BONITA SPRINGS — Did you know Bonita Springs was once inhabited by the “coolest Indians ever?”
According to John Paeno, operator of Calusa Ghost Tours and a resident artist at the Cottage at Riverside Park, the Calusa Indians were here long before the Spanish invaded in the 18th century and had an amazingly advanced civilization.
“My stories go back thousands of years,” Paeno said. “I tell about this ancient lost civilization and the people who were once here.”
Paeno will be sharing the history of the Calusa Indians and the formation of the community of Survey, the precursor to Bonita Springs, during an Art in the Park event January 14 from 5 to 8 p.m.
The Bonita Springs Historical Society will feature a Calusa Indian display at its museum in the historic Liles Hotel, where Paeno will share his extensive knowledge at 6:30 p.m., ending with a demonstration the art of alt-alta, a Calusa throwing stick which was used instead of a bow and arrow.
“It’s amazing how powerful and how accurate it is,” said Paeno, who also makes native fiber and shell art. “I try to do it like the Calusa would,” he added.
The event is part of an effort by the Artists at Riverside Park to highlight the art and history of Bonita Springs. The artists, who work out of brightly painted cottages behind the Liles Hotel, host about two events a month during the season, which runs through April.
“The original concept was, and still is, to create a community of artists where people could come and watch artists at work and take a tour of the hotel,” explained Judy Seeger, better known as Jungle Judy. “It is an absolutely beautiful location.”
Seeger makes wearable art from recycled materials in Cottage One. Other artist’s cottages feature art in glass and wood, clay sculpture, hand-painted glass, soft sculpture and paper making.
Visitors will be able to browse and ask questions of the artists, as well as enjoy complimentary wine and cheese. A bonfire will be set up for roasting marshmallows, and the historic Survey Cafe will be open for snacks.
Survey was named for Surveyor’s Creek in the 1800s by Braxton B. Coomer, who bought 6,000 acres and opened a large plantation in the area. It was later renamed Bonita Springs by J. Henry Ragsdale in 1912.
The January 14 event will feature an open mic night, with original songs about Bonita Springs by visiting artist Linda Liles, whose husband is related to the builder of the historic hotel. Along with singing, Liles makes pine needle art and hand painted glass.
Others who wish to join in the singing are welcome but are asked to keep to the theme with classical or folk music.
The next Art in the Park event will feature a ’50s theme, Seeger said.