Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Reflections from an accidental columnist

My year of Multi-tasking. Submitted

My year of Multi-tasking. Submitted

By Tara O’Neill

The last issue of Coastal Breeze News was a milestone for me. My article on artist Lee Horton marked my one-year anniversary as the Accidental Columnist.

Accidental? It started with an idle reflection on how much the art scene has changed in Collier County in the last 40+ years – back when pelicans and sand dunes ruled the painted canvas and abstract was a dirty word. I thought the artists and galleries that rose up from those aesthetic ashes would make an interesting summer writing project. (Dust off some of that grammar my mother drilled into my skull from my birth until her death.) It certainly didn’t seem like a crazy idea when I approached Coastal Breeze.

Talk about snowballs! This one turned out to be the avalanche that ate my office. The runaway train. The bus with no brakes. The column for a cause. And I am so thankful.

We met extraordinary photographer Jim Freeman and anti-depressionistic painter Popo Flanagan; followed 87 years in the life of Jean Belknap, from child snake-charmer to present day gourd-carver. Another Jean (Ortiz) brought to mind the famed Florida Highwaymen.

Untraditional media made the scene – Darren Clack‘s concrete art, and Judy Wittwer’s seashell furniture (which led me to Shells by Emily and the Marco Island Shell Club, where art and science remain happily coupled.)

There was a tiny plea for a restoration-expert to visit the diorama gifted to the Marco Library by artist Paul Buckley. Still hoping.

Island businesses who give support to local artists were applauded: Iberia Bank, Publix at the Shops of Marco, Little Bar Restaurant, and the office of Dr. Meghan Welker were on that list – which I’m sure is just a scratch on the surface. Blue Mangrove Gallery and the Art Boutique in Tin City got gold stars for reaching out to and promoting artists of Southwest Florida. We could use more like them.

Exhibits and events at our non-profits had to be relayed: Art League, Marco Island Center for the Arts; Marco Island History Museum; Museum of the Everglades in Everglades City (they definitely need a revisit); Von Liebig Art Center and the Naples Art Association; Marco Island Foundation for the Arts; and the Collier County Museum in Naples all had a lot going on…but nary a mention of the many exhibits held at area libraries, airports, parks, and, educational centers sponsored by the granddaddy of them all, The United Arts Council of Collier County.

Independent artist groups have formed and flourished on the simple premise that no one need go it alone; the Artist Colony at the Esplanade, Naples ArtCrafters, and Marco’s Outdoor Artist Group have made pursuing the life of an artist a reality for many. Artists who chose to think outside the gallery, like street-corner chainsaw artist, Mike Von Schroth, and all the participants in Marco’s Farmers Market, had stories that were a delight to share.

I meant to visit the Shirley Street 16. And Jim Rice’s Clay Place. And the guy who sculpts 40 foot wooden fishing poles. It seems though, that without actually planning on a journalistic crusade, I was comically unprepared for the height of ‘season’: the demands of my own art studio, obligations to cultural organizations, and, well, life. Ever see those guys who spin plates on top of free-standing sticks? They have to keep running faster and faster to add more plates on more sticks while keeping the first ones spinning? That was me. Hilarious with artful touches of pure panic.

Today, as I sit at my desk reviewing my year’s journey, I am acutely aware of all the places I didn’t go and the artists I didn’t interview. But summer, good old summer, is here again. So, with your continued support, and the kind permission of this publication, I think I better get a plan and get to work.

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. Contact her through www.tarao


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