Third Time’s the Charm

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Me, Diane and Olive painting just before dusk in Ballylongford.

I am the proud pig of the Olive Stack Gallery Residency and Listowel.

I’ve happily, piggishly spent more than 4 months in Ireland over 3 years, thanks to Olive who offers month-long artist residencies.  The residency comes complete with views of the  comings and goings of Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

View from Apartment Window

This year, returning with  a wonderful artist and traveler  Diane Pike!

After 3 visits, it is all the same and all different.  Still the wonder and enchantment of the first few days of discovery with another great friend, Laura McRae Hitchcock.  That was when, fresh off the bus, we met Damian Stack (“no relation to Olive,” he assures).

This third year, it is still Damian who reveals the best secrets of  Kerry in his now infamous wild drives off the beaten path. This week, we wandered Beara Peninsula way for yet more discoveries. The  thing about Damian is that guide-to-all-things-Kerry is his passion.  He also heads Stack Furniture and Carpets, organizes city-wide events and a million other projects and shenanigans. Okay,  shenanigans are his actual passion. This year, I was promoted to “adopted Stack status.”  The bad news is the status entitles me to S.F.A. (Sweet F*** All).

Painting-wise…the brilliantly designed and varied hues of the city’s facades still grab me. It’s always the first painting I do when I get here.This year, I took a walking tour with Vincent Camody who focused on the designs of Patrick McAuliffe.

From my favorite vantage in the square, the city’s charms are laid out. The centerpiece, St John’s Theater , in the Church of Ireland building hosts wonderful plays and currently exhibits the Listowel Visual Arts Week juried show, The Wild Atlantic Way.  I was humbled to have the painting Castletownbere Port accepted into this show.

Castletownbere 8 x 10″ available at DilworthArtisanStation

At St. John’s, I attended a performance of “Big Maggie.”  One of Listowel’s  John B. Keane’s wonderful plays. The role of Maggie,  the powerful and cruel matriarch, was so intense a,  the character physically  combats her own daughter.  The actress was in tears well into the curtain call. Some of this emotion may have had to do with the attendance of Keane’s children in the audience.  The performance fell during the 90th birthday of the playwrite.

I can always catch a glimpse of Mary O’Flaherty’s red and black tiled Chic Boutique in these city scapes. But even better is to be lucky enough to have an encounter with Mary or her mom, Pat.  Mary’s witty observations are the kind you think about later and BURST OUT laughing!

 

Seanachai Writers Museum

   The Seanachai Writers’ Museum was the site of many of the highly successful Listowel Visual Arts Festival Week events. This included my profanity laced presentation on the topic of the Affects of Travel on Artists’ work. Followed with an interview with Writer’s Week own Elizabeth Dunn.

It’s my own bathroom view that provoked a series of Butler Building paintings under different lights and times of day. Most of these will be on view at my exhibition (with Diane Pike) at Caldwell Arts Council on October 5

Painting available at Olive Stack Gallery

Painting  Listowel puts me in the grand position of being able to meet the “man on the street.”  I’ve given directions (“want to know your Irish heritage? Talk to Tom”,) met future FB friends, had laughs, discussed the weather “Isn’t it glorious?”and solved many world problems.

Party at Carol’s

One of my favorite Irish people is a transplant from Greenville, SC,; Carol,who has let us into her circle for endless hours of mighty craic. (I’m sorry–that word still doesn’t quite flow.  To this American, it still evokes images of plumbers bending over. But I don’t give up ).

Nun’s Beach,Ballybunion

This year, Olive, Diane and I took weekly ‘field trips’ to paint. CahirDaniel, Ballylongford, Ballybunion and of course, Ardfert Friary!

View of Lislaughtin, Ballylongford
Hydrangea and Landscape: Cahirdaniel
Ardfert Friary

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What I left out of this glimpse back: gathering with other Listowel Lovers (many

Francis Bacon Drawing (Dublin)

pictured in the party at Carol’s), the wonderful trip to Dublin with Tom, hearing Mickey McConnell’s music, hanging with Maura and Myra, our portrait painting of Mickey at Allo’s , the gin and tonic themes that recurred through the trip, meeting Fintin O’Toole,  evenings at John B’s, hanging with Emily Andress, Terry Shipley and company,  Dinners at Mully’s, River Feale walks, shopping and catching up with Clodagh at Taelane’s, meeting Barry, the Blasket Islands, teaching workshops, figure drawing, painting at the Farm, Book of Kells, Frances Bacon, Bloom Restaurant (Dublin) Paint Outs………

CahirDaniel

In short. The residency has enriched this little pig beyond measure(thank you Olive!). It has  become a key part of my own personal biography.  I’ve indeed scratched the surface of this wonderful community through a painter’s cloudy lens. But it’s gonna take a lifetime of returns to complete the picture of Ireland’s Listowel.

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The Giving Season

Artist Residency

Today’s blog features art from Olive Stack’s exhibition, “The Giving Season.”  To purchase or inquire, please contact the gallery or visit the website.

​There is excitement building in the gallery!

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Wine O’Clock, oil on panel

Tonight is the opening of a new exhibition featuring work Olive created over the last sixteen months.  It is a pivotal time in the life of an artist, when a new body of work is framed, hung, titled and labeled.  For most artists (Olive included), this is the first time an entire grouping is viewed all at once – even by the artist herself.  Until the last piece is up, most artists will be holding their breath,  then stepping back, exhaling and opening their eyes.  This, this is the culmination of a year or more of work.  This is her creation.

How poignant to have this exhibition going up during the holidays…the year is drawing to a close and families are gathering together.  Each of us may ponder the year behind us, celebrating successes or contemplating loss.  To see a body of work dressed in its finery at this time of year may inform the next collection, to be started once the holiday lights are dimmed and extra long shop hours are ended.

It is the season of giving. Giving gifts, yes, but also giving ourselves a break from the constant push and pull.  Giving us time for reflection and rejuvenation.  Giving our spirits a chance to catch up with our feet, as a wise woman told me last week over breakfast (thanks, Mary!) and giving our feet a chance to rest.

