Goodbye To Ballyvaughan

Dear All,

I was on sabbatical in 2005 and my plan was to travel to coastal Ireland to make photographs.

One night, while surfing the internet to learn as much as possible about the area where I would be working, I stumbled across a very small college known as the Burren College of Art. Since I was going to be in the area anyway, I decided to pay this place a visit. It would be the first of five visits to this great college over the next ten years. Since that time in 2005, 61 students have participated in a 21 day intensive art and then art and music making experience at the Burren College of Art (planned and implemented in 2006 after my initial visit) in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, and numerous others have spent either a semester or a full year abroad there as part of their Junior Year Abroad experience. This has been one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experiences of my almost forty year career at Wheaton.

All things must end, and for me, this last group, Arts In Ireland 4, was the last group that I will be taking to Ireland. I sincerely hope that others will continue this program as it is transformative for the students who participate.

Thank you to all of those at the Burren College of Art who have made my time at the BCA so enjoyable and productive: Mary Hawkes-Greene, Tim, Robert the Elder, and Robert the Younger, Anna, Julia, Martina, Ann, Martin and so many others.

Also thank you Tim Cunard, my first partner in this program and to Matthew Allen who took over for Tim after Tim’s retirement.

Thank you to all of the good people of Ballyvaughan for your warmth and hospitality. You always accepted our students and made them feel a part of your community.

Mostly, thank you to our wonderful students for providing me with memories of great times, the production of amazing art and music and in many cases life long friendships.


The Final Crazy Push To A Magnificent End!

Installation by Liam Grace-Flood._DSC4379

I am at home on Cape Cod writing this. It’s in the low 80’s, a beautiful July day.  I have been on two Cape Cod Canal walks and spent the 5th of July on Martha’s Vineyard with my family. I haven’t quite come to grips with the fact that two days ago I was on the Island of Ireland and then the next day the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Great to be home!

I did want to write this last blog before too many days have passed. The last few days in Ballyvaughan were a kind of blur; Everyone working very hard to complete projects, installing the exhibition, writing their artist’s statements, and preparing to return home. I made a series of photographs during all of this and I will try to post them here in a way that will help you understand what the last few days were like.

The end of our three weeks in Ireland is always bitter-sweet.  Everyone is exhausted but excited about their projects and their completion.  I think everyone really enjoyed their time together and all that they shared:  new friendships formed, lots of laughs, shared frustrations and highs and lows.  Lots of bonding going on. All in all, a pretty exceptional experience in so many ways.

Matthew and I are very, very pleased with the work of our students.  They worked hard, played hard, and came together to produce exceptional art and music.  They surpassed all of our expectations.  Studio folks worked with the musicians and the musicians offered criticism and support to the studio students. This was an example of connections with depth.  At Wheaton, during the regular academic year, we meet with our students two or three times each week.  This is a traditional approach to academic scheduling.  In Ireland we work with our students for 21 days, at least twelve hours each day.  We teach and learn together, we eat together, we walk and talk together.  Teaching moments are everywhere, from the classroom to the Cafe to the Tea Room.  A great opportunity for our students and an equally fantastic teaching opportunity for Matthew and I.

This was my 4th and last teaching adventure in Ballyvaughan.  I will write one more blog addressing this but for now suffice it to say that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with 61 fantastic kids in Ireland since 2006.  The Arts In Ireland program has been one of the jewels in my teaching career.  Thank you to all of my students who have made it special.

Karl Rivera, Liam Grace-Flood and Nesli Kohen work on the finishing touches of Karl’s installation.


Syd Beck sprays her pen and ink/watercolor with a fixative.
_DSC4246 Morgan Johnson plays one of her original compositions._DSC4249 Matthew Allen, Sophia Darby, Nesli Kohen , Morgan Johnson and Mir Singh perform together._DSC4255 Three songbirds: Sophia, Morgan and Nesli._DSC4294Sophia Darby sings one of original compositions created in Ballyvaughan.
_DSC4280 Karl, listening to a musical performance._DSC4270 Mir is performing one of his originals._DSC4296 Matthew Allen enjoying the work of one of his students._DSC4300 Elise Waelder looks on at one of many critiques._DSC4302 Drew accompanying one of his classmates._DSC4307 Emma Garcelon answers a question about her photographs._DSC4334 Margaret Frothingham responds to a comment about her work._DSC4336 Tianxiao Fu explains the basic concept behind her work._DSC4340 Karl Rivera provides an explanation as to the construction of his work._DSC4348 Sienna provides additional information about her pencil drawing and the concept behind it._DSC4351 Jack Brotherton responds to comments about his sculpture project._DSC4358 Liam Grace-Flood amidst his sculptural installation._DSC4362 Nesli with the Highlands, great local supporters of our program._DSC4414 Our group: Top, L-R: Margaret Robe, Emma Garcelon, Sydney Beck, Drew Sencabaugh, Jack Brotherton, Elise Waelder, Morgan Johnson,Margaret Frothingham, and Liam Grace-Flood.  Bottom row, L-R:  Sienna Van Slooten, Tianxiao Fu, Sophia Darby, Karl Rivera, Nesli Kohen and Mir Singh.
_DSC4421 The real A in I group!!!!!_DSC4425

Todays Photo Album

I have been wandering around making photographs this morning in between reading artists statements, getting people into their printing phase, organizing a million little details, putting out fires and miscellaneous other tasks. All good.

