Artist and photographer Anne Martino of Lake Harmony said to the owner of Deezines Flowers & Gifts on Route 209 in Jim Thorpe, "I have a really odd request."

"We've heard everything," owner Denise Sebelin replied.

"You haven't," Martino said. "I have this lady who's pregnant and I want to paint flowers on her belly and I want to pose her in front of a floral shop with flowers all around her and take some pictures of her.

"You're right, I've never heard that before," Sebelin agreed. She watched the belly painting and the photo shoot.

"It was really creative. She was posed with a straw hat and a watering can. We had fun doing it."

Nine years ago Martino chanced upon baby belly painting. She was reading an article about women who make plaster castings of pregnant women's bellies, and then paint the casts.

"I thought why not paint on the mom's belly, then photograph it," Martino said. "It's a great memory for the mom while she's pregnant."

Martino decided to experiment.

"It started with my sister, Mary Petrecca. She was pregnant with my twin nephews. She was adventurous and willing to try. I painted a beach ball on her belly."

Martino bought a bunch of similar-colored beach balls, and surrounded Petrecca with them in an empty wading pool and on a staircase. The painted belly looked like one of the beach balls.

The outcome of the experiment was a success, but Martino was unhappy with the makeup paint that she had used. For all future belly paintings, she would use Crayola finger paints.

"They were a lot brighter," she noted. "They come in 12 colors, they don't stain, and they wash off real easily."

"I showed the pictures to friends who were married and pregnant. It blossomed from there. The first times were friends that were pregnant and the word spread."

Martino has completed about two dozen baby bellies that have been transformed into depictions of the Earth, a soccer ball, and a fish. For Halloween, she created a pumpkin in a pumpkin patch.

For Thanksgiving, Martino arranged for a session at a local restaurant when they were closed.

"I painted a turkey on the mom's belly and I took an aluminum tray and cut out a circle. The turkey looked like it was sitting on a tray and we garnished it and had the staff sitting around the table.

Martino's art/photo projects are as much art and memories as they are a happening only available to a pregnant mom.

"It's just awesome the conversations I have with the moms," Martino said. "The baby is almost nine months old and many times, when I'm painting, I can see baby moving and feel the little legs kicking.

"They can feel the activity on the mom's belly. If the baby is really active, I'll stop for a few minutes. I feel like I'm tickling them with the paint brush."

Martino begins a session with a mom-to-be by asking for a theme for the photo-design.

"When the mom has a specific idea in mind, it makes it so much easier," Martino explained. "It's best when the mom is relaxed in a fun and comfortable setting."

After the photo shoot, the women can shower or wash off the paint with a warm, wet wash cloth.

"A lot of moms want to keep it on as long as possible so they can go show their friends," she added.

After the photo session, she lets the mother choose from snapshots taken in a variety of poses. The best of the shoot is enlarged as a keepsake. Martino also exhibits her baby belly photos at area art exhibitions.

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