It is the season for giving ourselves a pat on the back for a life well-lived, and for work well-done.  For an artist, it is the season for giving our art a chance to speak to hearts and delight eyes.  Giving the gift of art to the world, and hoping the world receives it with open arms.

It is a massive body of work, this new show.  Paintings, mosaics, watercolors and drawings in abundance.  There is a playful abandon in much of this work, a joyful embracing of life and color and form.  It reflects the freedom afforded by a successful residency program and the chance to spend time painting in Paris, France.

I’m feeling quite sentimental as I write these words.  To have been present at Olive’s last exhibition in 2016 was a delight; to be here for this one is an honor. Olive has created a home for artists around the world here in Listowel, and I am one of the lucky ones.  Congratulations, Olive Stack!  “The Giving Season” is a masterful exhibition, a bounty perfect for the month of angels singing, trees twinkling and hearts filled with joy.

Bram-alama-ding-dong

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I learned something incredible about Ireland today.

All this time, I thought Winegums and Penguins and Jaffa Cakes and Wagon Wheels and buns and eclairs and cakes and pies were just thoughtful ways to say “hello” to new visitors and “welcome back” to those of us who can’t stay away.  But no, not really, not at all!  Treats are for everyone, every day, all the time.

In the states, we might have a piece of fruit or a granola bar or some crackers for the odd snack. But here meals are sometimes eaten solely for the treats afterward, and treats are the snacks in between the meals.  Bridget explained it is the cold…and sugar is required to keep the body warm.

Bram the Curious

“Bram-alama-ding- dong” – acrylic on aluminum panel, 12″ x 12″

Workshops are no different.  Tea and treats can keep artists fueled all day long.  Our work table for “It’s Good to Be Queen” was as covered with treats as it was art supplies.  Struggling with your design?  Have a Penguin.  Deciding on a color? Try a Jaffa Cake.

Based on the wildly wonderful work these artists produced today, this method must be adopted immediately world-wide.

Young artist Olivia was so productive on this treat method – she completed one painting and was halfway with another before class was done.


Sweet Bridget brought millefiori beads, mirrors and baubles to make our queens’ crowns extra spectacular.  I think her adorable royal looks gorgeous in blue hair, floral gown and mirrored, beaded crown.

It was no surprise, of course, when Damian called at the gallery just before dinner IMG_9758offering slices of freshly baked apple pie.

Now I am exaggerating only slightly the amount of treats consumed here.  Sure, sure – some folks do not have a sweet tooth.  But what I see and love about this place is people eat.  Food is enjoyed.  I’ve yet to meet anyone on a diet.  There is no guilt associated with food..  But there is also very little obesity, unlike the states.  There is something delightfully refreshing about a culture where food is savored, not stressed,  and treats are included as part of life’s necessities.

Now where is that pack of Wagon Wheels?

 

 

 

Four Pounds

Artist Residency, Uncategorized

“Rainy Days and Mondays” (a diptych) – mixed media on yupo, each 8″ x 8″


When I grow up, I might want to be a farmer.

Farmers have cows, dogs, automatic feeding stations, TRACTORS (ooooooooh what fun!) and stacks of wood to be reclaimed by roaming artists.  They also have the most gorgeous views AND they are allowed to tromp through the mud.

A dear and precious Irish friend (let’s call her Bridget, shall we?  At least, that will be her name in the movie that is sure to be following this adventure) whisked me away first thing in the morning to experience a bit of farm life.  How could she have known it is one of my very own dreams?

IMG_9277.jpgRaising cattle (for beef and for dairy) in Ireland is very different than in the U.S.  The farm grass is harvested, pickled for silage and fed to the cows over winter.  They are pasture grass fed, rotating fields, during the warm months.  The manure is gathered for fertilizing, and the cycle starts over again.  Dairy cows rest during the winter instead of receiving hormones to boost milk production.  There is a rhythm to the process.  Some things are automated, but mainly it is a family operation, carried out year-round.

Imagine for a moment being so connected to your food source – to have invested your own labor, love and energy into a process intimately connected with land and beasts. There is such beauty and joy in this.  And a deep reverence for the circle of life.

Nothing is wasted.  Thank goodness.  Because the scrap heap was a joy for a prior artist who needed metal to weld, and the lumber pile was another Christmas morning for me!  I am giddy with press (cabinet) doors and odd pieces of hardwood piled in the studio waiting to be painted.

I asked Bridget how much one of these calves weighed…take the Red Friesian (a highly desirable breed) in the photos.  Bridget is not a fan of the technical details, so answered me (tongue in cheek) with “4 pounds”  The head farmer in charge cleared that up later (more like hundreds of pounds) but we had a great chuckle and “4 pounds” is now my answer for everything, including how many acres of land are on this incredible farm and how many layers of wool socks are needed for a farm hike.

There was coffee at the end, along with biscuits (cookies) and treats, including a Penguin candy which is my new favorite (move over, wine gums! I love these Penguins, too!) and the warm joy of a turf fire in the heating stove.  We simply must visit a bog together this trip, dear reader!

Top it all off with a lift on a tractor, a hike up the paddock road and the opportunity to twirl in a field, and there you have the ingredients for a halcyon day.  Sigh.  Ireland – it’s what dreams are made of.

Stop Elfing Around!

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“Queen Maeve” – mixed media on wood, 18″ x 6″.  Inquiries

I’d IMG_9025forgotten how boisterous the pub crowds are on the weekends.  As they pass underneath the windows of the flat, all kinds of unruly activities, conversations and occasional shouting matches take place.    Free entertainment!  And perhaps less sleep than I’d planned. Which means more time for painting.
So, right off the bat, the stack of wood provided by my favorite art enabler (Ann) is calling my name.  This queen, named after one of Ireland’s famous feisty royals, is the first finished piece.  Maeve (also spelled Medb), is known for insisting on equal wealth with her husband, and for starting the Cattle Raid of Cooley after discovering her husband had one stud bull more than she.

