When Summer Kluytman was a teenager, she got a summer job at the Miracle Strip amusement park in Panama City Beach.
She strapped the kids into the rocking Viking ship and pressed the button that started the Abominable Snowman ride, a whirlwind of flashing lights and heavy metal music inside a cold igloo.
In 2004, Miracle Strip closed, like many other Florida tourist attractions of the past. But Kluytman found a way to remember them. The St. Petersburg artist has documented lost attractions and beloved landmarks in a new series of hyper-local coloring books.
It has been a dream escape during a turbulent time.
“You can’t really go anywhere right now,” said Kluytman, now 46. “Well, I not really going anywhere right now. So in a way, the research was really taking me away from that and helping me open up my memory box.
Kluytman’s first coloring book focused on vintage St. Pete signs. When she first moved to the city in the early 1990s, she was fascinated by the colorful neon motel displays, like the Sandman Motel on N 34th Street.
After becoming an art teacher at St. Pete’s Makeme Studio for a few years, Kluytman traced photos of clients’ families. She got bored and started drawing motel signs for fun.
Then the pandemic hit and she lost her art teaching jobs at Makeme and Creative Clay. She got a coloring book based on the TV show Schitt’s Creek and realized she could do the same thing – with a different niche.
“Anything with St. Pete in it, people go crazy,” she said. “I wanted to jump on it.”
St. Pete’s Love Letters released in July 2021. It features the city’s beloved landmarks, past and present.
Her latest coloring book, Next exit, was released in December and is inspired by roadside attractions across the state of Florida during his childhood. Her father was a television and radio personality, and she recalls traveling with him to the annual Wausau Possum Festival and the Jesus-themed King of Kings Wax Museum, once based at Sunken Gardens in Saint -Petersburg.
“Even as a child, I loved absurdity,” she said.
The book begins with Miracle Strip, featuring the towering blue creature that stood guard outside the Abominable Snowman ride and the grimacing head of the devil from the nearby Dante’s Inferno attraction. It has pages for extinct attractions like Tiki Gardens (once in Indian Shores), Splendid China (once in Central Florida), and Six Gun Territory (once in Ocala). It also celebrates the spots that keep kicking in: Sunken Gardens, Gatorland in Orlando, Solomon’s Castle in Ona and the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs.
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Both books are sold in stores across St. Petersburg, including Tombolo Books, Neat Neat Neat St. Pete, the Merchant and the Morean Arts Center. Kluytman also has copies available for purchase online through her Etsy page. (She sells under the name of the shop SummerLoveLetters.)
“I really love all the fun characters, castles and circus tents,” Summer’s husband Jason Kluytman said. “Almost every page contains something cute and quirky.”
For the past four years, a room in the couple’s home has been used as an arts and crafts studio. Among the shelves on the shelves of art supplies are now boxes of coloring books – and plans for future volumes are in the works.
“It’s a labor of love for Summer,” Jason Kluytman said. “You get a big chunk of his heart in each of these coloring books.