Michelle Nicole Lowe: Steward of the Keys Through Art

Michelle Nicole Lowe, one of the Keys’ best-known artists, paints colorfully whimsical and expressive wide-eyed marine life, wild birds and multi-hued flora and fauna.

Through her artwork, she promotes conservation of the Keys’ natural life — sea turtles, tarpon, herons, indigenous creatures, subtropical florals, mangrove hammocks and more.

While Lowe can be found most days painting at her Islamorada bayside gallery, she’s also creating an in-home studio for her watercolors, oils and colored pencil renderings. Future plans include displaying her works at The Hale Gallery in Islamorada.

She’s expanding her artistic product offerings with T-shirts for the Upper Keys’ Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, hats with depictions of tarpon and turtles, and Tervis tumblers.

A University of Florida graduate with a degree in finance, Lowe worked in corporate finance for two years in Washington, D.C., after college. The fifth-generation Keys resident also studied painting in Florence, Italy, for a year.

“I love a lot of color; color and patterns,” Lowe said, describing her works as “replications of God’s creations.”

Lowe spends much of her free time paddleboarding, fishing and snorkeling with husband Captain Camp Walker, a fly-fishing guide based at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar’s marina in Islamorada, and their two boys, sixth-generation Keys residents: William, 6, who recently sold his own painting, and Davis, 4. She also homeschools them.

“We teach as many friends and visitors as we can about our ecosystem and how it’s all connected,” Lowe said.

Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?

Michelle Nicole Lowe: As a young girl, my family trailered our boat on the old narrow bridges down to Key West regularly. We stayed at Garrison Bight for the weekend. My dad’s family is from Key West, and he had a remarkable memory of each fishing, snorkeling, sand dollar, lobster spot off of Key West. He’d pull up to a sandy spot in the middle of nowhere and say, “Jump in! There are tons of sand dollars right here!” And there were. We were lucky kids!

KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?

MNL: Our precious environment and wildlife, and the kindness of the people here. Here in Islamorada, I appreciate the kindness and goodness of our community.

KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?

MNL: I do a lot of snorkeling with my two sons. I want them to enjoy each tiny part of our environment I got to enjoy as a child, and I want their children to see it too! I’m thankful we have so many organizations growing and planting coral. My great-grandfather worked at the turtle kraals in Key West. For years, they harvested and canned turtle to export all over the world. Turtles were almost driven to extinction. In the 1970s the Endangered Species Act classified green turtles as endangered. Now, we have the fabulous Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?

MNL: Inspiration from the Keys’ amazing marine life. The colors and patterns and personalities of each creature make me want to paint them!

KT: What are some of the ways, personally or through your work, that you connect with and/or help protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?

MNL: Working with local organizations to spread knowledge, learn and help through cleanups. I’ve used my artwork to raise money for Mote Marine Lab and Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. I’m thankful for the Turtle Hospital and the Wild Bird Center. We’ve brought them pelicans, an osprey, songbirds and a bald eagle injured in the mangroves.

KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?

MNL: To preserve our ecosystem so that my children and their children, and their children, too, can enjoy it the same way I have. We have amazing wildlife here. On a short paddle off Islamorada, we see manatees, snapper, dolphin, magnificent frigatebirds, pelicans, ospreys.

KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?

MNL: ALL of us can make an impact. I’m doing a small part to spread the word.

KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?

MNL: Leave nature how you found it. Visit an organization to see what they’re doing and how you can help. There are so many: Mote Marine in Key Largo, Islamorada and Summerland Key; Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, with a beautiful sanctuary in Tavernier (a perfect place for artists to see wild birds up close); Florida Bay Forever in Islamorada; Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Rescue in Key Largo; and the Turtle Hospital. You can also learn from rangers at all our beautiful state parks.

KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?

MNL: All of it! I frequently get to paddle or fish in the Everglades with my family. Snorkeling is my favorite.

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