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COVER UPDATE: Love on Display

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  • | 12:00 p.m. December 31, 2009
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Taking art on the road is a lot tougher than it seems.

Leoma Lovegrove, one of the Gulf Coast's most prolific artists whose paintings fetch $20,000 or more, says the multi-sensory productions she recently conceived are more demanding than she expected.

This year, Lovegrove spent $35,000 on a music-and-light show that features her painting on stage at her studio in Matlacha. The small town (pronounced matt-luh-shay) is located on a sliver of land that connects Pine Island with Cape Coral near Fort Myers.

When she was dreaming up the project, Lovegrove envisioned taking the show on the road. But she quickly realized that doing that would be a big undertaking because it involves moving lots of props, such as trees made of heavy glass bottles. “You cannot take Disney World and plop it down in other places,” she jokes.

Fact is, Matlacha is already a destination for art seekers. More than 400 people a day walk through Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens, which features all sorts of colorful paintings and sculptures.

“That being said, I do kind of want to reinvent myself,” Lovegrove says. “Out of this some good things are happening.” Keeping things fresh and new has been a hallmark of Lovegrove's success.

In February, Lovegrove plans to present a live performance painting on stage at an international art conference in Zurich, Switzerland. “They're looking for artists to come from all over the world,” she says.

Marketing herself globally has been Lovegrove's forte. Many of the customers who buy her art are vacationing Europeans who have read about her in their home country's newspapers and magazines.

Artists generally aren't good self-promoters, but Lovegrove travels often and serves as a de-facto ambassador to Lee County's tourism bureau. Some of the hottest-selling items in her gallery include coconuts that tourists can mail to their family and friends back home.

But she's staying away from painting coconuts today and is setting up a tent in her garden where tourists can paint their own. “I don't want to be known as the Coconut Lady on my gravestone,” she chuckles.

One area she plans to focus on in 2010 is to find homes for her really big paintings. “I want those to tour next year,” she says. These large paintings can be used to sell smaller pieces. “The big pieces sell the lower-priced ones,” she reasons.

Some of these large paintings measure as much as 14 feet. “They will not sit in an average home, so they'll be in a public place,” she says. For example, Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers might have room for such an exhibit.

The economic downturn hasn't materially hurt sales, though Lovegrove has seen a slowdown on sales of her most expensive work, such as paintings that cost more than $20,000. Instead, people are buying prints and paintings that cost less than $2,000. “I just sold two $800 paintings yesterday,” she says. These are
the same kinds of people who might have spent $2,500 five years ago, she says.

Still, there's always enough to please even the stingiest spender. For a few dollars, you can buy a clay ant. Because of that, sales remain brisk. “The economy has never really bothered me,” she says.

—Jean Gruss


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