Some say, “You can never go home again,” but that expression does not fly in our little town of Goodland. Goodland opens its arms for everyone, and opens its arms extra wide for our own Tara O’Neill, artist extraordinaire, who has decided to rebuild her home at 545 Coconut Avenue. Her yellow cottage was made famous as “Hurricane Irma’s Ground Zero” when the local and national new teams swarmed outside her home, filming the horrific scene of its destruction.
Tara is a native. Her family moved to Marco in the late sixties, when she was in middle school. She grew up knowing that she would someday be an artist. Tara explained, “I cannot remember a time when I wanted to be anything but an artist. I believe I was born with crayons in my hand!” She received her Bachelor in Fine Arts in Studio Arts from the University of South Florida and Oxford University in England. Her works have won several prestigious awards, such as the 2000 Marco Island Beautification award for her 80 x 22 foot mural around the Island’s municipal water tank and her 2015 “Artist of the Year” designation by the Marco Island Foundation for the Arts.
Hurricane Irma was certainly a life-shaking event. Tara had been living on Marco with her husband, George Vellis, and renting her Goodland cottage to a series of tenants, all of whom seemed to love it as much as she did. Then came Irma, with two feet of flood waters, followed by the collapse of an incredibly gigantic banyan tree onto the roof. Once the arduous task of cleaning up was completed, then came the fight with the insurance companies. “It was like getting pummeled twice,” Tara described.
It was not feasible to rebuild the original structure. If they did try to rebuild the original cottage, it would have remained at about five feet below today’s flood code. They had already been told by the flood insurance company that insurance premiums would increase exponentially every year unless the cottage was brought to code. To top it off, neither of their insurance companies were paying anywhere close to the cost it would take to raze the old house and build new, nor could they find a contractor that could rebuild the old house to code; no permits would have been granted.
It was George who came up with the idea of selling their Marco house to help cover the cost of a new, code-compliant home. It was then, with renewed vigor and dreams of a stream-lined life AND a return to Tara’s favorite place in the world, that they pushed forward and found themselves as accidental home-builders! Tara brightened, “It’s true, that we’ve lost a great deal, but those losses are tempered by the much larger gain of coming home to Goodland.”
Irma also shook loose a surge of creativity in a new direction for Tara. Her motifs have generally been pretty geographic: life along the shore, village scenes, beaches, tropical flora & fauna, dazzling sea and sky-scapes. But she had been toying with ideas about humans in motion for a few years. Right now, Tara has completed about twelve pieces of people in motion, and another ten in various stages of completion…all to be unveiled at once in an exhibit (with three other artists) at the Marco Island Center for the Arts called “Bodies in Motion.” It will run the month of January 2020, coinciding with the Art Center’s 50th Anniversary, which is fitting since Tara has been a member for over forty years, thanks to her mother who purchased her very first membership all those years ago!
Her beautiful artistic creations and most importantly, her tireless dedication to the community through the Arts Committee of the Goodland Civic Association makes our little fishing village a better place to live. We sure are lucky to have her back.
To learn more about Tara, please visit her website at www.taraogallery.com.