Pale blues mix with deep pinks. Watery whites melt into verdant greens. It’s the union of ocean and sky captured with brush strokes. Rising above the Pine Island Fire Department is a painted tower. Entitled 7,000 years of fishing Pine Island Florida, the mural not only shows how vital fishing has been for communities from Calusa to current day; its artistry highlights the unique fusion of industry and imagination that is Matlacha.
Along the shores of the bridge deemed “The Fishingest Bridge in the World,” a once sleepy, Old Florida fishing village is now a thriving artist community. Colorful galleries of local artists such as the famously vibrant Leoma Lovegrove sit alongside mullet merchants.
Just as her Fire Department Tower Mural conveys, artist Mel Meo knows this community is built on the history of what came before. Hers is a history of both fish and finery. In years past she has run a combo fish fry/art studio selling “mullet dogs,” fish fritters and art. As she puts it, this combination fits the laid-back feel of the Island: “Cooking and art. Serves both your needs.”
The music of Leonard Cohen provides rhythm as Meo works in her colorful cottage, one of a series of converted campground cabins. Paint and brushes hint to the vibrant colors she chose for both the mural and her current series—Italian porticos and landscapes inspired by a recent trip. Works by other local artists are hung and strung throughout the space. Her casual air and quirky appeal are at home in this little pocket of Pine Island.
A local ordinance preventing architectural growth within a two-block expanse off Pine Island Road has allowed the original, one-story bungalows that used to house fishermen to transform into galleries, art venues and studios. Unlike the art scenes in nearby towns, the fishing village feel creates a neighborhood with an unpretentious patina. This is art with a folksy vibe born of its unassuming surroundings. This is a place just as likely to celebrate its local artists at the annual Pine Island Art Festival Show as to gather in March for the annual Mullet Toss, hurling fish across the finish line.
Peggy McTeague owns WildChild Art Gallery.
Local artist Peggy McTeague agrees that the blend of Old Florida and creative energy is unique to this community. “My Love of Matlacha and Pine Island runs deep,” she says. “I remember the first day I crossed the Matlacha Bridge and felt like I was transported back in time. Matlacha today still has that feel of times gone by.” A metalworker and sculptor, McTeague uses the natural world to inspire her works. A love of the outdoors motivates her to creations often formed from recycled metals. Her shop, WildChild Art Gallery, also highlights the work of more than 100 artists as well as offers classes and workshops for those wanting to get their hands “arty.”
Island Visions sits a few doors down and, like its slogan implies, offers “Local Art and Curiosities.” Owners Steve and Lisa Timcak have curated a funky array of works as diverse as Matlacha itself. “We’re a unique and vibrant community. A small place that’s big with color, personality and a real spirit of generosity,” Lisa says.
While her artist husband, Steve, focuses on their other shops boasting “Whimsical Steampunk Art and Décor,” the collection at Island Visions is curated to promote work with a Florida feel. “There are artists we represent that use the tropical setting as their muse, so to speak,” Lisa says. The gallery is open-air, with doors on each side welcoming in breezes off the surrounding waters. She concurs the vibe in Matlacha encourages a unique “island time” creativity. “There’s an eclectic variety of galleries filled with work from area artists, one-of-a-kind lodging, and ‘local hangouts’ to grab a bite or relax with a drink and enjoy some music.”
A student in Peggy McTeague's class crafts a whimsical take on a fish.
As artist Kristin Neufarth, whose work is featured at Island Visions, says, “Lisa and Steve have managed to bottle up the feel of Matlacha into their gallery space with color and light. I love (that) as you walk in, the breeze blows all the way though the space.”
Neufarth, a self-described “water person,” saw the appeal of Matlacha upon first visiting. “The old fishing village captivated me. It was quirky and fun, and I knew immediately I wanted to spend more time here. Matlacha is just as much about the water around it as it is about the actual town.” And that is reflected in her art. Working often on found driftwood, she “soaks it all in. Kayaking through the area and watching the sea grass drift with the tide; how the water color and clarity changes depending on the sun and rain. … I turn these adventures into paintings. I have arrived at Island Visions more than one time all salty in boat clothes to bring Lisa art for the gallery.”
A conversation with her daughter inspired her most recent work. “She was standing in my studio just talking to me about the water, and I painted her as she talked. She didn’t know I what I was doing. She thought I was just priming an old boat door.” But she turned the painting of her daughter into a mermaid.
John Ryerson Bredin’s work is also featured at the gallery. “One of the things Lisa has done for me is set aside an area where many of my works can be seen together, giving them more strength.”
Bredin worked in the surfboard industry in San Diego. There, he developed a technique using the airbrush on boards as well as paintings. “For a long time now, my paintings have been images from my life; a life next to the water, boats, beaches and the like.” His most recent painting features his wife, Cheryl, and their boxer dogs on the beach. His work is also in the collection of musician David Crosby. Crosby’s song Wooden Ships was written about his schooner, Mayan, and Bredin’s painting Mayan at the Turtle Preserve pays homage to their shared love of the water. He has also worked as an illustrator for Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Caribbean Soul.
Water and wind. Island time and artistry. All combine in this funky enclave of Matlacha. As WildChild’s Peggy McTeague says, “The arts here have flourished. “We nourish the souls of travelers and islanders alike.” Amen for that.
IF YOU GO
Island Visions Gallery & Gift Shop
4643 Pine Island Road NW, Matlacha, 239-282-0452
Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens
4637 Pine Island Road NW, Matlacha, 239-938-5655, leomalovegrove.com
Mel Meo Studio
10501 Stringfellow Road, Bokeelia, 239-283-0236, melmeoart.com
WildChild Art Gallery
4625 Pine Island Road NW, Matlacha, 239-283-6006, wildchildartgallery.com