BY OLIVIA CAMERON AND MARCY SHORTUSE – The Alzamora family has definitely left their mark on Gasparilla Island. While known of its members still live here, one piece that was just recently preserved and moved from one space to another brings back memories of mermaids, of angels, and of a man made of shell.
But first, let’s talk about a beautiful fountain with a very interesting past. The story starts when the Alzamoras lived on Gasparilla Island. Grace and Mariana Alzamora are sisters, whose mother, Jeanne Moehlman de Alzamora, created Gasparilla Island Studios which was here on the island in the 1980s. This was where Mariana first learned to translate the beauty of the island to her silk designs. During this time the family owned homes on Tarpon Avenue, and Grace crafted a fountain of shells, turquoise tiles and mermaid details which held a prominent place in her front yard. Grace’s artwork often reflected the island environment while incorporating a mermaid motif. “The sea inspired me,” said Grace.
Grace and her daughters, Dora and Meila, and Mariana and her sons, Daniel and Emil, were neighbors for almost two decades. Once Mariana relocated to Spain, Grace followed a few years later, leaving her fountain. When reflecting on her fountain and artwork of the island, it seemed this home is where her heart is.
“I miss that beautiful gulf so much,” Grace said.
The family that bought Grace’s house renovated it and enjoyed the fountain. When the house was sold recently, the current owners’ plans involved changing the landscape. That’s when their next door neighbor, Michael Moffat, the current resident of Mariana’s house, decided the fountain should be looked after. Moffat requested the fountain be moved to his property. “We moved here in 2014,” said Michael. “The sisters had a kiln room in the back for ceramics. They would make large pavers with sea animal tiles, maybe 400 of them.”
A friend of his recalled the neighborhood kids having to make tiles with Mariana if they ever fell into trouble.
“Emil carved his name in one of our tiles as well,” he said. When the previous resident of Grace’s house moved out, she gave Michael the rest of the tiles.
“Many of the Alzamora’s friends have come to us saying they miss them, so we’ve given tiles to those who wanted keepsakes,” said Michael. The neighbor also gave Michael a heads up that the new neighbors had different plans for the yard.
Michael felt they must preserve the Alzamora art, especially the detailed fountain, so he had the fountain transferred to his property – from one sister’s former house to the other. Neighbor Susan Mansfield was directly across the street when it all happened.
“When I moved here in 1989, the street was mostly artists,” said Susan.
She enjoyed the creative community and has artwork and tile projects from past neighbors throughout her house.
“Their mother, Jeanne, was also an artist. My house is full of their work,” Susan said. “They’ve worked in every artistic medium. Grace painstakingly created that amazing fountain. Moving the fountain was quite a feat, accomplished with a huge crane over an eight-foot hedge. Now, this unique piece of work remains in our neighborhood where the Alzamora’s had so many happy years. Michael understood the value of it.” Michael is thrilled to have this piece of local artist history in his front yard, and is happy that their street continues to have the Old Florida feel.
Mermaids and the sea were a common artistic theme for both Alzamora sisters, and they were behind the inspiration for the horizontal mural that runs along the top of Farish Hall at The Island School. They had lots of help form the community; in fact, even the school children had input into the process, as the sisters taught them the art of ceramic firing while the piece was being created. To be sure, their essence is extremely prevalent in the piece.
There are many more pieces to the Alzamora puzzle. Emil Alzamora is a world-renowned sculpture who now lives in New York City, but Boca Grande is always in his heart. Not one, but two of his works were featured in the Old Theater Building (now home of Scarpa’s Coastal restaurant) – Calusa Man and Abrazo. The former was a life-sized recreation of a Calusa warrior, completely covered with shells from Boca Grande’s beaches. Abrazo, also known as “Boca Grande Embrace,” was a bronze man with elongated arms hugging the sand where he was displayed.
Calusa Man now lives right next door in Sam Murphy Park if you wish to visit him, and Abrazo has been moved to an undisclosed location on the island.
There are small bits and pieces of Alzamora love all over the island … many hang on the walls of residents. During one transition from owner to owner at one of the homes on Tarpon, mermaids and angels kept popping up in the garden, under floorboards … everywhere you looked. It seemed as though Grace in particular could not part with any of her work, even if she felt it was flawed, and sometimes just chucked it in the garden or filled a hole in a wall with the pieces.
A body of Mariana’s work, titled “Sisyphus, 2011” can be seen in the Print and Drawings Study Room of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and online in the museum’s archives.
Daniel Alzamora Dicken, Mariana’s son, also lives in Mallorca and owns a sound and meditation studio, and is a shaman. Celestial Brainwave Entrainment is his neuroacoustic pioneering of solar system-based sound therapy.
The Alzamoras are an amazing family all around, and if you are new to the island you would be remiss not to do a bit of research to see how influential they were on Boca Grande … and how influential Boca Grande was on them.