Art in the Open, Wexford Ireland Plein Air

Wexford Harbour

The festival, a touch of important history, and a taste of local hospitality

Billed as the largest plein air festival in Europe, the  County Wexford Ireland welcomed 120+ painters to their beautiful fishing villages along the south eastern coast along the Irish Sea. Artists from France, Spain, Finland, the U.S., and, of course, Ireland turned out for the event which included 10 days of paint outs, scheduled guest demonstrations, a free art critique, 3 days of competition, a Quick Draw, and plenty of local socializing and culture.

A welcome relief to the overwhelming U.S. heat, I enjoyed the cooler temps and occasional light drizzle in the lovely part of the world. As a painter, my personal approach is to capture the character of a place by interpreting the light of the day and general mood of my surroundings. My work is an expressive response to interpret my visual intention. Many painters with whom I paint at home do this as well. The media may differ, but the general "plein air" movement in the U.S. holds a relatively tight range of painting styles, most closely-connected to realism. One of the most fascinating things to me about the artists represented in Art in the Open, was the diversity of work produced. There were representational artists, surely, a few of whom such as myself who were impressionistic in style and a handful of others seemingly more illustrative in nature. But there were also abstract artists, abstract expressionist artists, and experimental mixed/media artists as well, many of whom received awards for their bold works. I have to say, that it was an interesting adventure for me, after being part of so many events where most of the art looks very much the same.

It's true! Guinness is much better in Ireland.

I cannot say enough great things about the organizers of the festival. Tony and Trish Robinson and their crew of volunteers thought of everything from parking passes to pints. Upon my arrival to Wexford on Wednesday July 27th, I was directed to the White's Hotel for check-in, invited for a Guinness, and scheduled a 'lift' to the paint out arranged for the following day at Kilmore Quay. 

Marsha Savage, Georgia, paints at Kilmore Quay

Kilmore Quay

Kilmore Quay

Kilmore is a quaint harbor filled with colorful fishing boats, shiny mud-flats at low-tide, and fresh-caught fish and chips for mid-day lunch. While not a part of the official competition period, this 'casual paint out' drew dozens and dozens of painters to the little town. Following our afternoon of painting and our lift back to the hotel, we were invited to meet-up for a pint, and to make arrangements for the next day's trip to Enniscorthy. During my trip to Enniscorthy, a tour of Wexford's new Opera House had been scheduled for Mark. Mind you, I had only mentioned briefly that he was a classical musician in an email months ago. The house manager even offered a space in which Mark could practice for several hours. The opera, now in its 60th season, has been in this new modern structure for the past two years.

The town of Enniscorthy, complete with medieval castle, was our first official day of competition.  

Enniscorthy Castel

Scones, coffee, and excited locals there to greet the 87 of us who made the trip to this lovely town. Arrangements had been made for anyone who wished to paint from atop the battlements of the castle, overlooking the town, the River Slaney, and Vinegar Hill. an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launched an attack outside Enniscorthy. The largest camp and headquarters of the Wexford United Irish rebels, it marked a turning point in the Irish Rebellion as it was the last attempt by the rebels to hold and defend ground against the British military. I could have enjoyed painting here for several days! There was so much more to see than I had time. So many people stopping, talking, excited about the festival, and hoping to catch an glimpse of an artist's view of their life. A local gentleman who chatted extensively about art and the interesting impressionist way in which I paint, left for a few moments only to return with a box of hard candies for me. After so much talking, he thought I might need them to keep my mouth moist through the day. 

Paul Strahm, California, painting his winning painting in Enniscorthy

Local musicians at T. Morris Pub

Mussel Boat Pier

The evening's social sponsored by T. Morris pub back in Wexford included three main food groups… burgers and sausages, and beer. Local musicians provided even more flavor to our evening. 

