The Philanthropist Behind the Canvas
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
IKKI MATSUMOTO WAS THE RARE ARTIST WHO BROKE THROUGH, LARGELY BECAUSE HE TREATED HIS COMMUNITY WITH THE SAME DEFERENCE HE DID HIS WORK.
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.