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Times of the Islands Magazine

Florida’s Creative Class: Their Work Helps Drive the Economy, Thousands of Jobs at Stake

Aug 28, 2017 12:43PM ● By Kevin

Art Gallery: Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW State College.

Florida is flush with creative types.

Much of this talent draws inspiration from our state’s visual beauty. So, naturally there are voices and visions in Florida from innumerable cultures, a bounding creativity that’s in few places in the world. In Lee County alone, this creative class produces $140 million in annual activity—supporting thousands of jobs and generating some $18.8 million in government revenues.

TOTI Media is sharing creative people and galleries in and outside Southwest Florida chosen only to accent those many others too numerous to count.

Interior Designers

Julie Albrecht, Robb & Stucky, Fort Myers
“I was born into interior design. My great grandparents were master tailors, my grandpa a skilled furniture craftsman and reupholsterer. I was always around fabrics. Some of the design interns I’ve trained are super fashion designers. It isn’t brain surgery after all, which I have to constantly remind myself if anything gets too hectic in design.”

Diane Knight, Sanibel Home Furnishings, Sanibel
“They call me the queen of color, comfort and style. I personally like color and warm natural woods. Fabrics are my passion. I’ve been designing for over 40 years and remember my first trip to the Brunschwig & Fils showroom in New York … I was in fabric heaven.”

Michael Biondo, Michael Biondo Lifestyle Design, Naples
“In my early teens, I rearranged my aunt’s home. I was carefully thinking about every angle, placement and function of the room. When I was done, the room had three distinct sitting areas. ‘This is your calling, Michael,’ she said.”

Christopher Michiels, Christopher Michiels Interiors, Estero
“Hands down, this boy was born to design and create spectacular interiors. Little doubt remains in my mind that most designers are born with the talent, some just discover later or following a different path. It was also my mother’s amazing design tutelage and my love of artistic and beautiful things that started laying those yellow bricks down the exciting interior design road.”

Art Galleries

Lee County Alliance for the Arts, Fort Myers
Nonprofit agency has grown to 50-plus arts and cultural organizations, 1,200 members, some 133,000 annual visitors. “Our job is to provide a warm and welcoming place. We are using our front yard as a showcase and gateway to the city,” Alliance executive director Lydia Black says.

Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at Florida SouthWestern State College, Fort Myers
Rauschenberg’s half-century-plus presence on Captiva Island had the same effect on the local cultural scene as Thomas Edison’s presence in Southwest Florida. The gallery opened in 1979 and Rauschenberg launched a solo exhibit the following year—the first of 15 exhibits that included some world premieres. The gallery just ended an exhibit featuring the performers James Franco and Kalup Linzy.

Unit A/Marcus Jansen, Fort Myers
Jansen’s studio and gallery accommodates his large-scale urban expressionism, creating a diptych or tryptic that can be “put together as a larger work, like a puzzle,” he says.

René Miville Gallery at The Franklin Shops, Fort Myers
A former fashion photographer, Miville opened the gallery with a couple of his large-scale works. His gallery now represents an eclectic mix of artists in the 1,100-square-foot second-floor space. Live art at select events.

Arts for ACT Gallery and Boutique, Fort Myers
The gallery carries the works of 40 to 50 artists, two monthly featured guest artists, as well as an auction preview in October. Purchases here do double-duty: supporting local artists and funding a domestic abuse shelter.

DAAS CO-OP, Fort Myers
David Acevedo and Xavier Brignoni have created an artists’ co-op in Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers. “The local art scene is very powerful. Every day, every week, I meet new artists doing amazing work,” says Acevedo.

HOWL Gallery/Tattoo, Fort Myers
Half is devoted to tattoos and piercing; the other half features fantasy, surreal and counterculture art, rock posters and Andy Howl originals. “There’s art everywhere,” he says.


Mila Bridger, Marco Island
“For me, it’s the setup. I dream and sketch the image from my head on the appearance and then I try to set up the way I imagined it. Of course during the setup and photo shoot things can change the directions … and that’s good, too.”

