2019 Florida Folk Heritage Award
St. Augustine native Michael 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 and 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 North East Florida, who recommended he apply for funding. In partnership with the St. Augustine Lighthouse and 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.