He painted our pictures of paradise

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Shawn McLoughlin; 1953-2021

By John Morton

To say that Shawn McLoughlin has left his mark here is the understatement of a lifetime.

His paintings came in the forms of miniature prints, giant murals, and all things in between. They dot our landscape. They command our living room walls.

And they will live on forever.

McLoughlin, 68, died Sept. 12 after a year-plus battle with pancreatic cancer. Seemingly well aware of what his art means to Siesta Key, in his final year he organized his works and created SiestaShawn.com — an online display room so we can continue to pick our favorite pieces of paradise.

He also found the strength down the stretch to illustrate a soon-to-be-released children’s book entitled The ABC’s of Siesta Key, further cementing his legacy for generations to come. 

Brian Wigelsworth, a fellow artist known for his sand sculpting but who is also a muralist (he created the image on the wall facing the Siesta Key Oyster Bar’s dining deck), had much in common with McLoughlin.

“The first time I saw Shawn, painting the mural on the side of the Beach Bazaar, I had to tell him how much I admired his work,” said Wigelsworth, who later featured McLoughlin’s art when Wigelsworth owned Gidget’s Coastal Provisions on Ocean Boulevard. “What a friendly and gracious man he was. We talked about our shared art every time I saw him. When I beat my fight with cancer, it was just before he found out about his. I cheered him on in his fight, so when I heard the terrible news my heart dropped.

“To lose such a visually powerful force on Siesta Key is devastating, but he has left a lasting mark on Siesta Key that our neighbors and visitors will admire for many years to come.

“Shawn, you will be greatly missed by many. Thank you for sharing your talent.”

McLoughlin is a graduate of Sarasota High School, and later the same from what is now known as the Ringling College of Art and Design.

Earlier this year, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce bestowed upon him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year, the result of his volunteer work with the chamber, he was named its Siesta Selfless Award recipient.

Ann Frescura, the chamber’s executive director, shared these thoughts:

“On behalf of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, we are heartbroken to lose a friend and fellow Siesta Key advocate. ‘Siesta Shawn’ was known for his amazing murals, lifelike portraits, and natural beach landscapes. He was also well known for participating in community and chamber events, and volunteering at the Siesta Key Visitor Center for many years.

“Recently we had the privilege of working with him on the creation of The ABC’s of Siesta Key book. He referred to this project as his legacy. Working with his family, we will honor his wishes and see that the book is published. 

“We thank Shawn for sharing his talent, passion, and love of Siesta Key. He will be greatly missed, but his artwork will live on.”

Village Cafe is home to McLoughlin’s artwork like nowhere else, it lining the walls and sending diners into a neck-bending gaze during each visit.

His relationship with owners Tom and Kay Kouvatsos was special.

“We knew Shawn as the local beach artist for many years, but our real friendship began nine years ago,” Tom Kouvatsos said. “We invited him to display his impressive artwork at the cafe and the friendship evolved from there.

“The cafe was able to decorate the walls with some amazing originals and prints and Shawn was excited to have a local ‘studio,’ as he referred to us, to display and sell his artwork. Customers frequently praised his prints and were delighted to learn that he was a true local.

“We were honored to open the cafe one evening last summer to enable him to liquidate his inventory of originals. Shawn’s passion for art and life was unmistakable. He was a kind, generous and compassionate man with one of the warmest smiles around.

“He will always be remembered fondly and his legacy will live on in our hearts and on Siesta Key.”

Dawn Henson also showcases McLoughlin’s paintings at her Sunshine & Sand Hidden Treasures gift shop in Crescent Plaza. When she opened the store three years ago, the artwork lined her walls and give her immediate credibility and created interest.

“People on the outside would look in the window and say, ‘Isn’t that work by Shawn McLoughlin?’ Then they’d come in,” Henson said. “He first came in and said, ‘Do you have a plan? What are you putting along the walls?’

“I said I didn’t have one. A few days later he literally went along the walls and hung his art in every size. It went around the entire shop.

“And he said he didn’t want payment unless it sold. He had this optimistic spirit and was so giving. That’s who he was.”

In time, Henson heard stories about McLoughlin’s early days of making the beach his calling card.

“I’m told he has painted a picture and then handed someone what he created, usually because they were in it,” she said. “He was beyond generous.

“I knew him so well. But it only required you to meet him once to love him.”  

James Richards, the renowned Siesta Key sketch artist, understands that.

He’s happy he recently got the chance to once and for all meet a man who shared his passion, before it was too late.

“I only met Shawn in person once, when he delivered work to our home here on Siesta Key. He stayed a while and we had a rambling conversation about our backgrounds, his memories of the area from the ’70s, and our common love of making place-inspired art. And we laughed a lot,” Richards said.

“Here’s the thing — Shawn’s paintings and murals not only document and celebrate Siesta Key, they actually go a long way in shaping the image of the place in the minds of both visitors and locals. That’s a lot of power, and Shawn’s use of it has been a great gift to the community and to everyone who sees his work. It’s made Siesta Key a better place.”

McLoughlin’s family will be hosting a celebration of his life at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Sea Turtle Pavilion at Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Rd.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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