Sunday is a late opening day in Listowel, so there was plenty of time to grab coffee with Mary O Flaherty (owner of Chic Boutique) at Lynch’s Bakery in the morning.  The view from our table (which I like to think of as Mary’s annex office) was perfect, wouldn’t you say?IMG_9029

The big festivities for day two included the lighting of the Christmas tree in the town square, hours of being a rain-sodden elf, and a little stint involving elves in a dark alley and a clandestine furniture acquisition…unfortunately for you, dear reader, elves are sworn to secrecy on clandestine activities.

The excitement began in the afternoon, where I was the assigned elf at Woulfe’s, the local independent book store (read all about them in this article from Writer’s Week).  It made me think, “hey, this elf gig is pretty fun”.  So when Olive asked me to  elfabetize myself again in the evening, I was delighted.
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The crowds gathered in the town square at 5 pm, where a local hero and Dancing With the Stars celebrity was to officially light the tree.  Five elves gathered with baskets of treats, happily entertaining the kiddos and posing for photos while everyone waited for the news crew to arrive.

As luck would have it, the crew was delayed, the rain began to fall, and temperatures dropped.  But elves are made for frosty work (even in the jingly equivalent of bedroom slippers and layers of tulle) and so we made merry nonetheless.

Apparently, it is best to dance, mug for the cameras and act elfish only if you are NOT from Listowel.  Elves, you see, don’t get to be anonymous like Peppa Pig (also at the festivities).

IMG_9050.JPGAfter a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah” by some talented local boys, the tree was finally lighted and we sailed off to the Lartigue Polar Express for a national television spot and fame and fortune.

The filming was hilarious, as one young kiddo giggled loudly every time they began to roll film.  Eventually, he took his giggles to another part of the monorail museum so the crew could wrap up their work.  But there is nothing quite like uncontrolled laughter to put everyone in the best of moods. 🙂

The elf costumes are now hanging up to dry until later this week, when the polar express will again delight and dazzle the young folks of Listowel and surrounding towns.  If you’re in the area, purchase your tickets here.  Santa wants to see YOU!

Today was just a tiny glimpse into the months of preparation, collaboration and coordination required for a small town to pull off a mammoth undertaking like this month-long holiday event.  There is so much love in the people behind this.  It is the best kind of art.

​As you follow along on this Irish adventure and find yourself smitten with Listowel, you might be wondering feverishly how on earth you’ll stay connected here once December ends…have no fear!  Follow the local happenings (including recent pics of all the fabulous holiday windows) by subscribing to the Listowel Connection.

Letterpress Poetry, an Irish Dairy Farm and an Opening

Artist Residency

 

Sunday in Ireland is quiet, reminding me of New York in the 1960’s when blue laws were in effect.  I’ve discovered nothing is open until church lets out at noon and no alcohol can be sold until 10:30 on weekday mornings and 12:30 on Sundays. Enjoying the slow pace, I steep a cup of dark English Breakfast and spend the morning reading and writing.  Once again, sunny weather is promised on the south coast, so I jump in the car and set a route to Kinsale, a picturesque town about 2 hours away.  Almost immediately, I miss a turn and am then routed onto increasingly narrow roads.  I have to laugh when I find myself on a single lane with tall grass in the center of the road.  I slow down to enjoy the ruined stone cottages, the hillsides dotted with white sheep, and a solitary aspect that transports me to the eighteenth century.  Right after I cross the county line into Cork, I am dazzled by an arching golden tunnel of oak trees followed by hedges of fuchsia flecked with carmine flowers.

Kinsale harbor

Kinsale Harbor

Many rural roads later, I arrive in Kinsale, a pretty town with a protected harbor.  Unfortunately, the sun has vanished, parking is tricky, and the town is full of Americans buying up woolens at the few open shops that line the Main Street.  Ducking into the Poet’s Corner coffee shop and book exchange, I order a large latte and slice of lemon cake.  In Ireland,  a wide selection of salads and vegetables seems to be in short supply but cakes, cookies and cream are abundant, catering to my worst instincts.  I luxuriate in a velvet wing chair, surrounded with bookshelves overflowing with poetry collections and novels and am served my coffee and cake by a cheerful staffer who leaves me to read and sip uninterrupted.  Unwilling to retrace my rustic route in the darkness, I leave Kinsale without exploring its massive coastal fort or sampling its legendary cuisine.  I make it home before nightfall and am happy to heat up leftovers and continue reading “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos”, an engrossing novel about a Dutch 16th century painting and contemporary art forgery, compliments of my good friend Mary.

Dingle letterpress

Dingle Letterpress

Via email I contact the Owner of the Dingle Letterpress and she offers to show me the press on Monday at noon.  I meet Camilla, the owner of the press and Dingle Bookstore, at her shop and we walk through the back alleys of Dingle to the small, skylit shed that houses this historic press originally owned and operated by Yeats’s sisters.  Her press operator shows me the process of assembling type and printing a page.  I admire their array of historic typefaces including an Irish alphabet and their impressive inventory of Gaelic poetry chapbooks.  I show them photos of my new press and we discuss opportunities for integrating more graphic art with their limited edition poetry.  Camilla takes me to Goat Street Social (what a name!) for a delicious lunch and we brainstorm a letterpress workshop and possible poetry/art affiliations.  Dingle’s beauty and Irish language attracts poets, musicians, artists and dreamers.  We part with hugs and excitement, and I drive home through lifting clouds, the sun lining a bright edge in the sky.

Dingle hills

Dingle Hills

Olive stops in on Wednesday morning and we confirm a Friday opening reception for my residency prints and make plans for dinner.  I’m suddenly madly busy juggling three prints towards completion.  Additional white ink  and translucent base arrive from London and I buy bags of rags and rolls of paper towels on a daily basis.  Joni Mitchell and U2 alternate with BBC radio to enliven the studio.  Finally, I see final prints emerging that match my original concepts.  I vacillate between exhilaration and despair, especially when I commit a rookie error and run a print backwards.  Evenings I hole up in the townhouse and fall asleep easily after a short call to Charlie.  I’m dreaming landscapes and prints.

