Pine Island's Painting Princess

by Ann Marie O'Phelan

One recent morning I found myself walking along a 5-mile hike that Leoma walks many mornings in order to refresh her mind and keep her legendary high-energy level finely tuned. There we were on the back roads of Cape Coral when Leoma spotted something that would ordinarily gone unnoticed to most. “Do you see that eagle’s nest?” She asked. I looked up, cocked my head, and there about 30-feet above ground, in-between the towering pine tree branches was an eagle’s nest tucked quietly away. It’s this kind of thing that makes a morning walk with Leoma something other than a casual stroll. She doesn’t seem to miss the important things.

She is an animal lover she is, so it makes sense that she would spot something like this in a place most people never bother to look. In fact, even from her earlier years painting in Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France, where she assisted the painter, Gale Bennett, she spent months in the barnyard painting portraits of sheep, roosters and cows, instead of the haystacks, ponds and water lilies that Claude Monet became so famous for.

Using an impressionistic palette composed mainly of two red, two blues, and two yellows, Leoma transforms a blank canvas into an expressive, colorful, energetic, interpretation of the world as she sees it. Often, but certainly not always, these are images of animals, fish, birds, and other wildlife. Some of these caught the eye of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, who consequently asked her to help promote the area by painting live on stage in order to bring awareness to the arts and artists of Lee County. (She is also known for painting live onstage at church services, paintings that she calls “Passion Paintings”.)

Besides the images of wildlife, Leoma’s topics range from portraits of famous people, including former President Jimmy Carter (which now hangs in his presidential library), and Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airlines (whose portrait hangs in his London-based headquarters). She also paints lyrics including those of the Beatles, paints images of Old Florida, and portraits of her own family, including her husband, Michael Silberg, her already colorful macaw, ‘Solomon’, and her cat ‘Louis’ who was taken in as a stray.

Leoma recently finished her polka-dot show that was in the Arts for ACT Gallery in February, where all of her pieces featured brightly-colored polka dots on everything from trash cans, to canvases, to furniture. (Her polka dots have also recently managed to find their way to the exterior of her Matlacha studio.) She is currently preparing for her next exhibit, a 12-15 piece “traveling show”, centered around Thomas and Mina Edison and their family, for the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. (The first show is projected for spring of 2008 at the Estates; after which the exhibit be boxed-up and shipped to another location.)

After our 5-mile trek that morning, we sat on the back deck of Leoma’s “so colorful, you can’t miss it” studio that overlooks a calm canal off the Matlacha pass, and sipped a cup of hot coffee while we watched the fish jump.

Ann: You have an art degree from The Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, what was your degree in?

LEOMA: Illustration.

So originally, you had a tighter style?

Yes, I worked, at first, much more realistically.

You then loosed-up into a more Impressionistic style with hints of Expressionism. Was that a slow transformation, or a quick decision?

My style progressed as I experimented with color. I wanted the colors to make one’s eyes move. I am constantly making color fight to be center stage.

While many people get inspired, you also seem to have the gumption to run with your inspirations in a way that seems fearless, how do you keep your focus and drive?

I can’t help myself. Merely waking up gives me “drive”. I never feel “focused”. I wish God would have given us a 48-hour day instead of 24…then I could get some sleep.

Speaking of inspirations, I understand your mother played a key role in nurturing your creativity, what kinds of things did she do?

She had all of her four children take art classes and music classes. Every holiday was “over-the-top” in terms of decorating. Plus, my mother has always made art and music a part of her daily life, even to this day. Her actions are a real inspiration.

And your husband, Michael, has played an integral role in your success. In fact, together you founded Matlacha Art Gallery (Leoma no longer owns the gallery, but her work is still represented by the Gallery), and he obviously inspires you and nurtures your creativity.

Yes, he does. Michael is a writer, so he understands the creative process. He and I have undertaken many projects together including the opening of the Gallery, and starting up our own coconut postcard mailing business, where we sell mail-able coconuts to several Southwest Florida galleries and a few resorts like Disney World.

Both of you are also dedicated to giving back to the community— you with your Arts for ACT Gallery work, your Salvation Army efforts, and the hearts that you painted live at the Matlacha Art Gallery where you donated the proceeds to the American Heart Association—while Michael donates his time and energy to a prison ministry. You also collectively sent 500 postcard mailings to the troops overseas, so what are your thoughts on generosity? It seems like it’s a huge part of you and Michael’s life.

My mom has always been very generous, so I suppose I learned about generosity from her. Also, Mike and I have been so very blessed throughout our lives and giving (even if it is small gift) means a lot to others. You never know where someone is in their life as far as having trouble or struggles. Or, maybe just needs a little hug. Since we did not have children we are real softies for parent(s) who are raising their kids.

I understand you are headed back to France, where you will no doubt find something interesting to paint. Do you have any thoughts about this? Where will you be plopping your easel?

Mike and I are headed back to Normandy for ten days. We may run over to the Swiss Alps to get the chill in our bones, as I have wanted to see the Alps since I was a child. We love the mountains, and spent Easter at Mont Saint-Michel. Normally on overseas trips, I drag along about 30 canvases, but this time I’ll just bring along watercolors, a sketchbook and journal. On shorter trips, I find that the lighter load works best.

Leoma Lovegrove’s work is currently on display at several SW Florida galleries, Denmark Interiors, Saks Fifth Avenue, Edison & Ford Winter Estates and Walt Disney World. In April, Leoma was the featured artist at the Don Drumm Studios & Gallery in Akron, Ohio. In June, she will be painting live on-stage in Chicago for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. •

from the May-June 2007 issue

Lovegrove Studio
Matlacha, Florida