Imagine Ernest Hemingway showing you around Key West and introducing you to "Mob" members Charles Thompson, Sloppy Joe Russell and Capt. Eddie "Bra" Saunders at their favorite fishing or watering hole. Or Andy Warhol taking you on a tour of The Factory, then to his favorite hang-outs on East 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Well that's the experience you get in historic Matlacha when you sign up for one of Leoma Lovegrove's walking tours of the colorful artists' enclave that was a fishing community just twenty short years ago.
Matlacha is an interesting place, and if you've never been, or haven't visited in awhile, you'll get no finer introduction to the island than from Leoma Lovegrove during one of her Matlacha walking tours. Lovegrove and her author husband, Michael J. Silberg, arrived on the island a short time after local fishermen shot holes in their boats and set them on fire in the aftermath of passage of the net fishing ban in 1992. As Lovegrove notes on the tour, the conflagration was so bright it could be seen from Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Lovegrove opened her gallery in 1996, and today Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens serves as international headquarters for the globally-collected artist. It is also the starting point for Lovegrove's Friday morning walking tours of the island's flora, fauna and man-made landmarks. Each 45-60 minute tour is packed with fascinating facts and little-known tidbits about the history and ecology of the area, and the famous artists, authors and musicians who frequent Matlacha year round both for pleasure and inspiration. The tour features local plants and wildlife in their native habitats, like Ernie the park osprey. In particular, Lovegrove reveals why mullets form balls, how the island's fishing shacks and bungalows were transformed into today's funky colored art galleries and studios, and the "Elvis connection." She also explains why the waters surrounding the island are coveted by sports fishers and kayakers alike, and when and how the bridge from Cape Coral to Matlacha got its nickname as “Fishing-est Bridge in the World.” Since the tour wraps up around 10, participants have a full day to enjoy the island, beginning with Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens and then off to neighboring shops and galleries.