Cows

Frisian dairy cows

Olive’s friend, Ann Harrold, offers to show me her family’s dairy farm and arrives breathless with baby Norah after dropping John-Joe and Margaret off at school in Halloween costumes.  Sparkly dresses and fairy wings are time-consuming to arrange and transport. As Ann drives she describes the farm as located near 6 Crosses that are actually only five.  We climb above town to the green pastures on single lanes lined with hedgerows and arrive at a large, gated stucco house where we change into rubber boots and set out in sunshine for the cow sheds.  Ann’s husband, David, and his brother own and manage the large heard of Frisian dairy cattle lowing in the outside pen.  The cows crowd the fence as we approach, mooing and flicking their tagged ears.  We visit the calves and are studying the soon to be beef steers when Ann explains she’s a vegetarian, eyeing the cattle and asking “how could you eat them?”

Farm fields

Farm Fields

Despite the time, Ann and I stroll out along the farm lane for vistas of fields in breaking sunshine.  We share stories of our lives before our children, Ann describing herself as a Dublin accountant in sharp suits and pointy heels with nary a flat shoe in her wardrobe while wryly showcasing her Wellies and jeans.  Time is the precious commodity we concur as we stop and share the morning light, slight breeze, and birdsong.  Ann breaks into rhyme, quoting WH Davies with “what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, the perfect benediction on our time together.  I’m a few minutes late to open the shop but happily trade punctuality for this memorable morning

Cloghane print

“Near Cloghane” reduction print

Gloved and wrapped in a smudged apron, I’m pulling a bottle green ink layer across my Cloghane print when the shop bell rings and Maureen arrives.  She’s visiting Listowel from Toronto, tracing her Stacks lineage and contemplating buying artwork made by a distant relative for her new condo.  Friendly and effortlessly elegant, Maureen easily falls into wide-ranging conversation.  I discover she’s originally from Montreal,  a McGill graduate, is currently researching her mother’s Irish family and writing a book.  Invited to see my press, she climbs up to the studio, admires my prints and asks if I’m free for dinner.  Cheered by her company and encouraged by her affirmation we make plans for a late dinner.

Conocanoir

Sunset at Cnoc an Oir

Her SUV filled with children and “bribes”, Ann picks me up at shop closing and we race the setting sun to Cnoc an Oir, the highest hill in county Kerry.  I jump out of the car, phone in hand, running to capture the sunset over the Cashen river pouring into the Atlantic.  I’m amazed at the breadth of the rural landscape, spotting only occasional lights in the landscape.  Fog obscures the Shannon River aspect of this overlook and Ann tells me I must return for the 360 degree vista.  She drops me at the Gallery and I text my new friend Maureen.  We meet at Allos and share a splendid Italian meal and no end of stories and ideas.  Maureen promises to come to my opening and I end the day radiant with new friendships and experiences.

Gallery opening party

Olive Stark Gallery opening

Friday morning is a blur as I run around Listowel picking up flowers, hors d’oeuvres, string, tacks and wine before the gallery opens.  I discover Ireland’s time restrictions on alcohol sales when the grocery store refuses my purchase of wine at 10am.  I head to John R’s for olives and dip and am lucky they’re willing to sell me two bottles of wine a few minutes early, though I have to promise not to pop the cork and swill it outside their door.  At the florist, Liz quickly assembles a fall colored bouquet of chrysanthemums and lilies accented with a quirky orange butterfly.  I invite everyone along the way to the show and feel like the entire town has my back.  I spend the rest of the morning numbering and signing my prints and formatting a price list.  I’ve managed to string a line of prints in the storefront window and am fussing with interior wall string lines when Maureen shows up and offers assistance.  Maureen, like my sister-in-law Sharon, is a brilliant manager.  She helps set string lines, straightens prints, minds the store while I run to the printer, shops for napkins and pop, helps arrange flowers and food and uncorks the wine, pours two glasses and toasts me as the opening hour arrives.  Olive arrives and approves, people show up, prints sell and I’m so proud, relieved, and grateful.  Maureen and I close down the gallery after a few hours, clean up wine glasses and food and then head over to John B. Keanes pub.  I introduce Maureen to the 6-9 club of locals and expats and we celebrate a grand month in Listowel.  I’ve definitely got angels on my side and have debuted my prints in a warm-hearted and generous town.

Blennerville windmill

Blennerville Windmill

I’ve planned to track down Niall the Dingle printmaker on my last Saturday in Listowel.  Moving slowly after all the excitement, I’m still at the townhouse when Olive arrives to run the gallery.  We compare notes and plan on a final dinner before I leave on Monday and then I’m off to the peninsula.  I stop in Tralee to drop off recycling and finally discover the back route to the Blennerville windmill, I park and wander the harborside trails admiring the clouds mirrored in the bay and finding more material for my Round Kerry print series.

Tralee harbor

Tralee Bay

Niall is not to be found in Cloghane so I push on for a last visit to Dingle.  The views are shrouded by mist and rain and I’m glad for my previous trips in sunshine.  I return to The Pantry for another excellent meal and then do some final Christmas shopping, feeling flush with my art sales.  Returning, I discover I’ve missed Maureen, Carol and Jean who have all stopped by the gallery for farewells.  Starting this residency in solitude was a challenge, leaving having made such dear connections is a sweet sorrow.

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Bathroom window vista

Sunday the clock falls back and I appreciate the added hour as I strip the studio, disassemble the press, vacuum, scrub bathrooms, and pack prints.  The sun illuminates the hillsides and wet slate roof tiles as I’m finishing so I call Olive and tell her I’m ready to play.  We drop two large trash bags in the bin on our way to a late lunch in Ballybunion.  The beach is full of families and a lone hardy surfer.  We have a bird’s-eye view from our second floor table at Daroka, a newer farm to table restaurant above the beach.  Olive and I relax over excellent risotto and goat cheese salad and salute each other with French wine.  We talk about her coloring book project, the Christmas Express production, the residency, Paris, painting, and the superiority of Irish dairy products.  Ah, that Kerry butter is like pure cream only richer.

River Shannon from Cnoc

River Shannon from Cnoc an Oir

We finish with a drive up to Cnoc an Oir where I at last see county Kerry in the full 360.  The River Shannon glows in the twilight as tankers make their way along its broad channel to port.  A fitting farewell to this achingly beautiful place.

