Beach Library Artist of the Month: Maria van Boekel


Christmas Art Display

Whenever the Fort Myers Beach Public Library hosts its “Artist of The Month,” that person generally has an established catalog going back years or even decades. The December exhibit, however, is different in several ways, from its origin to its artist!

First, the Beach Library did not have to look far for its “Artist of The Month,” as Maria van Boekel is the Assistant Executive Librarian, serving since January 2017, so you can usually find her just inside the 1st floor glass-walled office area entrance!

“I am originally from Champaign, Illinois, by way of Columbus, Ohio, where I met my husband, Berry, and I have now been in the Fort Myers area for roughly eight years,” Maria explained. “My grandmother was here already, and my Mother wanted me to be near her, so we moved. My background is somewhat eclectic, in art and gems and jewelry and now libraries. Prior to the Beach Library, I worked at The Ohio State University Library, then in Southwest Florida at Ava Maria, Florida SouthWestern State College, and I volunteered at the Florida Gulf Coast University archives.”

Upon reflecting on her journey through the stacks, Maria laughed, saying, “I guess I wanted to try a little bit of everything, to find the best! When I first applied for this job, I knew instinctively it was the one! I help Director Cletus Poser and Assistant Director John Lukow with administrative tasks, serve as a bridge to The Friends of The Library, and help the staff in a multitude of ways.”

Ask & Ye Shall Receive

The second thing that makes Maria’s exhibit unique is she created it over just the past few months, based solely on a Library request! “Kathy Del Balzo of the Beach Library Staff coordinates the ‘Artist of The Month’ exhibits,” Maria related. “She is a ‘Christmas Baby’ and really loves the Holidays and wanted a Christmas display for December, but you can image how difficult it is to find something that specific, so I volunteered to create it! That was about five months ago and I needed every day to finish the display.”

While Maria’s Christmas show did not exist a half-year ago, it will no longer be intact when the calendar turns to the New Year. “As an inducement to get more people to join The Friends of the FMB Library, I will donate to you your favorite exhibit piece if you take out a membership,” she said! “It doesn’t have to be the $200 Lifetime Membership, though we will certainly take those, but just the $15 one-year membership will do! It’s the holidays and, like everyone else this time of year, I like an affordable bargain and a Library membership and artwork for $15 is a darn good price these days!”

Maria’s mom constantly encouraged her toward art. “From the time I was little, she always bought me art supplies, and this was back when people did not spend a lot of money or would ‘Splash Their Cash’ just because! I usually didn’t know I was even getting anything, then all of sudden the biggest box of Crayola Crayons showed up, and not the regular size but the huge one with like 299 crayons or whatever it was! I later learned what she bought was usually the best art supplies out there. It stuck with me, and I eventually earned an Undergraduate degree in Art from The Ohio State University, and the three things I specialized in then were painting, porcelain and bronze, and those remain my three specialties today.”

All In The Family

The third leg of Maria’s unique triumvirate is she is not her first family member to have a Beach Library exhibit this year! “My husband Berry was the featured artist for June & July,” she stated with a big smile. “His work and mine, though, are completely different, so there are no complimentary characteristics to the two shows.”

Maria’s exhibit features roughly 50 pieces. “They celebrate the Christmas season,” she said, “and are full of cheer, joy and flourishes of color, and each contains a positive message, with lines like, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ so those are the similar themes throughout. Another common component is the use of script. Schools stopped teaching script handwriting about ten years ago and now it is literally becoming a lost art in its own ‘write,’ so to speak! We do not have snow here so we all have to find our own special ways to make the holidays special on Fort Myers Beach and this exhibit will help do that. We do have the consolation of our white beach sand, however, and sometimes when I first look at our sand driveway in the morning, it looks so much like the real thing that for a second I think, ‘whoa,’ then remember it is not possible!”

She explained that each piece in the show has five layers of paint. “Each one only takes about 30 minutes to apply, but the time-consuming aspect of them is that you have to wait for each one to completely dry before you can move on to the next one, or you won’t achieve the brilliant color. One thing I hope people take from the exhibit is that when you see them hanging on the wall, the bright colors will pull you in from afar so you want to study and appreciate the detail up-close, as that is what a first-rate piece of artwork does – it’s kind of a trick!”

“Enjoy The Joy”

To Maria, “art is the human expression, and it is absolutely true that a ‘picture is worth a thousand words.’ Nature is another passion of mine, and to be honest, I would rather go out into nature than inside a museum, but what I love about the Beach Library is that we often combine the best aspects of nature and museums; for instance, it is great that we have art exhibits on the 3rd floor and the garden outside, so we in a sense bring everything full circle. So much of what you experience at the Beach Library is from our late Director, Dr. Leroy Hommerding, who made this place literally his life’s work.”

To view Maria’s exhibit, visit the Beach Library’s 3rd Floor Gallery through Tuesday, December 31. You can speak with her directly at the “Meet the Artist” Reception on Tuesday, December 10, at the 3rd Floor Display Exhibit from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The Beach Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard, with hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and closed Sundays and Holidays, including Christmas Day on Wednesday, December 25 and New Year’s Day on Wednesday, January 1. For Library information, call 239-765-8162 or see To see Maria about purchasing a Library membership and receiving one of the Holiday display works, stop by the 1st Floor Library Office. “My exhibit, just like the Holidays, are cheerful and positive,” she concluded, “so bring a friend to view it and enjoy the joy of Christmas together!”