Post Sabbatical Blog: Ballyvaughan

Saturday, May 14, 2011: Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland

My Bouzouki in Meadowfield’s Lounge

I slept in again today until 9:30 only to get out of bed when Breada turned on the heat. I had went to bed last night at 2:30 a.m. I spent the day writing and getting familiar with the bouzouki I purchased in Galway on Thursday afternoon. A bouzouki has eight strings and plays much like my octave mandolin, except the two G and two D strings are tuned an octave apart. The bouzouki I purchased was not a very expensive one, thus not a professional instrument but it has a nice sound to it.

Sarah Snape went with me to Galway in order to find information about buses to Connemara for a weekend trip. Sarah is also interested in music –she purchased a Mandolin in Galway.  We arrived back in Ballyvaughan around 7:20 and went in to Greene’s Pub in order for Sarah to keep an appointment with the BCA artist in residence Nora –Nora was going to accompany Sarah to Connemara for the weekend.

We put our newly bought instruments down near a table, ordered beverages and waited for Nora. As we were waiting a local man pointed to my instrument in its case and asked, “What do you have there?”. I recognized him as one of the local musicians, I explained that I just purchased a bouzouki in Galway and offered him the opportunity to take a look at it. He took the instrument out of its case, sat down, tuned it up and started playing. He made it sound beautiful. I found it very encouraging.

My Bouzouki: Front and Back

I met Tom for dinner at Logue’s Lodge around 7:30, after dinner Tom invited a Ballyvaughan women over to our table for a beverage. Tom had been on friendly terms with this woman since he spent a summer in Ballyvaughan several years ago. The woman’s daughter had recently passed away and she talked with us about how supportive the church and community had been and how much help they were to her. Tom and I walked her a short distance to her home and then visited Greene’s in anticipation of a music session with Chris Droney that evening.

Green’s Pub was busy, so Tom and I went to the back of the pub in the “snug”. Soon the musicians started setting up and it was clear that they had chosen the “snug” as the place they were to perform. There were musicians from all over Clare, about 12 of them including Chris Droney. There were playing concertinas, fiddles, guitars, bouzoukis, accordions, bodhrans, spoons –and they took turns singing. Most of the singing was a capella –a woman sang the most beautiful version of Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home” I have ever heard. I was spell bound –I felt like I was in one of those stories where a person stumbles into “faerieland” where there is no such thing as time as we know it and all are happy and joyous. I indeed lost track of time, as people do in faerieland –when I returned home it was nearly 2:00 a.m.

This morning while I was sipping my coffee in front of the fireplace I came across these words from Burren resident and writer Sarah Poyntz written in the magazine “Burren Insight”:

” . . . . when I saw the Burren –it was the area around Ballyvaughan –I could scarely take in the reality. Here I was faced with a landscape stripped to bare reality, the bare reality of the earth on which we live and have our being, that which shapes every region in the world even the luxuriously lush, the prolifically fertile –stone. I observed the Burren’s limestone pavements, walls of stone, hills of rock and I found truth and beauty, the truth of the region’s hard reality, the beauty of the light gliding over the bare hills and ancient ruins turning them to deep blue, violet silver and gold, a light ever-changing just as the flowers change from season to season and wildlife and indeed our farmers have to adapt to wind, rain, storm, floods and ice. We may feel awe in contemplating this truth, this beauty but it is not the awe that diminishes us because it is within our human scale. Artist and writers come to the Burren and find in it the very core of their inspiration. Scientists arrive and find the basis for their research. We live in it and somehow it changes us into poets and researchers although we may never write a line. And all the while our farmers work the land, maintaining the wild flowers of the valleys and fields, a perfect contrast to the bare and encircling hills. The Burren has power, the power to transform us.

Breada just knocked on my door with a drawing board that Robert just dropped off for me. I shall draw the rest of the afternoon.