Storms, a Swedish Cousin and Studio Time

Artist Residency, Uncategorized

Preparing for my cousin’s visit, I spent Sunday morning cleaning the townhouse.  This involves vacuuming errant sequins, cleaning bathrooms and  arranging fresh towels and linens.  Intermittently, I check the storm track for hurricane Ophelia, worried I have invited my cousin into the eye of the storm.  Driving along the wide Shannon River to the airport, I had time to appreciate the stone castles and low slung walls lining the river road and to marvel at all the sheep cropping on the velvety green grass.

Eva accepted my impulsive invitation to join me in Ireland and arrives elegantly dressed and on time with minimal carry-on luggage.  Opportunities to spend time together occur infrequently over the years, so we have much to catch up on as we navigate our way home to Listowel.  Her praise for my left side driving in Ireland makes me feel like the independent adventuress of my imagination.

Listowel’s main square with its grey granite churches, brightly colored storefronts and flower boxes charms Eva.  We decide to venture out to the pub before continuing to dinner at the Horseshoe Restaurant.  It’s fairly quiet at both pub and restaurant as the entire town appears to be battening down the hatches in advance of their first Atlantic hurricane.  We enjoy the baked brie appetizer and creamy mushroom pasta all washed down with red wine and share stories of gallery openings, art commissions, children, parents, and rogue ex-husbands.  We’re happy to walk home across an empty square and have company for the impeding storm now labeled a “post tropic cyclone”  slated to hit county Kerry around 6am on Monday morning.

Storm at Ballybunion

Ballybunion during the storm

I manage to sleep through the early morning winds and wake to a blustery, gray day.  We test the weather by walking up the street for a latte and then around the corner to the grocery.  Everything is closed up tight, so we go home, make french press coffee and settle in to work in the studio, abundant daylight pouring in from the bank of skylights.  A few years ago, Eva sold her successful advertising business (Ikea and Miele were clients) and started painting watercolors and acrylics.  This past year, she’s had a gallery show and brings me a stack of postcards depicting her Stockholm scenes and one of her polka dot patterned palm leaf fish creations.  I introduce her to block printing and we spend a full day in the studio happily carving, inking, and printing in between a running discussion of history, travel, and our admiration of our fathers constancy and familial devotion.  Early in the afternoon, blue skies are visible through the skylights and we suspect we’re in the eye of the storm.  By late afternoon, the wind has dropped and we have cabin fever and daringly venture out to observe the waves at Ballybunion.  We agree to turn around if car is buffeted by the winds, but encounter few cars and no significant gusts on the 13 kilometer drive to the coast.  We’re almost blown over when we get out of the car to survey the tides, the sky dark and the beach empty.  Wild and lucky, we jump back into the car and creep home without incident to share celebratory glasses of wine.

Dingle Peninsula

Along the Dingle Peninsula

Tuesday dawns with brilliant sunshine and we discover the storm has battered Cork and Waterford to the east of us, dropping trees, roofs and leaving 360,000 households without power.  I thank God and my mother’s prayers for our grace and ease.  Eva and I are quickly off to fully explore the Dingle circuit, following now familiar roads over the hills to the peninsula.  We take a quick coffee break in Dingle, but decide to head out for the full loop and count on a late lunch.  The skies are clear, the seas aquamarine and frothy, the viewpoints uncrowded and the vistas breathtaking.  My blood bond with Eva is absolute when she declares her need to cry in the face of such beauty.  We discover a plaque at one of the overlooks identifying the view as the film set for the Jedi Temples featured in the latest Star Wars film.  Confirmation of this landscape’s otherworldly beauty, and no end of ideas for block prints.

Near Jedi Temples

We stop to admire abandoned stone cottages, imagining a summer sketching and painting this landscape.  I’m intrigued by the idea of walking the Dingle portion of the Kerry Camino, an 8 day holy walk across the peninsula.  Always a grand idea in warm, sunny weather.  Halfway through the loop drive, the Louis Mulcahy pottery studio merits a stop where we admire their selection of ceramics and the seascapes visible from the upper floor cafe.

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Restraining ourselves, we defer lunch until we return to Dingle where we park and enjoy an al fresco lunch at the Grey Lane Bistro.  My beet salad is tart, sweet and deeply satisfying.  Eva equally enjoys her cockles.  We drive home past the windmill, crossing rivers and pastures, everything illuminated in late the afternoon glow and our happiness.  We end our enchanted holiday with dessert at the Horseshoe and promises to schedule another holiday touring and sketching together.

Listowel bridge

Listowel Bridge by Lydia Aldredge

Then, once again, it’s a 4am alarm and drive through the darkness to drop Eva at the airport for her early morning flight.  On my return there’s time for coffee and a scone at John R’s before opening the gallery, but I am tired and a little blue through the long day.  I resort to making a tiny block print of the Listowel bridge after setbacks in my seaside series and am relieved to close up shop and crawl into bed at the end day.

Bathroom view

Bathroom window vista

As if to match my mood, the rest of the week is dark, drizzling and windblown.  The view from the bathroom window has the brooding atmosphere of a Bronte novel.  I bless Olive’s generosity in trading that golden Tuesday for a rainy Saturday.  I push on with three prints, struggling to capture the magic of the coast and the quiet beauty of Listowel’s river walk.  Gallery traffic is light, but I manage to sell one of Olive’s Listowel street scenes to a world-weary, wealthy American in search of a trip trinket.  The best interruptions are the visits from townspeople or Irish tourists.  Mary, the shopkeeper with the neighboring clothes boutique continues to stop by with sweets and stories.  We jointly bemoan the difficult client who terrorized both shops earlier in the day.  Anne, Olive’s friend, juggles her wide-eyed, pink suited baby and fills me in on the storm’s effects on the countryside while inviting me to visit her dairy farm next week.

