Leoma Lovegrove is one of Southwest Florida’s most beloved and popular artists — no doubt because everything she touches reflects her passion, personality and love of life.
Just as every picture tells a story, so every wanna-be artist has a story. But as life and legend tell us, most of those who pursue art as their calling will unfortunately fall short of a happy and fulfilled ending. It’s a fact: becoming a successful, serious artist is often a long and bruising journey that only a select few are fortunate and talented enough to realize.
Leoma Lovegrove is unequivocally a star among Southwest Florida artists, a personality as big and flashy and colorful and delightfully entertaining as her many works. From her studio in Matlacha that often welcomes 500 visitors each day, to museums and galleries in Florida and around the world, to every department in 125-plus Bealls stores across the Southeast, Lovegrove’s art is as easy to spot and smile at, as is her trademarked and legendary eyewear.
But her story is in many ways no different than many others who set out to be artists, and her sensation today was certainly not overnight.
Born in Indiana, Lovegrove graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design. Upon graduation, however, she found that finding a job as an artist wasn’t as easy as just filling out an application — even when she would illustrate the answers to questions on the application, to showcase her talents. “It got me an interview,” she recalls, “but I didn’t get the job.”
Instead, she set out to find any and every opportunity to put a sketch pencil or a paint brush in her hand — including delivering morning papers in Dayton, Ohio (it gave her a lot of free time to be creative), illustrating a book on art, painting murals at elementary schools and a hospital pediatric unit, landing a job at Indiana University instructing high school art teachers, even painting signs for companies and car dealerships along U.S. 41.
While that journey consumed seven or eight years, her opportunity to explore more serious art arrived when her husband, a Navy pilot stationed in Texas, retired — and she began “to paint with zeal.” The zeal thing worked, as she gained representatives in major markets, distribution to upscale retailers and enough work to require a warehouse. Chalk up another five years.
But Florida kept calling her back, and one fateful day about 20 years ago she and her husband took a wrong turn — thinking they were on the right route to property in Boca Grande — and found themselves smack at home for the rest of their lives, in tiny Matlacha. “It was a fishing village then, a little rough,” she recalls. “We’ve traveled all over the world, but we knew this was the place we wanted to be.”
Leoma Lovegrove is unequivocally a star among Southwest Florida artists, a personality as big and flashy and colorful and delightfully entertaining as her many works. But her story is in many ways no different than many others who set out to be artists, and her sensation today was certainly not overnight.
Still, even after all this time and relative success, Leoma Lovegrove was still unsatisfied artistically. “To be honest, I never truly enjoyed painting as I had hoped,” she says. “I was afraid of color. I never wanted to make mud.”
So her journey took another turn when she delivered a sign she’d painted to a local artist named Gale Bennett. At the time, Bennett was both art and music critic for the Fort Myers newspaper, but was also an artist who had founded ArtStudy Giverny in France (home of Monet’s Garden), and was establishing ArtStudy Florida in, of all places, Matlacha. Bennett taught impressionism and Lovegrove traded work in his studio for admission to his classes. It was a life-changing encounter.
“With impressionism, there are really just a few colors you’re working with — a couple of yellows, a couple of blues, a couple of reds and white. You can mix any of those together, and you’ll never get mud. It freed me. I’ve painted like a bandit ever since.”
But her evolution wasn’t complete until Lovegrove met artist Hollis Jeffcoat, who looked at her work and told her to think bigger. “She told me I needed to stop painting small, that I had too much energy for small canvases. So I’ve kept a big paintbrush in my hand ever since, and I generally paint three foot by four foot, or four foot by six foot. That was about 15 years ago, and that’s when my brand really came to life.”
So, if you’ve been adding along with us, it’s taken Leoma Lovegrove around 25 years of hard work and persistence — with a never-stop-learning attitude — to arrive as the artist she always believed she could be. “I believe my art is impressionist expressionist style,” she says. “More paint, adding neon, trying to create something no one has seen. If I’m bored with it, the public will be too. I’m so lucky, I get to paint whenever I want and I work every day. I also play hard, too, and my husband and I have a lot of fun.”
That fun includes a garden in Matlacha with “heritage seeds” from Monet’s in France, traveling the world, visiting family in the Midwest, getting feedback daily and directly from fans and — yes — getting a kick out of seeing so many people embracing her work via her Bealls line of apparel, dishware, bath goods, kids clothing and more. “With my glasses, it’s hard to not be noticed,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll stop and just watch folks wearing my work, and it’s cool. I want to be known as the people’s painter, and I think people embrace my art because it’s happy art.”
And as for tomorrow? Well, this joyful artist with her over-the-top persona, bold creations and humble attitude doesn’t plan on changing a thing. “I’ll paint, as I do every day,” she says. “Artists don’t stop painting. I’ve never considered it. I can’t imagine it.”
by John Sprecher