Here are a few images that might help provide a sense of this place and what this program is about. Time, Space, and Inspiration!

Matthew Allen:  My colleague, friend and partner on this adventure.

Matthew Allen: My colleague, friend and partner on this adventure.

Julia Long.  Our main contact at the BCA.  Thank you Julia for all of your help with logistics, and for your friendship.

Julia Long. Our main contact at the BCA. Thank you Julia for all of your help with logistics, and for your friendship.

Finbar!  One happy rooster with 3 ladies to keep him company.

Finbar! One happy rooster with 3 ladies to keep him company.

Margaret Robe.  Super talent.  Absolutely loves having her picture taken.

Margaret Robe. Super talent. Absolutely loves having her picture taken.

Elise Waelder putting the finishing touches on her prints.

Elise Waelder putting the finishing touches on her prints.

Liam Grace-Flood and Jack Brotherton at the computer in a printing session.

Liam Grace-Flood and Jack Brotherton at the computer in a printing session.

Karl Rivera working on his concept statement and tweaking images.

Karl Rivera working on his concept statement and tweaking images.

This picture is special.  Anne (l) and Martina.  These people cook run the Cafe.  Outstanding food and they contribute so much to the spirit of this place.  Thank you!

This picture is special. Anne (l) and Martina. These people cook run the Cafe. Outstanding food and they contribute so much to the spirit of this place. Thank you!

Morgan Johnson.  Outstanding musician and songwriter.

Morgan Johnson. Outstanding musician and songwriter.

lunch with our feathered friends.

lunch with our feathered friends.

The main gallery at the BCA currently featuring the work of Richard Hearns.

The main gallery at the BCA currently featuring the work of Richard Hearns.

Music students working out the last details of original compositions and collaborations.

Music students working out the last details of original compositions and collaborations.

More later folks. Pictures and commentary about our exhibition, final performances and closing ceremonies.

Update from the Burren

Updates from the Burren

On the weather front: clouds, rain, sun, repeat.

We are in “crunch time.” Our closing exhibition is this coming Friday, July 3rd at 1800 hours. The title of our exhibition is “Erratics.” I’m sure that most of you know that an erratic is a large (or small) stone/boulder that has been transported from its natural home to another place via glaciers during the ice age. As the ice melted these boulders were deposited in their new home. The Burren is littered with erratics and for some of us there is a parallel between the relocated stone and 15 relocated students.

Today, July 1st, was a hectic day of trying to complete projects, write artist’s statements, preparing the exhibition space, paint, print, and polish. Studio spaces are in the process of being converted to exhibition spaces, posters are being distributed throughout the area advertising the opening, and everyone has become part of a collaborative effort to finish up successfully. We have one more full day to pull all of this together before artist’s materials, cameras, and artwork are prepared for travel.

We have a tradition that students will prepare a meal for all to enjoy at least once prior to departure. Students are living in three separate houses, each with its own kitchen. Each house is preparing one part of the meal in their kitchen and then everything will end up at one house for dinner. Matthew took a representative from each house shopping this morning for ingredients. Not exactly sure how this will turn out but it has been pretty successful in the past. [update on the update!] The meal was amazing: steak, root vegetables, quinoa cakes wrapped in bacon, mac and cheese, salad, pasta, and ice cream and more.

After dinner, everyone is getting together at O’Lochlan’s Pub where a faculty member from Johns Hopkins will be playing his harmonica and our students will be performing with their instruments and singing. When you think “harmonica” please don’t envision sitting around a campfire with that soulful “home, home on the range” playing in the background. This guy can play and our students match him step for step in the vocal and instrumental department. A great way to blow off a little steam in the midst of controlled chaos.

I will be posting plenty of photographs in the next day or so. Images to look forward to will be: photos of the houses where our students have been staying, our dinner together, preparation of the studio spaces for the exhibition, our opening, musical performances and miscellaneous images that will help you visualize what this experience has been like for our students.

I will also be posting my “Farewell to Ballyvaughan” as my time at the Burren College of Art will end with this Arts In Ireland 4 group. Time to pass the torch.

Ode To The Music Students of “Arts In Ireland”

Our music students pose for a photograph inside the 4th floor of Newtown Castle.  The castle is their rehearsal space.