North Coast of Dingle

North Dingle Coast by Lydia Aldredge

Peak experience of the week was a visit from Sean Stokes, a local farmer wanting an aerial photograph of his farm removed from the frame for reproducing and enlarging.  The frame and glass were old and dust speckled and I demurred, feeling inadequate to the task.  I studied the image and we started to talk about his farm, in the family for over 400 years and maybe lost to property division in the next generation.  He assures me he can remove the backing from the frame having delivered many calves without injury and disappears up the street.  He returns 10 minutes later with a smile, having successfully dropped the original photo at the copy shop.  His brogue is dense requiring careful attention, but I’m following most of the conversation when he breaks into a poem about my beauty, looking deep into my eyes before describing their color.  We grin at each other and share delight in the collision of city and country, art and poetry.

 

Killarney, the Dingle and Studio Time

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Killarney

Saturday was Charlie and Sharon’s last day in Ireland and the start of my three-day break from manning Olive’s gallery in Listowel.  Reading weather summaries, it appeared to be raining to the north but sun was promised in the south.  Added inducement was my need for additional printmaking paper, available only in Cork, about ninety minutes to the southeast.

We drive through Tralee, past the Blennerville Windmill, a promising future stop, and on to Killarney, one of the most charming and touristed towns in Ireland.  We admire the lush window boxes and linger in several Irish craft boutiques, ultimately buying Charlie a belated birthday gift of an Aran Island knit vest.  We luck into a small local cafe on a back alley and have a delicious and well-priced lunch.  My big score is a dash mounted cell phone holder.  On my last day with a driver, I’ve finally acknowledged the depth of my driving anxiety and hope this device will help me navigate strange terrain without accident.

Muckross House

Driving challenges multiply while on our way to Killarney National Park when we’re suddenly surrounded by a bicycle race.  We manage not to hit any cyclists or oncoming cars and gratefully pull into parking for Muckross House, a grand 19th century mansion surrounded by acres of arboreal gardens that roll down to a wilderness lake.  A singularly spectacular yew tree graces the walkway to the lake and stands as sentinel to the forest beyond.  It’s ancient, magical and rare in a country where most of the trees are deciduous, small and windblown.

Yew

We could spend days hiking around the lake and national park wilderness, but must be content with a short trek to the stone boathouse and a walk through a walled garden before continuing eastward to Cork.  Passing through scenic Macroom, we arrive in Cork with less than an hour till the art supply store closes.  Cork Art Supply is located on an island created by the River Lee running through the center of the city.  Between the bridges and one way streets, we circle uselessly until I jump out of the car and walk 10 blocks to the small storefront packed with essentials including a good selection of printmaking paper.  Charlie and Sharon catch up but are parked illegally, so we forgo a thorough exploration of this vital, sunny city.  Google takes us home over the hills on increasingly small roads and we joke nervously when we turn onto Quarry Road.  We’ve discovered road designations: M (highway), N (regional roadway, 2 lanes), R (rural road, think hedgerows and stone walls), and L (local, one lane in spots).   Quarry road does turn into a one lane hill climb past sheep and Holstein cows but opens onto stone lined green meadows and mountain vistas with stone bridges and ruins lyrical in the late afternoon light.  We make it back to Listowel at sunset and spend the evening packing and sharing a homemade meal featuring local sausage purchased at the Farmers Market on the square.

Once again we set our alarms for 4am and are off to Shannon airport along the misty river road in deep darkness.  I part ways with Sharon and Charlie at the rental car return and wrestle with my worries as I wait in line for my new, smaller car.  It takes me a few minutes to remember the mechanics of a stick shift and a left-sided one at that, but shortly, I’m off through a series of roundabouts in my miniscule Hyundai heading towards Limerick.  Boldly, I follow my google instructions and skip the foggy river road on the return.  At first, all is well and I’m on a nice sized “N” road, but then am routed onto a rural lane.  Fortunately, the smell of manure alerts me to cows in the vicinity and I slow just in time to miss a cow, head halfway into the curving turn.  Then, I see a farmer putting out cones and signs in the road and see his herd ready to cross the road.  Not an “R” route but a cowpath this morning.  Exhausted, I gratefully park the car in the public lot near the river and crawl back to the townhouse for a nap.

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Waking late morning, I feel compelled to use my free time and available car to explore.  Every kilometer I drive towards Dingle, my confidence navigating these plush green landscapes increases.  Stopping atop the hills, I see ocean breaking through the clouds, colors and geometries stirring my soul and inspiring a print series.  Dropping down through the hills to the protected bay that fronts Dingle, I make my way along narrow streets to a coffee-house.  My sangfroid is shattered when parking I clip a car’s side view mirror.  Fortuitously, the mirror cover clips back on and the Owner is kind.  The Wren’s Nest coffee shop has a new age feel, the Owner soon to close up shop for the season and head to India for spiritual inspiration.  He serves me an excellent latte and oatmeal cookie and we discuss Dingle.  Dingle’s beauty make it a seaside tourist town and an artists haven.  I finish up and wander from bookstore to handicraft store, purchasing green olives, and hearing rifts of Irish music drifting from pubs and music shops.  I learn of a local letterpress business vow to return with more energy to investigate.

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Making my way home, I find more streams and bridges, more misty hillsides and sheep pastures, and always the stacked gray stone forming walls and ruins, creating edges and boundaries with austere simplicity.  I am relieved to make it back to the car park without incident and am happy to walk to the local grocery and then back to Olive’s refuge.

Monday is a rainy morning and I change sheets and run laundry before setting to work on one of my architecture projects that demands immediate, long distance attention.  I do break to walk up the street to John R’s for a well made sandwich and to visit the local cabinetmaker to discuss packaging for my press.  Irish weather is nothing but changeable, and the sun breaks through in the late afternoon and rousts me out for a river walk.  I catch peaks of the famed race courses across the river as well as the Kerry agricultural processing plant before arriving at an arching stone bridge traversing the rapids, golden in the afternoon light.  I walk onwards through the woods and to

Listowel Bridge single arch

the European gardens, appreciating the newly dedicated trees and the last of the hydrangeas.  Then it’s home to sketch out a few print ideas and lose myself in Netflix’s rich library of English period films.

