SAINT AUGUSTINE – Michael Usina, St. Augustine native and Minorcan descendent, has been recognized by the state as a recipient of a 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Award.
Usina celebrates his Minorcan heritage by crafting hand-made cast nets using techniques passed down by his ancestors who settled St. Augustine in the 18th century.
Driven by a desire to promote Minorcan folk arts, Usina has shared this tradition in one-on-one apprenticeships, a documentary and at a variety of public events including the Florida Folk Festival.
For the past seven years, he has demonstrated his craft at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He has provided Minorcan cast net making demonstrations on the grounds of the Museum for visitors and during summer camps with the Museum’s Education Program.
“Thanks to Mike for so enthusiastically sharing his stories and skills with campers and visitors over the last 7-plus years,” said Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretative Division at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “Working with him is an honor and a privilege.”
The Folk Heritage Awards are given to outstanding folk artists and advocates who have made longstanding contributions to the folklife and cultural resources of Florida. In the category of Folklife Advocate, the award recipients are James Billie, former chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and Tina Bucuvalas, Curator of Arts & Historical Resources for the City of Tarpon Springs.
In the category of Folk Artist, the award recipients are Jane Wells Scott, fiddler in Tallahassee, and Michael Usina, Minorcan cast net maker in St. Augustine. Awards will be presented to the recipients in a ceremony at the Word of South Festival in Tallahassee on April 13, 2019.
“Folk artists and advocates help keep important traditions alive so they can be passed down and shared from generation to generation,” said Secretary Ertel. “The Department is honored to recognize these four individuals for their commitment to fostering Florida’s folk arts and cultural heritage.”
Usina has been making cast nets for more than 60 years using the same techniques as his Minorcan ancestors who settled North Florida more than 240 years ago. He learned the skills from his father Julian, who had learned them from his father.
The Usinas owned a local filling station where they made nets in their spare time. By the time he was nine years old, Michael had knitted his first four foot Spanish mullet net. As a teen, he made and sold one per week and throughout adulthood, continued to make cast nets to provide for his family, eventually mastering both the Spanish and English varieties.
After retiring from a career as an airplane sheet metal mechanic for the Department of Defense, he focused his efforts on promoting his Minorcan folklife. Since 2012 he has shared net making, fishing and other aspects of maritime culture with youth at the annual summer camp hosted by the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He served as a Master Artist in the Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 2015, led independent apprenticeships, produced the documentary The Minorcan History of Hand Made Netmaking and regularly demonstrates at community events including annually at the Florida Folk Festival.
His efforts generated growing interest in folk arts in St. Augustine garnering notice from the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, who recommended he apply for funding. In partnership with the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, he secured enough funding to host a folk arts workshop series that included net making as well as Cuban and Greek foodways, palm frond weaving, ship modeling and Greek dancing.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, a private nonprofit, is open for guests from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.