L to R: Drew, Nesli, Mir, Sophia and Morgan

It’s a brilliant sunny Tuesday 7am on the final week of the class. We’ve got four days now to wrap it up. At the outset: the stellar weather demands a brief mention as more than a bit player in this creative drama of ours. In Ireland one doesn’t need for there to be sunny cloudless skies in order to move about, appreciate the country, do one’s work, or meet people. One just needs not to be subjected to constant deluge à la Noah. So – the great weather we’ve had, which once again appears to be continuing today as I sit here comfortably in a short sleeve linen shirt, has been a great help to us in our work. While the weather can be counted as a contributing factor to the truly substantial progress you musician-composers are making during this trip, it doesn’t begin to explain the variety and depth of musical composition you’ve undertaken, nor the degree to which you have been collaborating with each other both in general as supportive friends, and in specific terms as creative artists – co-authoring and arranging music, and serving as support performers for each other’s final presentations this Friday evening. Yesterday morning in our beginning-of-week meeting I sprung on you the request to devote 20% or so of your remaining creative energy this week to working on one additional new composition, perhaps something quite different from what you’ve been doing already. I saw the raised eyebrows. I know – you’ve already all generated a substantial body of work. Asking for more at this time, when you’ve deeply probed new sides of your musical personalities and challenged yourselves to write in new forms for new groupings of instruments, is audacious on my part. And asking you to do this when you’re deep into polishing and preparing your newly-composed works for this Friday’s opening, doubly so. But you all have shown you’re perfectly capable of coming up with new work in this environment. Several of you have told me how this trip has allowed you to go further than ever before, in an undistracted fashion, in the pursuit of who you are as musicians and composers. That’s just what my colleague Andy and I hoped for when we set up the class – to provide you a clear quiet open workspace, a selection of suggestive stimuli (cultural historical geographical botanical and etc ), and to challenge you to charge into that space with your ideas and dreams.

Music, Music, Music!

P.J. Curtis and the Howley Sisters This past weekend was chock full of music in the Burren. On Friday evening June 26th, Burren resident and music producer/novelist/poet/environmental activist/ radio personality PJ Curtis came and gave us a lecture on Irish instrumental music.

P.J. Curtis

P.J. Curtis

PJ produced records by the the most important Irish bands of the 1970s and 80s, groups such as Planxty and The Bothy Band, and for a long time hosted a national radio show on Irish (and other forms of) music. He demonstrated for us the important instruments used in Irish traditional music, the fiddle, concertina, whistle, accordion, and concert flute, above all stressing the unique importance of the Irish uilleann ‘elbow’ pipes. The sound of the Irish pipes is produced by pumping air into the bellows with a leather sack held underneath the elbow, unlike the Scottish bagpipes and most other pipes, which depend on the player blowing with the mouth into a tube of some kind. PJ discussed how for many Irish listeners, the pipes are the most expressive instrument, carrying the deepest cultural meaning and power. And he stressed the importance of musical families in preserving Irish communities through challenges ranging from historical adversity to bad weather. The next evening, Saturday the 27th, we met one of our area’s most important musical families. We were once again in the Burren College of Art lecture hall where the Howley Sisters from Kilfenora, Tara and Emer, entertained us on a wide range of instruments. Twenty-year old uilleann piper Tara Howley has just released her first CD and is receiving great acclaim for her mature and powerful piping style.

Tara Howley

Tara Howley


Tara and her Uilleann Pipes

Emer Howley

Emer Howley

It’s something of a rarity to see women playing the pipes, however in Tara’s generation there are now quite a few women taking up that instrument and excelling in it. Uilleann pipes are not only difficult to play, they’re difficult to find. Tara told us that uilleann pipes are simply unavailable in music stores – the number of good pipe makers is quite few, and their waiting lists for getting an instrument are long. Tara said that on her second piping lesson with her teacher, he told her “put in your deposit now”! on a set of pipes. She did, and waited eight years for delivery. While Tara played the uilleann pipes, pennywhistle, and concertina, her sister Emer joined her on fiddle and banjo (the third Howley sister, unable to be with us this evening, plays accordion and cello), and a South African musician, David Shapiro, accompanied them on guitar. They played a mesmerizing set that featured everything from slow airs to up tempo dance tunes, and included several of Tara’s own compositions. The Wheaton group were visibly impressed with Tara and Emer, whose great music prepared us all for yesterday (Sunday) evening’s activity, set dancing at Vaughan’s Barn in Kilfenora, to be chronicled by my colleague Prof. Howard.

Critique #1 is History!

We had our first full critique today with both studio students and music students participating together. Students are well on their way to producing some great art work and original musical compositions. Before this course is over we hope to be able to show you some of the artwork and possibly post a few audio samples. Today, each studio student was expected to organize their studio space so that all of us could see their work in progress and listen to their conceptual ideas. This was followed by a Q and A period to allow for clarification and further discussion. The music students performed their work in progress as well, followed by comments from the entire class and suggestions for improving the work. I am posting a kind of gallery tonight to better help you understand what the work environment looks like accompanied by photos of individuals “in action.” Please know that we are doing our best to feature everyone in these blogs. If someone doesn’t seem to be getting adequate “face time” they will before we are through. Enjoy the photographs!


_DSC3973 _DSC3971 _DSC3998 _DSC3954 _DSC3961 _DSC3966 _DSC3970 _DSC3946 _DSC3942 _DSC3939 _DSC3937 _DSC3920 _DSC3925

Margaret Robe