The Arts

The Phi­lan­thropist Be­hind the Can­vas

RSWLiving - - Department­s - BY RE­NEE NO VELLE

It’s ev­ery artist’s am­bi­tion to make an im­pres­sion on his com­mu­nity’s con­science. The re­al­ity is that few do, for what­ever rea­son— the mes­sage is too ab­stract or abra­sive, the artist, too ec­cen­tric.

Ikki Mat­sumoto was the rare artist who broke through, largely be­cause he treated his com­mu­nity with the same def­er­ence he did his work. He died last New Year’s Eve, 12 hours short of his 79th birth­day.

“He just couldn’t say no,” Polly Mat­sumoto says of her late hus­band’s in­cli­na­tion to do­nate his art. “And he en­joyed do­ing it.”

We’re joined by Polly and Ikki’s daugh­ter, Amy Mat­sumoto, at Amy’s frame shop in Naples, Mat­sumoto Fram­ing, which ex­hibits both Ikki and Polly’s art. Ikki’s last paint­ing, an un­fin­ished portrait of an owl is stashed in the back room.

Aside from do­nat­ing his paint­ings to any num­ber of causes in and around Fort My­ers— he wasn’t se­lec­tive when it came to char­ity— where he and Polly lived and Polly re­mains to­day, Ikki was also


game for de­sign­ing posters and fly­ers for the Ro­tary Club of Sani­bel- Cap­tiva, ArtFest Fort My­ers and the Clinic for the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Wildlife. As though that didn’t keep him busy enough, he helped found an­other non­profit, BIG ARTS, or the Bar­rier Is­land Group for the Arts.

Ikki’s public and pri­vate per­sonas couldn’t have been more dis­parate, though, Polly says. “He was very shy, but you never would’ve known it,” she says. “Once, he got shin­gles. He was so ner­vous.” Prior to a big pre­sen­ta­tion at The South Seas Is­land Resort, Amy re­mem­bers, her fa­ther had the hic­cups for an en­tire week. “Fi­nally, the day be­fore, Mom called and can­celled,” she says. “As soon as she can­celled, they went away.”

But Ikki, of course, en­deared him­self to his fam­ily too, only the ges­tures were more in­ti­mate. He was the house chef, for one. “I miss it be­cause I don’t cook Ja­panese

dishes,” Polly says, then flashes the same sweet smile that ac­com­pa­nied the mem­o­ries of their first dates. As art stu­dents in the fifties, they fa­vored jazz clubs.

For all his anx­i­ety about it, Ikki had a hard time avoid­ing the spot­light. Then First Lady Nancy Rea­gan com­mis­sioned him to paint an Easter egg for the White House, which, to­day, is on per­ma­nent dis­play at the Smith­so­nian. In 1975, he il­lus­trated an edi­tion of the sem­i­nal

Joy of Cook­ing. More re­cently, C& S Na­tional Bank ( now Bank of the Is­lands) com­mis­sioned Ikki to cre­ate 30 paint­ings. They re­main on dis­play at the Sani­bel bank and are, in fact, the largest public ex­hi­bi­tion of his art. None of it, how­ever, made the at­ten­tion any eas­ier.

“He was always em­bar­rassed by peo­ple mak­ing a big deal about him.” Polly says.

Un­der­stand­ably, that did lit­tle to stem the out­pour­ing at a Fe­bru­ary me­mo­rial ser­vice held at the Lee County Al­liance for the Arts, which over­whelmed Polly and Amy, even though they were braced for it. “We’re try­ing to be strong, and there’s th­ese men who were weep­ing,” Amy says, her eyes tear­ing up at the mem­ory.

In the months since, mother and daugh­ter have worked to en­sure that Ikki’s art is eas­ily ac­cessed. Amy’s ac­quired sev­eral paint­ings that are par­tic­u­larly sen­ti­men­tal. Ikki was fond of in­cor­po­rat­ing her into his paint­ings when she was a child. A few other orig­i­nals and his prints are ex­hib­ited and avail­able for sale at the frame store. They’re also sold through the Web site, ikki­mat­sumoto. com, which Polly and Amy over­see to­gether.

His art will live on, but it’s only a piece of Ikki Mat­sumoto’s rich legacy. Ar­guably, an even larger por­tion is com­prised of the non­prof­its and the count­less peo­ple they ben­e­fited through his sup­port, and will con­tinue to.

Na­ture was one of Ikki Mat­sumoto’s muses, in art and in life. Left: A young Mat­sumoto with his fa­ther, Kat­suji, on the day he left Ja­pan for the United States.

Mat­sumoto at work in his Sani­bel stu­dio in 1977. Above, from left: His paint­ing of an an­hinga, gracing the cover of Times ofthe Is­lands in 2001 . And a sail­boat, fea­tur­ing his daugh­ter, Amy.

Clock­wise, from top left: Amy Mat­sumoto ex­hibits one of her own paint­ings. Ikki Mat­sumoto with his grand­son, Christo­pher. And, hand­crafted jew­elry by Polly and Amy Mat­sumoto.

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