Have you ever walked along the beach and noticed the large sea beans that are sometimes scattered about? Andy Brandt, an international artist, has directed her talents to painting, in oils, on just such large pods. “While cruising the Bahamas, Cuba and the Turks & Caicos for eight years on our Irwin 38 CC Oma & Opa, we would regularly comb the beaches discovering Sea Beans. Cruisers call them ‘Lucky Beans’ because you have to be lucky to find them.”
Sea bean vines grow along rivers and coasts. When the pods ripen, they split open and the seeds drop into the water beneath, where they are dispersed by ocean currents. The beans have a thick seed coat to keep the salt-water out. Their internal structures make them buoyant enough to float so they can drift for thousands of miles before washing onto land.
“At the time I was painting canvases in oil, which are too large and cumbersome to carry on a boat—then I got the idea of painting on beans. My husband, Roger, would sand the beans and wipe them with acetone. As each stroke is a complete line, I use only the smallest and finest Russian sable brushes. Such small painting is time consuming and difficult but I enjoy painting marine motifs on them, as I have always loved the water. They are a natural for me – small islands, lighthouses, boats, fish and marine animals.
“When I think they are perfect, I spray-varnish the results. Roger then drills holes through the beans, running a leather string through each so my clients can wear them as necklaces. I have painted over a hundred and sold most within the cruising community. My family, friends and grandchildren love them also; they have become family heirlooms along with the silks I created several years ago.”
Andy was born Irmgard Katharina Andree in Meppen, northern Germany. In the 1920s her maternal grandfather was the captain of The Wilhelm Anton Riedemann, one of the world’s first tankers to feature built in tanks, instead of carrying oil in barrels.
Roger sailed as a boy, later participating in regattas as a young man, and worked for eight years in the Merchant Marine. When he was on leave in Frankfurt, the two met at a party. It was love at first sight; they married in 1963. After their second child, Roger joined the Navy to get shore duty. Assigned to Washington D.C. in ’71, they traveled through North America on holidays – camping & fishing – and visiting 35 of the 50 states before returning to Germany in 1973.
Andy became interested in art in 1988 when she started silk painting using paint and salts, making scarves and men’s ties. In ’93, while Roger was working as a translator, she started painting in watercolors, which she loved.
“I then mixed watercolors with pastels and enjoyed working with that. After this, my love switched to oils when I met Lynne Brooks, one of the first women make-up artists in Hollywood. She taught me techniques that were easier than working with watercolors.
“Self-taught, I had a lot of exhibitions in Germany and sold many of my paintings. Roger retired in ’96; in ’98 we sold our home in Germany and moved to Florida where we bought a house with a studio and our sailboat, ‘Oma & Opa’, German for Granny and Gramps. I then sold paintings, both privately and through galleries. We sold our home and began full time cruising, having always intended to sail the Caribbean, so we are now living our dream.
“My eyes are suffering from the strain of painting beans, so I think I will return to small oil paintings. We love Venezuela and since we speak the language, we will stay as we have old friends here.”
Andy’s Sea Beans have indeed become precious and it is most interesting to learn how true artists can incorporate their talent with nature while cruising aboard.
Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 22 years. She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.