Featured image for post: HerStory: Maureen O’Neill

HerStory: Maureen O’Neill

Headshot of Jessica Simmons - 2022In celebration of Women’s History Month, Jessica Simmons, an intern in the Office of Marketing and Communications, interviewed Barton’s female faculty, staff, and students to share their challenges and insights about their roles as women.  HERStory features individual women and shares their personal stories of their proudest moments being women.

About Maureen O’Neill

Maureen O’Neill received her B.F.A. in Painting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her M.F.A. in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. While at RISD, she received the Award of Excellence for outstanding work as a graduate student and the Brown University Teaching Fellowship. O’Neill has exhibited throughout the Northeast and Southeast and became Assistant Professor of Art at Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida, in 1998. She is the director of exhibitions and educational programming for the Barton College Art Galleries.

What makes you unique?

Part of my job is to find in students what’s unique to them so that they can make work that reflects their genuine interests as artists. I’m at an age now, when I don’t worry or concern myself about being unique. I try to be authentic, real, and true to help my students so that they can do work that is potentially unique because it’s theirs.

What makes you feel proud to be a woman?

As a woman, I feel proud of being able to conceive and give birth to my daughter, Mary Marshall Martin. I didn’t think I was going to have a child, but I had her when I was 35. She’s 19 years old now. My mother was the greatest role model for many reasons. She had 11 children, and I was the youngest. I love being a woman, but I think that things that are considered more feminine are in both sexes; men have it too. It is innate for women to have qualities like being intuitive, sensible, compassionate, nurturing – which men have, too.

What are the moments that you celebrate as a woman?

I think I celebrate each day that arrives. It’s another opportunity to do my work and especially work with students. It’s incredibly inspiring. I love celebrating young women and women who want to go into the arts, and I get that opportunity here to nurture, mentor, and help. I like to celebrate the students—to me, that is just the best thing.

What are some defining moments for you as a woman?

I was the first female of my siblings to get an advanced degree. My parents did not attend college and, as a first-generation graduate, I am proud of my completion of my master’s degree. I’m proud of my career. As a teacher, I’m most proud of the relationships that I have with students, former and current, with my colleagues, other artists, and with my family.

Other defining moments included completing my education and being able to recognize in college that I wanted to be a serious artist, the help I received from mentors and teachers, and my becoming a mother and having my daughter. That changed my life forever, getting married and making that commitment.

What are the many roles you have as a woman?

Being a mother, a daughter, and a teacher. Aside from teaching painting and drawing classes, I am the Director of the Barton Art Galleries, and I run the Artist-in-Residence program. I am also the coordinator for the ArtWorks Cohort and help the Barton Art Galleries’ interns. Every day, I am grateful for these roles that I have. Some roles take over and dominate more than others. For example, as my daughter is in college now, my role as her mother is shifting more; it is definitely different from what it was 10 years ago. We all have intense and complicated lives, and I think the thing about my roles is that I try to see it all as what I do.

What does Women’s History (HERstory) mean to you?

I think that every month and day should be a celebration for women. The world wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the stuff that women do. March shouldn’t be the only month, it should be today, yesterday, and every day. It makes me think about my mother and about the other women who have been incredible mentors to me in my life.

What things do you strive for as a woman?

I don’t strive for perfection anymore like I used to. I think that a lot of women have that thing that happens where you think you have to do everything perfectly: be perfect, act perfect, work perfectly, all that kind of stuff. I think that letting go of the idea of perfection is necessary. I strive for authenticity. I strive to have a passionate presence and make artwork that is true and real. I strive for meaning, and I try my best to be present. Because I know every day is a gift and full of opportunities. I always remind myself of that. So, I want to have that role here at Barton for the students. The moment that things happen in the classroom and the experience of seeing the artwork in the galleries or listening to a lecture—there are so many moments that can change your life, so I strive to be present.

Share a woman’s empowerment moment that inspired you.

It always comes back to my mother. She passed away a few years ago. The older I get, the more I think about her and all the challenges that she faced having 11 children. When she was working two jobs, she encouraged us to get an education, to have dreams and goals every time. I always think about how she returned home tired from work, she would still make us dinner or read the papers that I was working on, despite her busy schedule, she would still come to basketball games at night after working all day. She had the grace to just smile and love us, even though we were completely problematic a lot of times. My mother was beautiful and extraordinary. She was my hero. When I think about Women’s History, there are all of these prominent women who have done such great things, but we all have ones who have done the most extraordinary things. A lot of times, it’s those women who are closest to us, like our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters.

What would you change about the assumptions made by men or women?

I’m impressed by the younger generation of fathers who are becoming more present and hands-on in their children’s lives. I think that is amazing because there’s less of the expectation that the woman is going to be the primary caregiver to the children. I think that’s going away in our culture more and more, which I love because I think we should give women a break. Don’t expect them to look, behave, or eat a certain way. I think that kind of stuff is still around. Women are getting more and more powerful and true to who they are, what they want, who they want to be around, and they have less patience with those kinds of expectations. I know it’s not a perfect world, and we have certain expectations of men that are unfair too, so we still have a lot of work to do. The power of this next generation of young people is that they get all this stuff – they are amazing!