 

 

prints drying

It’s a busy week as I try to finish a fall floral print and start a Kerry landscape linocut. I’m new to retail and struggle to encourage visitors to the gallery without hovering.  The bell in the studio rings occasionally with a potential customer or a friendly local welcoming me to their town.  I’m thrilled to sell a framed print and am touched when Olive’s Mom brings me sausage rolls and shares stories of the house and her family.  My oil based ink dries very slowly, demanding patience.  I end the week with one print from my Seattle “Watercourse” project completed, incomplete drying prints filling the lines, and a new linocut of the bridge underway.

All week I’ve called freight and packaging companies, seeking the best solution for shipping my press frame.  Near the end of the week I find the answer and an interesting new destination.  An Irish company in Galway is experienced in packing and shipping art and delicate equipment and will guarantee the transport, all for a reasonable price. The catch is I have to bring the press to them in beautiful Galway.  With a quote firmly in hand, I agree to the terms and promise to notify them a few days before my arrival.

Kerry landscape

Thursday afternoon, a trio of fashionable women show up in the gallery clamoring to meet the new American artist.  I’m immediately drawn to Carol, the charismatic and charming leader of the pack, and she invites me to join their Friday evening session at John B. Keene – Listowel’s most famous pub.  End of day Friday, I brush my hair, put on some lipstick and talk myself into walking down the street for a pint and some company.  Carol is there with Tom, a retired English engineer, Jeanie, part of the original trio,  Martina, retired and returned home from nursing in South Africa, and Damian, tour guide par excellence.  Carol is drinking Hendricks gin (my favorite) and tells me the bar stocks it at her request.  I go easy with a pint of red ale, and we dive into a 3 hour conversation covering English royal succession, art, good second marriages, medical care in Ireland and South Africa, previous resident artists, and what to see in Ireland.  They’re all warm, welcoming, opinionated, and quick.  I’m astonished to discover Carol is about to celebrate her 80th birthday in Manhattan with her kids and grandchildren.  She’s my new role model.  I’m thrilled to be encouraged to come back next week and weave my way home, happy to have experienced the warmth and friendship of this town.

john b keanes

The weather has turned unseasonably warm and humid with air from the Azores pushed northwards by hurricane Ophelia.  Never thinking to pack t-shirts, I’m sweaty as I start up the car on Saturday morning, determined to survey more of my surroundings before stormy weather arrives.  I decide to head for breakfast at the Blennerville windmill but can’t seem to pick up a map route on the phone.  I get on the road and follow signs to Tralee thinking I’ll find youthful phone assistance at the cafe.  Only the cafe is closed for the season and I’m desperate for a cup of coffee.  Suddenly aware of my lack of maps and huge dependence on my phone, I find my way to the center of town and spot a cafe I’ve read has good breakfasts.  After coffee and a berry muffin, my head clears and I stop at a mobile store and am aided by two kindly young men who can’t find the problem but suggest I call my provider.  Almost an hour later, a T-Mobile technician in Texas flips a switch and I’m back in service.

Georgian doorway

I head up over the hills for Dingle, thinking it’ll be interesting even if the promised rain arrives, leaving sunny Tralee and the north coast for mountains in the clouds.  This time, I park along the broader main street without incident.  A visit to the bookshop yields a local author’s account of renovating a stone house on the Dingle coast, contact information for the letterpress owner, and the name and directions to the best Dingle printmaker.  Also a baker, he’s supposed to be down the street hosting an end of season sale at his store.  He’s not in the shop but I meet his teenage daughters who give me his number and urge me to connect.  I pause and watch a traditional wedding unfold at the church, admiring the ladies wildly inventive hats and study the gorgeous yellow door in a Georgian entryway.  Further along, I return to the artisan weaver’s store for Christmas gifts and then back to the upscale food emporium for more olives.  Finishing up the sale, I ask the young clerk for a lunch recommendation and she brightens as she sings the praises of The Pantry, a friend’s new endeavor.  From the street it’s just a sign and a doorway, but I push in and discover inventive, well spiced food featuring lots of vegetables.  Everyone is friendly from the neighboring Mom with two toddlers to the visiting Italian tourists.  I ask the waitress for advice on how to prepare the blood pudding I’ve picked up at the Farmers Market and she introduces me to the chef who advises frying it with lots of butter.  Sipping an excellent chai amidst an international crowd, momentarily I am at the center of a perfect universe.

 

Listowel Artist Residency

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The Listowel residency offers the artist a four-story townhouse for a month to make art with no restrictions or requirements.  The townhouse has a large, sky lit studio with a sink, a large work table, long walls, lots of electrical outlets and supplemental lighting.  The studio is at the quieter, backside of the house, but half a flight away is the kitchen and a comfortable couch overlooking the center of Listowel. From this perch, you can watch the busy life of this small town, from the shopkeepers sweeping their stoops early in the morning to the young men whooping and laughing as they make their way home from the pubs at night.

The town is near the wild Atlantic coast with its cliffs, crags, and sea stack rocks and is a market town for surrounding countryside.  Listowel has a Writers Museum, three bookstores, clothes boutiques featuring fancy hats and footware and a least thirty pubs for a population of 4,000.  Several bridges cross the River Feale and a meandering walk follows the oxbow around the town and to a large public park.  A remnant of a stone castle dominates the town square while nineteenth century storefronts animate the streetscape with brightly painted facades and lushly planted window boxes.

Arriving on Sunday evening, I had one free day before beginning a four-day stretch from 10 am – 6pm manning the downstairs art gallery while working in the studio.  Soliciting suggestions from Olive Stark, the gallery Owner and residency sponsor, we were advised to visit both Ballybunion on the north coast and the Dingle peninsula to the south.

Ballybunion

In search of local inspiration and imagery, we woke on Monday morning to a misty drizzle, a long predicted rainstorm we’d managed to dodge for a week.  Long acclimatized to walks in the wet, we set off for Ballybunion, rhapsodized by my brother for its dramatic golf course at the ocean’s edge.  We scrambled down a grassy rift past a ruined fort to walk along soft sand and admire seaweed, sand drawings and waves dashing on striated basalt cliffs before climbing around the ruins to survey the sea and learn of the “Nine Daughters Blow Hole”, so named after the Celtic chieftain who opted to sacrifice his daughters to the sea rather than abduction by Viking raiders.

