Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Every surface plus the floor filled with frames, paintings and packing. All in preparation for delivery of 42 works to West Liberty University, West Virginia. My solo show there opens on October 5th.

And teaching a plein air workshop there on October 28 & 29!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ireland: Co. Louth, Old Mellifont Abbey 7, numbers

When I was in Bhutan, in 2007, much was made of the impotance of the number 108. Guru Padmamasala, Ray, I know you are laughing, since I have no idea how to spell his name, rode a flying tiger to what is now Taktsang (the Tiger's Nest), and the tiger tore a demo into 108 pieces and where those pieces landed, monasteries grew up. With this act, Buddhism was brought to Bhutan. The number continues to have significance in  many aspects of the culture including burials, and is also considered an auspicious number in the Hindu culture.

In the Western world, the ancient Greeks set forth the ideas of ratios and perfect proportions. They employed these in their architecture and in their daily lives. As artists we also use these same ideas  in terms of compositional layouts. Things just 'feel right' if certain proportions are observed.

Before Mellifont Abbey was built, Irish architecture was very simple in style. With the coming of the Cistercians, was the beginning of grand architecture, not only of enormous proportions, but whose proportions had philosophical connections.

Photo: Taken from the kitchen, at the far right you just see a small portion of the lavabo. Behind that is the chapter house, protected from water decay by a covering. The large grassy area at the center of the cloisters is where the monks grew their herbs. The large stone ruins in the back is not original, the modern building is the visitors center. Between the visitors center and the chapter house is the altar of the church.

Ireland: Co. Louth, Mellifont Abbey, 6

Here I am sitting in one of the lavabo's arches. In the distance behind me, would be the infirmary, and the warming room, the only room where the monk's could warm themselves by a fire.

Next is a section of the south cloister wall, with its Romanesque arches. Through the arches you see the refectory, where the monks took there meals, and in the far right corner, the kitchens. The architects chose a site near a river, so that they had clean, fresh water for cooking and bathing, and of course running water in their latrines, outside the abbey wall.

Ireland: Co. Louth, Mellifont Abbey 5

As I've said before, there was a segregation of the community of brothers. This only ended under The Second Vatican Council, in the 1960's during the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII.
The photos show:
1. At the far left, the west wall are the ruins of the cellars, store rooms and the lay brothers quarters.
2. Next photo on the east side, were the quarters for the choir monks.

Ireland: Co. Louth, Mellifont Abbey 4, a great guide

Tyler and Martin inside the Chapter House listening to our guide, whose name not a one of us could remember.

After years of traveling and visiting lots and lots of ruins, I am here to tell you that there is nothing better than walking a site with a knowledgeable guide with an enthusiasm for her topic.

We had such a guide at Old Mellifont. She was young, about 30, an artist, and had done extensive research on this site and its importance in the history of Ireland. But possession of facts doesn't make a good guide. This one had the gift of bringing history to life in a clear, concise a impelling manner.

Speaking in a quite voice, she held us in the palm of her hands for over 40 minutes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ireland: Co. Meath, Mellifont Abbey 3, the lavabo

Here is the lavabo. You see the upper half is made of rougher darker stone. This is not original, but and addition by the Moore family after Henry VIII dissolved the abbeys and gave the lands to rich families who supported the crown.

The beautiful and delicate colored stone of the original lavabo is where Mellifont gets its name. Melli referring to honey, so honey-colored, and the Irish had never seen anything like it!

Ireland: Co. Meath, Mellifont Abbey 2, stone carvers

The visitors center was filled with chunks of useful information as well as chunks of stone salvaged from the excavation of the site. One info board talked about the mason's marks.

Remember these communities were self-sufficient, and would include men from all walls of life. There was a hierarchy system, and the brothers were segregated into two groups: the choir monks, the educated, usually coming from families with money because getting an education took lots of money, these men were the thinkers, philosophers, scribes, and church leaders; and the lay monks, who did the work, farming, cooking, stone work, etc. There was no contact between these two groups except for a foreman to give work orders to the lay brothers. This system existed until very recently.

If a rich man wanted to rise up in the church quickly, the fastest way was to join a monastery. A man could rise through the ranks over time and become a bishop.

Ireland: Co. Meath, from Monasterboise to Mellif'ont Abbey

My transmissions stopped, and you expected to be finished with stone. But stone speaks too loudly to be silenced.

You will remember that we drove south out of Northern Ireland, with our plan to see the many sites in the Valley of the Boyne. The first site we came to was Monasterboise, an early Christian site founded by St. Buite who died c. A.D. 521. No building as old as this exists. The round tower was built c. A.D. 968, shortly after the dreaded Vikings were finally and bloodily thrown out. The tower was damaged by fire in 1068. The great Cistercian Mellifont Abbey was founded in 1142, and Monasterboise fell into decay.

The Cistercians were a spin off group from the Benedictine monks, and are referred to as the White Friars. The color refers to the color of the habits. The Black Friars are the Dominicans, and the Grey Friars I believe, are Augustinians. I was sorry I didn't ask the guides which order the Skellig Michael friars belonged to. But they certainly followed Benedict's rule of leaving the world behind in order to be closer to God.

I will say this now, I really have no affiliation with a religion, but I love history, and no matter how the Christian community has changed over time, I have a great respect for these early men and women of faith. My interest is truly in the medieval mindset, history, and in finding connections to our lives today.

I said to my grandson, Tyler, "I feel good whenever I am inside a monastic site. I think I was a monk in a past life." He responded thoughtfully, "That's interesting, since you're not a Christian."

But these Cistertians, they were a hard bunch for sure.

