Michaels. I took an exacto knife and made images of waves. Carving sable or cabbage palms or pineapples into a Key West-style fence post or recreating stuff out of foam. Anything can be made into art. My art doesn’t pigeonhole me to one style. Once I have a vision I can come up with a beach or Polynesian idea based on the materials I have on hand.”
THE ANGEL IN THE MARBLE
Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Best believes the materials speak to the artist.
“You have to look at the elements of the wood and the grain and picture what this can become. I had an old wooden doormat. My wife Dina, who’s my biggest supporter, kept saying to do something with an old wooden doormat. I created a crane and placed it on this red wood doormat. It took something that we walked on everyday and elevated it to a nice piece of art that someone hung on a wall. You have to get a feel for what the wood will allow you to do and then you take the ball and run with it. All artists do it. Whether it’s paper or a doormat or panels off a pallet, suddenly you’ll see something in the material that wasn’t there before. As Wayne would say, ‘I see dollar signs.’”
TWENTY YEARS TO DO TWENTY MINUTES
Bob Ross the painter was once asked how long it took him to paint a picture. He said, “It’s taken twenty years to paint for twenty minutes.” Best has a similar answer.
”When someone asks me how long it takes me to make a tiki, I tell them the truth. It takes me about five beers. I don’t know, do I drink fast or do I drink slow? It depends on what the wood will allow me to do. I could say it takes as long as it needs to in order to do it right. Everyone has a different style whether it’s Ed from Ed’s Heads, Island Mike, or Keith from Capizzi’s Tikis and everyone has a different speed.”
Best donates his time to the community through carving demonstrations and beautification projects. He’s gearing up for another big project.
“The city is revitalizing down Minutemen Causeway. FPL was moving wires to the south side of sidewalk to make way for the beautification. The city asked me if I could help out. Wayne had done similar tiki projects in the past. I obliged. I told them to leave them [the palms] six feet in the ground and I’d carve them. I didn’t ask for any money for it or get paid. We all do our part here. Whether it’s someone walking down the beach and picking up trash or cigarette butts or replanting sea oats. I’m just doing my part to beautify the walk down Minutemen.”
Bruce Best can be found at Nui Tiki Studio at 249 Minutemen Causeway, (321) 626-3168. Visit NuiTiki Studio on Facebook or twopalmdesigns.com.