It was a sudden impulse that took two years of planning and one yearto execute, but the results were certainly worth it.
Between lastJune and this August, school teacher Christine O'Neill and her family (husband David, son Brook and dog Snickers) sailed the coasts of Central America and the Caribbean Islands.
She recorded the experience, in a series of paintings on display at the recently opened Bridget Baker Art Gallery on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis.
O'Neill explained that she didn't set out to make a visual record of her adventure.
"I just painted what felt good to me to paint. I liked the skin tones of the natives, and they had some interesting facial features, some of them."
An avid sailor as wellas an artist, O'Neill used her work as part of her ongoing graduate studies in art for Towson State University.
O'Neill's work serves as a portrait of the islands and peoples she encountered, one of the best aspects of the trip, she said.
"That was the big highlight ofthe trip, (meeting) people from all over the world that we would never have met if we'd stayed here in Maryland. They were Swiss, Brazilians, Venezuelans, Germans, French and South Africans."
An 18-year veteran teacher at elementary and high schools in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, she said, "I particularly like getting kids into art, because that's a place they can sometimes fit in, when they don't fit in any place else. And sometimes, if they can get motivated there, it helps everything else.
The trip was inspired by a previous charter visit to the Caribbean, her own artistic ambitions, and her growing enjoyment of sailing, a pastime she took up after her marriage. They raised the money for the trip by selling off some property, and O'Neill took over the education of her son, who was 12.
In addition, "I'd always wanted to paint, but when you teach and you're a mother, and you get involved with everything else, you just don't have thetime to do it. It seemed that the only time that I was painting was in class, so I thought, 'this is it. We have a new boat, so, why not?Let's do it.' "
As for her own studies, O'Neill arranged with hergraduate instructor to continue her work by telephone and mail.
"I would call in," she said, "every time I could find a phone. But, there are some islands without phones, like in the Grenadines, and meanwhile, I would have sent small photos of my paintings. Sometimes theymade it to him, and sometimes they never did. He would look at the photos and give me a critique over the phone, of the photos he did see, other times he would write me a letter."
And even the mail proved to be a problem, at times.
"In the Caribbean," she said, "the mail is not always wonderful, to say the least and in Venezuela, the mail is atrocious. You just can't send anything out, so I had to wait until someone was flying back, and then I would get them to take the pictures back to the States and mail them."
The most difficult partof the trip was the almost seven-day passage between Bermuda, Antigua, and surrounding islands.
"That was 1,100 miles, just straight sailing," she said. "We did not paint, we did not do school work. It wasn't rough, but it was just strong sailing, where we really had to pay attention."
But once there, the experience again proved enjoyable. And with time now to relax and paint, O'Neill found much of her painting inspiration. "We would go to an island," she said, "and if weliked it, we'd stay two or three weeks, and do laundry with the native ladies, or shop, and we'd catch a lot of fish. We'd get along realwell with the locals."
She remembered only one bad incident taking place.
"We were with three boats in a little quiet cove in Venezuela. On the one boat (the owner) didn't believe in locking up, he felt they would do more damage. And the other left his hatch open. We locked up, but all our diving gear was just sitting in bags there on the deck, and they were both robbed. We weren't, but we had a dog."