Nick Adams, Sanibel
“With people, it’s all about expression. The face will speak a thousand words in a photograph, trying to get natural expressions is a skill that I am still trying to perfect, even after 22 years as a professional photographer. With landscapes, it’s more about putting yourself in the right place at the right time to get a perfect shot.”

Dennis Gingerich, Cape Coral
“I do planning to get my best shots. I watch the skies and weather forecasts to get a sense of what the cloud situation will be like. A sky without clouds is boring. Clouds add texture, contrast and color, especially at sunrise and sunset. And if you have water in the photo, then the reflections of the clouds double the impact.”

William R. Cox, Fort Myers
“I search literature, the internet and Google Earth to locate the best locations for targeted wildlife, habitats or landscapes, following this with extensive field work mainly by foot to locate the best sites to photograph.”

Clyde Butcher, Venice, Fla.
“I go out into the field and accept whatever is presented to me and then do the best I can with that experience. However, I stay out of the deep forest when it is bright and sunny because there is too much contrast in the forest … the black shadows and highlights on the leaves are too far apart, which make for a lousy photo.”

Men in Fashion

Tailoring by Rhonda, Fort Myers

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Rhonda Erol has been tailoring clothes for so long it’s safe to say she’s a good “fit” when it comes to styling men. “Women have so many different styles,” Erol explains. “But men really have a lot of the same style, maybe just changing the fabric? Because there is not too much variety, the fit is so important.”

Why Style, Naples
Owner Sarah LaMont makes fashion fun, flirty—and reasonably priced. She brings years of experience styling men and women, serving as a key member of Nordstrom’s style team before branching out on her own: “I started my business to help people feel empowered by what they wear and to create functional closets that are full of pieces they love and understand—as opposed to chaos!”

Cape Boyz, Cape Coral

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For guys, if your T-shirt game is strong, chances are you’re acing everything else in life. Cape Boyz doesn’t have a hard time being unique. “Creating our own paths keeps the designs fresh and present,” co-owner Frank McNeal says. “We’re not limited to market standards.”

The Webster, Miami Beach
Located in the heart of Miami’s South Beach, with an iconic blue, white and pastel-pink exterior, The Webster boutique is proving to Southwest Floridians that it’s worth the drive—especially if you have an appetite for designer duds. The clothes aren’t cheap, but neither is the quality.

Canned Ham Vintage, Sarasota
Vogue magazine says, “Walking into Canned Ham Vintage feels like entering the home of a really cool friend.” And eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe it: There’s clothing from the 1940s and forward for dapper dudes (and lovely ladies.) The owner purchases from in and outside Florida, from collectors and other sources.

Women in Fashion

Mariapia Malerba, Cape Coral
A former corporate designer, she’s thrown herself into fiber art, creating couture that, if not practical for everyday use, makes daring presentations on stage. “Life of an artist can be very tough,” she adds. “You must concentrate 100 percent.”

Lissa Schuessler, Naples
Skirts, tops and dresses can be dressed up or down. “You can wear it on the beach and then out to dinner with crystal heels,” Schuessler says. Versatility and durability is the name of 724’s game. Donned by 19-to-22-year-old models in Miami fashion shows, the garments’ most ardent followers are women ages 55 to 60.

Gwendolyn Gleason, Naples

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Most of her commissions these days are by referral, but there’s an emerging aspect to her work. Gleason’s creations employ organic, sustainable fabrics that breathe in the Florida heat. She’s expanding her brand by making more casual attire, such as “beach cover-ups, wraps and tunics made from beautiful cottons and linens from India.”

Lia Martino, Fort Myers
At 16, Martino was a Chanel model, launched into the international world of fashion. Martino started designing for Chico’s and caught the attention of then-CEO Cinny Murray, who championed her art and continues to be a best friend and mentor. Now she’s ready to partner in launching her own line, tentatively called Lia. “We did a little test and it exploded,” she says.

Helen Gerro, Punta Gorda
She began sewing and creating clothing at age 9, which led to sketching and painting and transferring those works onto her textile creations. Today, Gerro occupies space in the Artisan’s Atelier in Punta Gorda, where visitors can watch the artist create, perhaps select a custom design that’s ready to wear. Gerro has a collection of 150 of her own dresses, all unique and hand-painted.