In the Days of Roger and Lucia

by guest contributor Barbara Joy Cooley

Sunset as seen from Porpoise Point, looking toward Albright Key.

When Roger and Lucia Wilcox would come to their winter home on Sanibel Island in the 1950s and 1960s, they led a relatively quiet life. People on Sanibel were aware that the couple was well-known in the East Hampton, New York, artists’ world, where they often entertained and organized events. In Long Island, their names were frequently in the newspapers. But Sanibel people respected their privacy.

Lucia Anavi was born in Beirut in 1902. Her mother was French, and her father was Lebanese. Early in life, she started to become a gifted painter, sculptor, and cook. So at age 14, she left home to live in Paris.

There she became a part of a legendary group of artists, including Piet Mondrian, Picasso, Marc Chagall, Carlos Montoya, Max and Jimmy Ernst, and many more. Some of them encouraged her to go to night school, so she enrolled in the Académie Ronsard.

In 1938, she and her partner at the time, Fernand Leger, left Paris for New York at the urging of arts patrons Gerald and Sarah Murphy, who were wary of Hitler’s rants about “degenerate artists.” Lucia urged other artists to follow them from Paris to New York.

She had little money, but she did own a painting by Utrillo. After she sold that painting, in 1946, she bought a rambling, deteriorating house on Abraham’s Path in Amagansett, East Hampton. She married Roger Wilcox, a painter and inventor, and together they renovated the big old house in the 1950s, turning it into not just a home but also a gallery and a place to host weekly barbeques through the summer season. At those barbeques and in picnics that she packed for her husband and his friend Jackson Pollock, she showcased her culinary talents – learned in Lebanon, and refined in Paris.

Sometime in the 1950s, Lucia and Roger started wintering in Sanibel. They both were actively involved in the 1957 Sanibel Shell Fair. Lucia amassed an excellent collection of shells; to display her collection, she designed two special tables.

In the winters of the early 1960s, they would stay in an old house on Del Sega Road. By 1963, they were planning to build a new home nearby, “on the point” near Blind Pass, which is now known as Porpoise Point. That home was completed by 1965. Roger and Lucia were able to spend many happy winters on Sanibel Island.

Meanwhile, Lucia’s career in art was succeeding. In the summer of 1968, she had an important showing of her paintings and sculptures at the Benson Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York. In an interview with the Islander newspaper (August 15, 1968) about the upcoming show, Lucia said, “My painting is essentially intuitive. I follow my inner vision, which guides my whole life. From my observation, I see no difference between natural and supernatural. There is magic which makes each painting a mysterious event, a new image of human feeling. I might use any technique to express my vision. The means may change but the spirit is the same.”

Four years after that interview, just a few months after her 70th birthday, Lucia suddenly went blind. The cause was an inoperable tumor in her nasal cavity. For over 12 weeks, she had radiation therapy at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

Even with the blindness, she was able to continue to create, using ink instead of oils. Free of the headaches that she experienced before the tumor was irradiated, her spirits improved. She told a New York Times reporter, “I claim to see better than anybody. I have eliminated all the details. My mind is free of static. I don’t have any distractions.”

Following the onset of Lucia’s illness, Roger subdivided their Sanibel land into 9 lots, now known as the Wilcox Subdivision or Porpoise Point. He began to sell the land, piece by piece.

Lucia died in New York in 1974. In 1975, Roger arranged for her shell collection and specially designed tables to be donated to the City of Sanibel.

Subsequently, Roger sold their home on the point in 1976. But he still owned, with David Liber, Albright Island (also known as Albright Key) between Porpoise Point and Captiva. In 1980, Liber and Wilcox argued, unsuccessfully, that Albright Island was under the jurisdiction of Lee County (which would allow far more development) and not the City of Sanibel (which would allow only one home to be built there).

Liber and Wilcox sold the island to Parker and Joan Quillen, who gave it to Princeton University in 1984. In 1990, Princeton sold the island to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. That land is now part of the vast stretches of preserve on and near the west end of Sanibel and south end of Captiva. Roger and Lucia Wilcox’s subdivision is now home to seven houses on a private lane, tucked away in the shade of old trees, between Dinkins Bayou and Sunset Bay.

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks for the informative and delighting read. Love learning Sanibel history.

  2. I so look forward to and enjoy the historical information that Barbara Cooley is kind enough to share with us. Living on Sanibel now for 20 years is such a blessing that I rarely cross
    the causeway without thanking the powers that be for such a special place,

  3. Wonderful story, Barbara! Thanks. Sally Ennis

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