By Natalie Strom
The gallery at the Marco Island Historical Museum was filled with chairs which where filled with eager bodies on Friday, June 21. The famed and award winning talent of artist Tara O’Neill hung perfectly on the walls, as if telling a story. And there was O’Neill, herself, who shared her story of art, passion and growing up on Marco in her gallery talk, “South Florida: A Villager’s View.
“My parents, Jack and Mary O’Neill, with seven of their ten children, moved to Marco in the late 60’s from White Plains, New York,” explained O’Neill. The palm trees, golfing and fishing encouraged her parents to make the move. “It all seemed so exotic to me,” said O’Neill. “The only way on the island was the Goodland swing bridge. Of course, the beach then, was wide open from Tigertail to the southern point. We kids lived on the beach, day and night. It’s hard to believe it’s the same place sometimes; it feels like a dream.”
O’Neill then described her desire to hold onto those memories of “Old Florida” life, especially through the beauty of the many original fishing cottages in Goodland.
“My first sight of Goodland wasn’t until school started. The bus picked us up first, went around the island, then into Goodland before going over the bridge. Well, to my eyes, it was this trop-exotic, Swiss Family Robinson cool place with giant flowering trees, little cottages, shell roads, boats and barefoot children everywhere,” explained O’Neill with enthusiasm. “Later, when I tried to describe it to my Mom, I must have done a heck of a job because she told me I wasn’t allowed to go there anymore. So, naturally, I got off the school bus there the very next day!”
Eventually, years of schooling, study and travel for the sake of art would take O’Neill out of her home in Southwest Florida. Upon her return in 1995, she decided to paint the cottages of Goodland. The true sense of beauty in the old cottages and fishing village feel was still alive, and she wanted to capture it. “And it was only natural that this feeling would spill over to our wild landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes, islands, and, of course, our brilliant flora and fauna. You see, all that is uniquely South Florida is deep within me.”
Her oil paint canvas work displays all these aspects of South Florida. But her “sense of obligation to preserve what was precious in [Goodland],” may make the cottage series her most favorite of all.