Ballybunion cliffs

We enjoy the empty, off-season beach and a bronze plaque commemorating Maeve Binchey and her childhood summers at this beach but turn south towards the fishing port of Tralee and the wild Dingle coast.  We drive down one lane roads past Kelly green pastures filled with cows corralled by stones fences and step out on stone bridges to discover waterfalls and ocean vistas in the charming village of Cloghane. The clouds crack open, light illuminating the coastline and our hearts to the purity of this place.

Cloghane waterfall

Charlie creeps along the edge of stone-walled precipices as we explore promontories extending rocky fingers out into the Tralee and Brandon bays.  We stumble upon Sron Bhroin, a breathtaking overlook and where St. Brendan began his legendary journey across the Atlantic to the new world in a coracle.  An unimaginable journey as we look out at the stormy ocean below.  We drop down into a seaside pub for sandwiches and tea  before turning south for Dingle and the loop.

Dingle peninsula

Getting to Dingle requires we drive the Conner pass road, a mostly one lane road weaving between rock face and sheer drops with vistas of green valleys and the distant ocean.  We’re torn between hilarity and terror as we encounter sheep grazing along the roadside.  Dingle is at the bottom of the long pass, a charming seaside town deserving of a long visit.  We press on along the southern coastal road, past signs for neolithic ring forts, beehive huts, opportunities to hold a lamb, and offers of  tea and scones.  Just as the sun reaches a low angled with light that makes the coastline a Technicolor dream, we reach Slea Head overlooking the remote Blasket Islands.  Tucked into the sole overlook I marvel at the combinations: aquamarine sea, white spray, basalt cliffs, mossy fields, sheep,  and stone walls all bathed in golden afternoon light.

Coumeenoole, Kerry

We’re out of time to complete the Dingle loop, not wanting to experience a night-time drive, and we find a gently inclined route home to Listowel.  It’s twilight as we arrive at the riverside car park minutes from the townhouse and I have a head full of ideas and a camera full of images.

River Feale Evening

Tuesday morning I become a shopkeeper, opening the gallery doors and turning on lights at 10:30am sharp.  I adore Ireland’s work hours, roughly 10am until 6pm.  The front door has a bell that rings in the studio when opened, allowing me to work upstairs until the occasional customer steps through the doors.

Studio

Charlie leads me through the fairly straight forward process of assembling my portable press and I’m soon testing it out on a lino reduction cut print.  I struggle with setting the proper press pressures and with mixing my oil based inks without the benefit of Daniel Smith’s discontinued MiracleGel medium.  Charlie and Sharon are a magnificent technical team and support staff, running out to search Listowel for gloves, rags, dish soap, inexpensive paper, additional palette knives and a fresh oil cloth for my inking table after I discover errant red sequins in my ink.  By the end of the day I’ve filled a
string line with prints, met several locals stopping in to meet the new artist, and Charlie has discovered the key adjustment required for a smooth running press.  We happily close up shop at 6pm and walk to the neighborhood grocery for cheese, sausage, and make a simple dinner in the apartment enlivened by Olive’s gift bottle of French Bordeaux.

Olive Stark Gallery

The next few days we fall into a routine with fresh farm eggs for breakfast, a morning foray around the town and then a long day in the studio with infrequent gallery visitors.  Happily, I sell two of Olive’s glass mosaic angel ornaments the second day in the shop.  I begin a second reduction cut print of Brandon Bay and have visits with the neighboring clothes boutique owner, Mary, who brings a warm welcome and a bag of freshly baked scones.  Olive’s local artist friend, Lisa, stops in and shares stories of her upcoming exhibition at a former prison.  I encourage her to come by and try out my new press.  Charlie and Sharon are busy weighing and measuring the press, figuring out packaging and shipping to Seattle.  Only two of the three pieces of the press will make the weight limits for shipment as baggage and I must now figure out how to send the frame and rollers as cargo.  We try out the bakery across the street and one down the road renowned for its soda bread while discovering a decent latte up the street.  We visit the neighboring Horseshoe Bar for dinner and a memorable desert of Bailey’s cheesecake.

Cows in road

Thursday morning bestows brilliant sunshine and we race out to visit the nearby Round Tower before shop hours.  Once again, our navigational software confounds, leading us to a lovely stone estate with a distant view of the tower.  With the clock ticking, we reset the device and finally find the small country lane to the tower only to be stopped by a herd of cows changing pastures.  Having come so close, we push our time and wait out the cattle jam to make it down the road to the picturesque stone tower and graveyard.  We enjoy a solitary visit to the recently restored 10th century Rattoo Round Tower adjacent to a ruined church and walled graveyard.  Ruined stone abbeys, monasteries, churches, and castles abound throughout Ireland fueling the imagination and a belief in the supernatural.  I can easily imagine a princess in the tower or fairies dancing in the surrounding fields.  We find a shorter route home to Listowel and open the gallery by the required time.  Daylight pours through the skylights in the studio as I carve and print,  texture and color awhirl in my mind.  Meanwhile, Charlie and Sharon explore the town and make friends at the hardware store.

Round Tower

Listowel has converted the stone church on the square into the St. Johns Art Centre.  The October events poster advertises a concert of traditional Irish music by the Casey Sisters.  We walk over after dinner and find ourselves comfortably seated in the stone nave of the former church attending a lively performance of Irish harp, fife and fiddle accompanying soulful Gaelic solos.  The surrounding audience, largely local hum, tap and tear up to the traditional jigs, hornpipes and reels.  We waltz home with melodies in our minds and dance steps in our marrow.

Fare Thee Well

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It is with heavy hearts and an extra 5 lbs each that we bid adieu to fair Listowel. We have enjoyed our time here immensely. We have laughed, we have cried, we have received innumerable gifts of time, caring, and baked goods.

We will never forget the warmth of the people–once strangers, now friends. We will ever remember the quaintness of the town and the seafood chowder at the Horseshoe. Mickey’s will songs remain a welcome ear worm in our heads, as Billy’s stories remain in our hearts.

Thank you all for your caring, your kindness, and for letting us share in your town and lives for a month. We will take these gifts in our hearts wherever we go, a treasured piece of Ireland.

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