Ireland: Co. Meath, Mellifont Abbey

In case you didn't know, you can click on these images and enlarge them a bit.

I has posted the floor plan of the abbey here. And a photo of what is left of facing south. At the back of the scene, you see what is left of the lavabo, where the monks would ceremonially wash their hands, face, and tonsure, which represents Christ's crown of thorns.

Behind the lavabo on the left is the refectory, where the monk's ate.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ireland: Co. Meath, Monasterboise, 2

The last judgement. Can you read the story? You usually see some version of this in portal sculptures on cathedrals. The cross, like the cathedrals would have all been brightly painted, and the monks used the 'pictures' as teaching aids for the illiterate.

Ireland: Co. Meath, Monasterboise, 4

An ancient sundial, and at 18', the tallest high cross in Ireland. The top of this cross was broken off at some point, so there are varying degrees of weathering on this cross. You can just see a bit if the round tower in the background.

This monastery was attacked by, you know, the Vikings. They took everything that was of worth to them and burned all the books.

Ireland: Co Meath, Monasterboise 3

Every inch of this cross is carved with biblical scenes or Celtic designs.

Ireland: Co. Meath, Monasterboise

Monasterboise was an early Christian monastery, the oldest things surviving are three 10th c. high crosses and a round tower. This is the most elaborately decorated high cross in Ireland.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ireland: Co. Meath, Trim, 2

Highfield House is the name of our B&B. The owner is Georgie. Here's a third of her kitchen. And what I could fit of the front into my frame. The view as you come up the drive.

And her neighbors. Their field runs down to the River Boyne, which also runs by Trim Castle, which we tour later today. But first, breakfast and Newgrange. And I hope to throw in The Hill of Tara, if we have time.

We are staying near the airport tonight. Boo hoo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ireland: Co. Meath, Trim, our last B&B

We arrived about half an hour ago, and are installed in what was once a maternity hospital. Very fun place, and we were welcomed with tea and scones.

Martin's back started to hurt last evening, so I told him to stretch, and Gina collapsed on my bed.

I love the kitchen!

Ireland: Mayo loop drive

Another view of Croagh Patrick.
Commemorative cross for victims of the famine. 600 starving men, women and children walked from Louisburge to their landlord's house at Dephi, 12 miles away. He turned them away, and one third of them died on the walk back.
Fun with sheep.

Northern Ireland: pit stop Castlewellen

This morning we were back in the car, heading south on the A25 out of Northern Ireland. Yeah!

Tired of dreary topics? Here's some morning flowers, Tyler in a red English phone box, and what I considered a very interesting store selling  all sorts of bits and bobs including toys, ice cream, fancy goods, tobacco and cigarettes, and religious objects.

Dolphins and Stars

I have no photos to share, but here are two thrilling moments we have experienced in Ireland.

On the boat to Skellig Michael a school of 30 to 40 dolphins swam in the wake of the Sea Quest for a least 10 minutes. What marvels of nature. One pair were only about 4 - 5 feet from our boat. Watching them jumping in and and out of the waves was joyful. What a lucky few moments.

Later in Westport, as Martin, Gus and I stood outside the house in the deep darkness, the sky opened up before us revealing its mysteries. With light pollution, we rarely see such a sky as this one any longer.

The big dipper seemed to jump out of the sky at me. Magnificent to see the layering of stars, and then Martin said, "There's the Milky Way stretched out over us, and we are sitting on the very fringe of it." It gives be goosebumps just writing about it.

We are justing pulling up at Monasterboise, in the Valley of the Boyne.

Ireland: leaving Northern Ireland for the Boyne Valley

Will blog about yesterday when I get a signal.

Ireland: Co. Mayo, Westport famine memorial

This first photo is of Wee Hannah Herrity sitting with her patron. The next photos are of the Famine Memorial in Westport, a very moving bronze, that's Croagh Patrick in the background.

Why so much talk of the famine? Reminders of it seem to be everywhere ths time, where I've never seen it before. It was the worst thing to happen to Ireland. The population went from 8 million to 4 million, died or emigrated, and today's population isn't much more than 4 million.

Ireland: Co. Galway, the one that got away


Ross Abbey, well, you should know by now my excitement with Abbeys. I saw the red letters and dot for this one on the map, and we were looking for it. We got a good view of it from the road. It was big, and pretty well intact, so I said we had to get to it. We tried one or two small roads, the second of which is where I took this photo. We were actually in someone's farm driveway, but could go no further. There was a rock wall and an electric fence. Gina suggested sliding under the fence. I said no.

We could see a couple people at the ruins, but Martin, eager to get to Westport, refused to look further. We were thwarted, cut off at the knees, and we are still talking about this one, Ross Abbey, the one that got away.

Ireland: Co. Clare, the Burren, dolmen tomb

Back on the Burren there is another type of grave, a Dolmen, or portal tomb. This one is 6,200 years old, and in use for 1,200 hundred years.

This first photo shows the landscape dotted with wildflowers. The next shows more of the stones.

There was a pathway close by, the is now the road. Everyone passing by would see this tomb and know that someone important controlled the area.

Martin gained a wealth of information from more of a guard, not a guide. He was lamenting the fact that modern man, of late, is so disrespectful of this site, defecating on it, lighting fires inside of it which led to the cracking of one of the stones. Despite the signs to not pick the wildflowers, people do it. He expects that in 10 years in that area the wildflowers could be gone.

Ireland: Donegal, Dunfanagy famine cemetery photos

The graveyard spoke loudly for its inhabitants. It was separated from the consecrated cemetary and church by a stone wall.

The last photo is the coffin which delivered up to 8 bodies to a mass grave in this cemetery.