Post Sabbatical Blog: Ballyvaughan

Friday, May 13, 2011: Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland

Aillwee Mountain

This is the 6th day I have been back in Ballyvaughan and in the Burren, and the first day to myself.  This past week went by very fast and we have a good start on the study-trip that I am leading. The light is beautiful as the weather changes instantly from showers to sunshine and back again and the air is fragrant with Yellow Gorse, Whitethorn and peat smoke.

Thomas Connely drove our group through the landscape on Monday the 9th to Kilfenora –he chose to take the road to Lisdoonvarna out of Ballyvaughan. We rode up corkscrew hill and through the Burren countryside to our destination. The sun was shining and the warmth of it felt like a welcoming greeting from the land itself. These paragraphs from John O’Donohue’s book, “The Four Elements: Reflections On Nature” help to describe my feelings:

“Stone is perfectly silent. The stillness and endurance of stone focuses in an intense way the unobtrusive eternity of the earth. Thus among ancient peoples, stone often symbolized the earth itself. And amidst intensities and diversities of landscape, stone stands as the tabernacle of memory.

Memoria is not an anonymous storing place where the past is housed. Memoria is particular, passionate and diverse. Though concealed, it is a special presence. Presence is one of the most beautiful words. It suggests a unique, passionate and welcoming thereness. The distinctive nature of this presence is conveyed eloquently in the image of ‘Tabernacle’.

The presence of Memoria is concealed and silent. As the tabernacle of memory, stone, embodies this hidden presence. . . .  the presence of memoria in stone is mediated presence. It calls and engages those who take time and are sensitive in attention. Though reserved, this mediated presence is generous. It releases its depths to the one who approaches reverently. It bequeaths its secrets to the attentive and ready sensibility.”

Graveyard at Kilfenora Cathedral

On Tuesday the 10th I led the students on a walking tour to the ringforts of Cathair na hYamham, An Rath and An Cathair Mohr –it was a round trip of approximately 8 km. The wind blew but for the most part the sun shown bright and lit the landscape with a magical glow. The landscape was certainly not disappointing in its beauty.

Cathair na hYamham

Students at An Rath

Today is flying quickly by. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to start working on my drawing. Robert Wainwright will be bringing me a drawing board to borrow from the college so I can have a smooth surface on which to draw. In the meantime I’m catching up with other things.



Post Sabbatical Journal: Ireland

Saturday, May 7, 2011: Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland

View from my room at Meadowfield.

We arrived in Shannon this morning close to 7 a.m. The Burren College of Art sent Paddy to collect us. The students used the ATM machine at the airport to get their Euros and soon we were on the road toward Ballyvaughan. The light on the landscape shone in that particularly special way that makes it appear as if the landscape itself was glowing with its own light. The yellow gorse and the whitethorn appeared illuminated. As we entered the Burren I saw the green of the hazel and the blue grey of the limestone stretch out before us.

Paddy drove us to the O’Lochlain house where the students are staying. Robert Ellis and Neil O’Lochlain greeted us and got the students settled in their rooms.

Robert Ellis job was to greet the students with a warm Burren College of Art welcome, which he did very well.  When he was satisfied that the students knew what they needed to know, he delivered Tom Hughes to the faculty house and brought me to Meadowfield.

When I arrived, Breada Keane the owner of Meadowfield was busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast for her B&B guests. She welcomed me with a warm hug and a smile, gave me some hot coffee and toast and jam. I had difficulty understand her at first, I’m afraid I’m a bit out of practice –I need to give myself some time for my ears to adjust to the soft Irish lilt. After my coffee and toast I went to my studio/bedroom to unpack. I have a large room on the second floor; it is full of light because of a large multi-paned window that overlooks Cappanawalla Mountain. Breada prepared the room by moving in a nice sized table for me to use as a desk and drawing table along with chairs in addition to the bed and dresser. I unpacked my drawing and painting supplies first –unrolling the drawing paper I brought along in a plastic tube. I laid the paper out on the floor and weighted it down with the guitar that I keep at Meadowfield. My hopes are that the guitar helps the paper to flatten out a bit. I unpacked the rest of my things and spent the rest of the morning getting the room prepared for my month long visit.


