Sanibel artists reflect on the life of Ikki Matsumoto
The art community on Sanibel Island remembers Ikki Matsumoto as a quiet, gentle man with a warm sense of humor.
The 78-year-old printmaker and painter lost his battle to liver cancer on Dec. 31 after being diagnosed in August, according to his daughter Amy Matsumoto. The world-renowned artist will be cremated and his ashes spread across Sanibel Island, out west in Santa Fe, in his birthplace of Japan, some in the family plot, and the rest kept by his family in Southwest Florida.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1935, Ikki was the son of famed Japanese illustrator Katsuji Matsumoto, known for his work in Manga. Simply translated, Ikki’s name means “the single horseman under a pine tree,” yet friends and family on Sanibel Island have shown he was never alone.
At the age of 20, Ikki came to the United States aboard a ship to study at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and later transferred to the Art Academy of Cincinnati to study under wildlife artist Charles Harper.
He married his wife Polly in 1959 and was commissioned in 1972 to illustrate The Joy of Cooking, one of the most widely published U.S. cookbooks. First Lady Nancy Reagan later chose him to paint a White House Easter egg in 1985.
Two years later the Matsumotos moved an old house on Sanibel Island from the beach to Tarpon Bay Road and transformed it into their very first gallery.
Local artist Sherry Rohl met the Matsumotos in the early 1980s when they owned the original Tower Gallery in the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. They moved the Tower Gallery to Sanibel Island where Rohl worked with Ikki’s wife Polly, while showcasing some of her own work.
“It was the first and main gallery for me, for a number of years, and did very well for me,” said Rohl.
Polly Matsumoto represented a number of artists including Rohl and Ikki. At that time Ikki was working heavily in silk screen and Rohl was the only painter Polly was representing, even though Ikki later dived into painting.
“Ikki had the wonderful luxury of being able to do his work at home in his studio,” said Rohl. “He stayed at home and did the art and she was representing him.”
He produced beautiful, stylized works about nature that made people smile and brightened up their day, said Rohl. She remembered him as a shy guy with a terrific sense of humor.
“He had a very whimsical sense of humor that came out a lot in his work,” said Rohl. “He was a funny guy. Ikki was delightful.”
She had shared a long friendship with the Matsumotos, not only based on the arts but their mutual love of horses and that they both lived in Cincinnati before moving to Florida, but had never previously met.
The Matsumotos also played an integral role in the formation of BIG ARTS in the late 1970s. Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder said Ikki often donated his designs for T-shirts, hats, and prints, and people came from all over the world to ask where they could purchase his work.
“He helped jumpstart the art scene out here, not just in BIG ARTS but across the island,” said Harder. “The community loved his art work. When you thought of arts on Sanibel, you thought of Ikki Matsumoto. We are going to miss him.”
Hollis Jeffcoat, a Sanibel Island artist who shows her own work at the Watson MacRae Gallery at The Village Shops, said that Ikki had the ability to capture the island in its entirety with only one image. The community’s enthusiasm for nature was well represented in his graphic work, she said, and that was his legacy on the island.
“He was able to distill what we love about Sanibel, the nature here, into these wonderful pieces. He captured it and got it into one image that made it all come through,” said Jeffcoat.
The Watson MacRae Gallery now occupies gallery space formerly owned and operated by the Matsumotos. It was from that space that Ikki had produced posters for the Island Reporter newspaper, the Rotary Club’s Annual Craft Fair and where he designed the cover of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Magazine.
Jeffcoat, who grew up in Fort Myers, had moved to Sanibel in 1998 after working in Paris and New York. The Matsumotos had already relocated to Arcadia but Jeffcoat met them in local artist’s circles and struck up a friendship that lasted until Ikki passed away.
“His craftsmanship was superb and his sense of fun was so great,” she said. “And what a sweet man. Kind and gentle.”
A memorial service is scheduled at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts on Feb. 6 from 6-8 p.m., and the family is asking for donations to be sent to Hope Hospice or the Alliance for the Arts.
To learn more about the artist Ikki Matsumoto, visit ikkimatsumoto.com .