October 20, 2014

Art and Soul

You hear it said often enough that gifted artists generally aren't successful businesspeople, and that's why they need agents and gallery owners. Some artists do master both worlds. Kathleen Dennison and Mary Moran certainly have. Dennison, a goldsmith, and Moran, a painter, met seven years ago at a Naples art show and subsequently volunteered to serve on a publicity committee for an upcoming event. They got along so well that they decided to go into business together, leasing a tiny former coffee shop off Fifth Avenue. After two years, it was such a hit they moved into quarters four times larger right on Fifth Avenue-and they haven't stopped expanding since.

The partners just opened their second gallery/gift boutique on Fifth Avenue, Blue Moonstone, and it's just overflowing with gorgeous and unique jewelry, ceramics, painted furniture, art glass, fashion accessories, and artful creations that are pure whimsy. An example of the latter is an oversized bunch of yellow ceramic bananas for $300. Honestly, you could build your kitchen's entire décor around these bananas; they make a really bold and amusing statement. Other fruits are available, too.

In the original Dennison-Moran Gallery up the street, everything is from American artisans, many from the state of Florida. Blue Moonstone has expanded that inventory to include global artistic representation, and it can accommodate bigger pieces of painted furniture. To get the overall picture of what the two owners aim for in an art-retail experience, you really should browse both locations; the price range is pretty amazing. For $1, you can go home with a pewter angel pocket token that looks like an embossed coin. At the other end of the scale, one of Kathleen's Tahitian pearl-and-24K-gold necklaces is $10,000. Yet each is a breathtaking one-of-a-kind creation. Also stop and admire the gilded medieval-style angel paintings by the talented Mimi von Litolff. Occasionally, von Litolff works at the Blue Moonstone, and she's a real delight to chat with about the art on display.

In the realm of jewelry, Blue Moonstone excels in diachronic glass earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets and even keychains. The way the rainbow glass catches and manipulates light and color really adds to the enjoyment of owning a piece. Other things to love at Blue Moonstone include note cards, ornamental picture frames, animal drawer pulls, wind chimes, fanciful clocks, a selection of exotic clothing, and cute little "candy kisses" made of colorful glass for just $6 each. The Kevin O'Grady glass cuff bracelets at $120 are also incredibly lovely-and much more lightweight than you'd think. 

Founded in 1969, jungle larry's Caribbean Gardens (the Zoo in Naples) boasts exotic plants and rare animals galore. The compound is nationally accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, so you know the standards are high and that the quality of care for endangered species outside the wild exceeds what is mandatory.

But for a lot of local folks (and some seasonal visitors), the gift shop is as much of an adventure as the gardens. Managed by Roy Johns, the Zoo Gift Shop is a prime place for finding unusual theme gifts for both children and adults. And if you're doing a room of your home in a retro scheme and want a bit of flamingo or alligator "old Florida" kitsch, you will find things in this gift shop to make you smile. A nice accent might be a small flamingo on a miniature surfboard for just $2.99. It's a hoot. So are the logo shot glass ($3.25) and metal wind chimes ($38). A really good-looking quilted tote bag with either a fish, citrus or wild animal motif is a mere $18, and something to carry all your purchases in. A genuine shark-tooth fossil necklace can be yours for $8, and a glow-in-the-dark frog is $6. How cute for a child's bathroom. In addition, you'll find straw hats, stuffed animals, hand puppets, realistic rubber snakes (99 cents), sunglasses, and logo T-shirts and baseball caps.

In terms of educational games, do check out Wild Animalopoly at $27. It's a family board game modeled after Monopoly; but in this case, the small silvery tokens you move around the board are wild animals. And instead of "go to jail" and such, the cards read "hide from predator" and things like that. In Monopoly, the big real estate spot to land on is Park Place; here it's Rhino Territory.

Naples Zoo members receive a discount at the gift shop. A family membership is $99.95; for Collier County families, it's just $49.95. Your membership helps support the care of exotic and endangered animals at the zoo and also contributes to support of wildlife conservation projects in places such as India, Namibia and Thailand. Imagine all the great shopping you can accomplish. Two trips to the gift shop, and you're two holiday seasons ahead for the children on your Christmas list-and those grown-ups with a sense of humor. 

You might think the last thing this part of Southwest Florida needs is another furniture store. But when you factor in the latest burst of construction and the great diversity of people being drawn to our shores for all manner of habitation, you realize this region just can't offer too many emporiums devoted to making our creature comforts, well, more creature comfortable.

American Signature Furniture is the kind of place that might appeal to Bruce Springsteen, as all its furniture is born in the U.S.A. Design, craftsmanship, manufacturing and distribution are all done here; the furniture comes from where it's made (North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio) directly to you at factory-direct prices. Like its nine other sister stores in Florida, the newest American Signature in Fort Myers has 33,000 square feet of furniture and selected accessories, all of it conveniently organized by lifestyle-the one you're living or the one you aspire to.

There's not so much of anything that you're overwhelmed, and I appreciate the spaciousness and easy traffic pattern; you can actually stand back and look at various pieces to evaluate size and shape. Lifestyle divisions include West Indies, Sea Island, Vineyard Manor and more. Studio One is more modern and urban than Heirloom Classics, the latter with dressers and beds that look like they came from your grandmother's attic, only cleaner. Arts and Crafts will charm men, and the Euro Manor collection is well suited to the Mediterranean Revival style so popular right now in most of Southwest Florida. The designers didn't assume that all of us live in homes with 24-foot ceilings and thus need sofas, chairs and tables on steroids. There are plenty of oversized pieces, to be sure, but lots of smaller ones, too.

What is apparent when meandering from one vignette to the next is that the sectional sofa trend remains dominant-and that consumers want leather. Leather headboards, lounge chairs, sofas, pillows and desks are liberally sprinkled throughout all the collections. Neutrals and soft earth tones seem the most popular hues. But when there is a pop of color, as in a candy-apple red leather Art Deco club chair, it really looks yummy. And at $499, it's an exceptionally good buy.

The sales associates at American Signature don't pounce when you walk through the doors, but they're pleasant and efficient when researching colors, fabrics and delivery schedules. All in all, the store is a genuinely useful resource for newcomers to this part of Florida, or for long-time residents who want to upgrade or remodel one room or a whole house. When you pick a style, say Vineyard Manor, you get a brochure with drawings and dimensions for all the pieces, as well as a color chart of the Sherwin-Williams paint shades that match the furniture. This is a terrific convenience.

Each month, American Signature organizes free public in-store seminars on subjects such as feng shui decorating, 10-minute makeovers, what to do with throw pillows, and how to choose a mattress. Don't you just love a retailer that makes consumer education part of a plan for success? Maybe that pillow seminar will teach me to know when one's pillow acquisitions have gotten out of control. I'm probably dangerously close. 

Blue Moonstone

483 Fifth Ave. S., Naples

(239) 262-0720

Dennison-Moran Gallery

696 Fifth Ave. S., Naples

(239) 263-0590

Caribbean Gardens

The Zoo in Naples

1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples

(239) 262-5409

American Signature Furniture

13711 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers

(239) 425-3699

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