Post Sabbatical Journal: Michigan

Home Studio: Saturday, March  26, 2011

I returned from Ameland to Michigan on March 1, I spent the week getting caught up with school work and putting the finishing touches of organization to my Walnut Street studio. My husband had been very kind and thoughtful and had assembled all of the IKEA shelving for the studio so my only job was moving the shelving and putting away the books and magazines.

After the studio was “put together” I had to get to work because to finish the work I started on Ameland for the April 1st Center for Media Faculty Exhibit.


Post Sabbatical Journal: Ameland

Ameland Studio: Monday, February  21, 2011

Sketchbook Tree Study_001

I’m on the second stage of my experimentation. I have a process that I will try on a large scale using painted ink, watercolor applied with sponges and oil pastel. I drew a field of trees that are here on Ameland in my sketchbook.

Sketchbook Tree Study_002

I drew all of the trees and the most significant branches in the sketchbook then gridded out the drawing into one inch squares. I drew a larger grid on a piece of colored charcoal paper and divided into three inch squares. I’m in the process of redrawing trees and branches onto the larger paper using ink and a brush. I plan to add all of the smaller branch details after the complete composition has been painted in ink on the larger paper.

In-Progress Inked Tree Composition_001


Post Sabbatical Journal: Ameland

Ameland Studio: Sunday, February  20, 2011

Hard at work in Ameland.

We arrived at the Ameland studio (via ferry) around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 19th and started moving our supplies into the studio space immediately. We were set up in about an hour and started right to work. We stopped for dinner around 5:30 then back to work at 6:30. I have been looking forward to this opportunity and was anxious to start some experimentation with watercolors, oil pastels and chalk.

Today I’ve been experimenting with “broken color” adding oil pastels to a monochromatic watercolor background. The experimental abstract compositions are inspired by imagery of some textile art found in Gwen Hedley’s book “Drawn to Stitch –which are in turn inspired by landscapes. Photographs of two of the experiments are below (a little blurry).

“Broken Color” Experiment_001

"Broken Color" Experiment_002


Post Sabbatical Journal: Ameland 2011

Leeuwarden: Saturday, February 19, 2011

Exhibition in Doet Boersma's Gallery, artwork of Gertie Janssen.

I arrived in Amsterdam around 7:20 in the morning. The flight was very smooth –I believe that is was the most comfortable flight I have ever had across the Atlantic. I found my one suitcase with no problems but was pulled aside by the Dutch “TSA” office. He was very nice and went through all of my luggage and found all of my art supplies. After he found out that I was going to do studio work on Ameland with other artists he was even more pleasant. He asked me if I knew any Dutch, when I told him no he told me a few of the essential words I would need.

I found the place in the airport where I could purchase my train ticket for Leeuwarden. There was a train leaving in 15 minutes on platform 3. I found my platform and waited for the train to arrive. The train ride was a good one. In the past I have had difficulty managing by suitcase on the train –this time I made sure to pack a smaller suitcase and it was no problem getting it off and on the train. I arrived in Leeuwarden at around 11:00 a.m.

While on the train I enjoyed watching the countryside go by. I saw a lot of rural farm country –horse farms with their long and low roof lines. When I arrived in Leeuwarden I looked for the cafe I always went to. It was no longer there and had been replaced with “Julia’s Pasta Take-Out”. I went in and asked for a cup of coffee and I ordered a sandwich. It felt good to relax in my destination and not have to consider anymore travel for a while.

After the coffee took effect I started the walk to Doet’s house/school/studio. It is not far from the train station and took me only about 5 minutes to arrive there. I saw Jaap, Doet’s husband, as I arrived and we went into the gallery entrance.

Exhibition in Doet Boersma's Gallery, artwork of Gertie Janssen.

Exhibition in Doet Boersma's Gallery, artwork of Gertie Janssen.

Once inside I saw that the gallery walls were hung with colorful paintings, the work of Gertie Janssen. Jaap helped me to bring my luggage up the stairs.