SULLIVAN — Ann and Paul Breeden, owners of Spring Woods Gallery in Sullivan, have had their share of kismet.
The Breedens, whose gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, met in a building in Washington, D.C., when they crashed into each other in a hallway near the Coke machine.
Once together, Ann decided Paul’s illustrations were good enough to be in National Geographic. She got in to see the magazine’s art director, who said: “This is the guy I want.”
An art director in the book division at National Geographic who was familiar with Paul’s work had a chat across the lawn with a neighbor, the art director at Time-Life Books, who needed someone to draw old maps.
Paul, a cartographer as well as an illustrator, was hired sight unseen.
One day Paul needed to illustrate a katydid, but the only ones he knew of were mummified.
While working in his studio with an open window, a katydid flew in and perched on his nose.
And, 33 years ago, while camping with their children in Southport, Paul looked at Ann and said: “Why are we going back to smoggy, hot D.C.?”
“My daughter had seen a house that was for sale,” said Ann. “She said, ‘Oh Mum and Dad, we could move to Maine!’”
And that was the beginning of their life Downeast.
The Breeden family moved to Sullivan from Middletown, Md., leaving behind a gallery in the nearby and historic town of Burkittsville, Md., (where, incidentally, the cult film “The Blair Witch Project” was filmed).
Today, with five grown children now leading their own lives — all but one in Maine —the Breedens continue to pursue their artistic and gardening interests.
Visitors are often equally as interested in their extensive shade gardens — Willow Brook Garden — as they are in the gallery.
The gallery features both of their work, from paintings and sculptures to prints and cards.
The Breedens’ artistic interests and careers have evolved over time.
Paul grew up in Millville, N.J., and began work at a sign shop in Washington, D.C., after studying graphic arts.
“One of the things he was doing were NASA citations for astronauts and others in calligraphy,” Ann said. “Then we decided we should go into business on our own.”
Due to Ann’s enterprising visit to National Geographic — an assignment Paul said he’d dreamed about at the age of 6 — the natural history illustrator and botanical artist went on to create a series of intricately detailed black-and-white illustrations that were published in nearly every issue of National Geographic for a decade.
His lifelike wildlife paintings have graced numerous magazines in addition to National Geographic, among them Audubon, Sierra, Defenders of Wildlife, Reader’s Digest, Oceans, Geo and World.
Paul illustrated 24 books for Time-Life’s “Lost Civilizations” series, among them numerous maps and timelines.
One of his choice projects was for Smithsonian magazine —cover art and a fold-out map for the magazine’s 500th commemorative issue. Paul’s illustrations depicted the distribution of wildlife during Columbus “New World” of 1492.
He also was on the White House calligraphy staff in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.
A native of the Berkshire area in Massachusetts, Ann studied five years with an art teacher who encouraged her to explore.
“She would give suggestions, but not critique where you are feeling squashed,” Ann said.
“I have been asked to teach, and I could, but I think it’s more important to explore what you feel good about painting,” she said.
Today she loves painting animals and flowers.
“I connect with their spirit,” said Ann, who is a familiar sight at Mandala Farm in Gouldsboro.
Paul is enamored with rocks, old farms, barns and lighthouses.
Their interest in farms is a throwback to the farm they owned in Middletown, Md., with horses, sheep and goats and the fact that farming is an important undertaking in this area.
Ann recently hung her work at Aldermere Farm in Rockport, which was bequeathed to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and is home to the oldest continuously operated herd of Belted Galloway cattle in the United States.
The Willow Brook Garden began with one, simple path and morphed into a longer walk by the play house — which Paul built for children — to a meditative “tea house” and “the bus stop,” a covered bench where buses never come.
“We’re honoring the trees by putting the garden there,” Ann said. “There are not many gardens where you include the trees. We moved a lot of major stones to create that little wonderland.”
The Breedens lament the days when vacationers enjoyed their time in Maine at a more leisurely pace.
The playhouse with its conical roof and stained glass windows has days where it is unoccupied, something unusual in the past where children were drawn to a place where they could draw, play with toys or musical instruments and hang their artwork on the walls.
“Our children were very fortunate,” Ann said.
Spring Woods Gallery
Where: 19 Willow Brook Lane (off Route 200), Sullivan
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., May-October (or by appointment)
Contact: 422-3007, www.springwoodsgallery.com