Every summer I drive to the East Coast and spend a few weeks at the beach in Lavallette, New Jersey. It is just a bike ride north of Seaside Heights which is home to Snooky and the now iconic image of a rollercoaster in the ocean. I love walking along the boardwalk and eating cheese steaks, pizza, funnel cakes and ice cream while people watching. I also like buying tacky New Jersey T-shirts, Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas (we don’t) and various junk such as magnets, mugs and saltwater taffy to remember my stay. But my favorite thing to do, anywhere I travel, is to check out the local art scene.

I am not talking about places like Mangelsen’s Images of Nature. These upscale galleries sell fun photos of polar bears playing and can be found in eight resort areas. Thomas Kinkade (the painter of light) Signature Gold Galleries are in a dizzying array of cities around the country. I am not saying there is anything wrong with these places but I’m talking about the local art gallery, filled with work from artists living and working in the area, not the chain or franchised gallery.

One of my favorite galleries at the Jersey shore is the NJ Surf Show. According to the owner, Kris Kopsafitis, “NJ Surf Show is NJ’s first and only surf and art boutique specializing in local brands, artists and shapers. Surf global, shop local.” I’m not sure what a shaper is but it doesn’t matter, NJ Surf Show is a cool place.

I was walking by NJ Surf Show this week and fell in love with a mosaic of a girl surfing, aptly named Surfer Girl, by Cheryl Syminink of C-Glass Studios. Should I buy it? I’m on the fence. No one surfs in my family but not for a lack of trying it out. My only daughter, who loves the ocean, has long, brown hair and the piece reminds me of her.

The mosaic is beautiful, with rolling waves and a swirly sky. It has a Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, feel to it. The girl is clad in a simple orange bikini, no tattoos to date her, her hair streaming down her back reminiscent of a 1970s beach scene. The simplicity of the piece makes it timeless. Unlike my daughter, I never took surf lessons, but I’ve always loved the beach and this piece also reminds me of myself. It certainly evokes a shared memory of both my childhood and my daughter’s. I think that’s worth the $325 price tag.

Buying vacation art has been a way of being in my family. An Aldo Luongo serigraph, First Day of School 1980, hangs in my mom’s home at the beach. My dad acquired it while on a trip to Maui many years ago. The subject is a classroom full of young girls in their school uniforms. My dad bought it because it reminded him of my younger sister, whom he adored. It was once an addition to the decor, which had a sweet story, but now, almost two decades since his death it has greater importance.

While it is still a compelling image, it now reminds me of him and the notion that us kids were never far from his thoughts. This summer I had the pleasure of showing the piece to my sister’s children and telling them its story. As I have gotten older, I have found that the memory of things that my loved ones purposefully acquired evokes stronger memories than even a photo.

When I was in New Orleans recently, I saw what I thought was an original painting of a cat doing a self-portrait and painting himself as a lion by Jim Tweedy. It was quirky and fun and I really wanted to buy it. I later discovered that it was a print and the artist had done an entire line of these portraits, with other animals and they were in shops and galleries around the French Quarter and he has an extensive online shop. In this global world, you can get the same, fun t-shirt in any number of resorts just with a different logo.

Is resort art good art? I think so but it doesn’t actually matter. It only matters if you like it. Will you overpay for art you buy in a vacation area? Perhaps. Being that I prefer original art to prints, I didn’t purchase Self-Portrait: Lion. I told myself that I didn’t have a wall to hang it on. I still think of it and mentally go through each room of my house to see where it would go. As yet, I have not found a place for it.

When you buy a piece of art on a vacation, you are encapsulating a memory, supporting a local artist and economy and coming away with more than a photo album or magnet. You are adding to the decor of your house, creating an heirloom for future generations, and acquiring something beautiful to look at. I walked by the shop again today and Surfer Girl is still in the window. Should I buy it?

Kathleen Thometz is an artist and writer. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...