Taking a look toward Crescent Quay

On Saturday morning, artists painted the town of Wexford from its quiet little back streets to Kaat's Strand. Many artists worked along Mussel Boat pier, painted one of the twin churches, or near Selskar Abbey. In a picturesque park along the west side of Crescent Quay, stands a statue of Commodore John Barry. Presented by America to the town, this Wexfordman is deemed as "the true father of the American Navy." Fitting considering that Annapolis, Maryland is Wexford's "twinned city."

The Quay



Fife and Drum Corp at the Bullring

Saturday afternoon's festivities included a Quick Draw competition downtown beside the Pikeman, a statue commemorating County Wexford as the center of the rebellion against English rule in 1798. The streets were literally packed with painters and townsfolk. A Fife and Drum corp played in the bull ring (named from the medieval sport of Bull-baitin), and many of the local businesses sponsored the Quick Draw by offering a prize for the best painting of their establishment. Additionally, there were three top awards given, two of which went to U.S. painters Don Maier, First Place and myself, Runner Up. I have to say it is a lot of fun to be handed a wad of euro for your painting! 

Quick Draw Runner-Up. See my cute blue ribbon? In the foreground is the painting's happy new owner.

On Saturday evening, I had the great pleasure serving as one of three clinicians leading an informal critique and discussion. Artists were invited to bring in works painted outside of AITO competition for professional appraisal and assessment. Again, I was so impressed with the range of styles of work presented for during the two-hour session.

The final day of competition was also spent in Wexford. The morning started rainy but cleared to a beautiful afternoon for painting. Works were submitted early evening to the contemporary glass building of Green Acres which includes a lovely restaurant downstairs, spacious Pigyard Gallery on the second floor, and more gallery and class room space above.

More than 300 guests at the opening at Pigyard Gallery

On Monday Marsha Savage and I took a walk out to paint what is known as "Yankee Harbour," where an American Airbase was established at Wexford. American airmen from the base patrolled St. Georges Channel to search out enemy U-boats. While painting the distant rolling hillside, the harbor, Wexford Bridge, and other spectacular views, hundreds of people were coming into that same are to attend the finals of a huge tennis tournament. One of them stopped by with chocolate-covered 'rice crispy' treats for us.

I would estimate that there were between 200 and 250 paintings hung and ready for sale by opening and awards time on Monday at 4 p.m. The U.S. made proud again with Paul Strahm taking one of the dozen or so awards of the evening. The gallery was packed with people, probably 300 or more in attendance, with not a drop of wine or crumb of cheese in sight. How amazing that so many people came just to view the art!

Following the opening, many of us gathered for an after-party at Thomas Moore's Tavern where once again the giving, sharing, and generosity of these lovely people was overwhelming. 

When can I eat what where???

Laws governing who can serve beer, where you can consume it, and who can serve food and at what time of evening, and were never quite clear to me. At around 9:30 (or, as they say 'half of nine') we tried to order an order of "chips" and were told we could not order any food after 9:00. Although the drinking of beer could go on for hours more. Mark and I left the pub around 10:00 searching for something to eat, only to end up back at our hotel a few minutes later having found none. There, waiting for us at the front door, were two of our new Irish friends, Jane Meyler and Louise Treacy, who had gone to their favorite local "chips" place and picked up a fresh, hot order for us. The fish and chips places boast that they only use new potatoes, making their 'fries' short and stubby rather than long and skinny, and much, much more potato-flavored. Included our the order was something called a "rissole." It is much like our southern, Thanksgiving dressing, with the added ingredient of potatoes, patted like small burgers and fried. YUM.

Michael Drury, California, on Rosslare Strand

Elaine Hurst, Virginia, with toes in the Irish Sea

Painters at Rosslare Strand

David Diez, California

On Tuesday, another open paint out in Rosslare was attended by around 60 or so painters, painting the pebble and sand beach, palm trees (who knew?), and cliffs along the strand in beautiful sunshine. Mid-day our hosts invited everyone to their home on the bluff overlooking the Irish Sea for a barbecue followed by more painting in the afternoon. When we arrived for lunch at Jane's lovely yellow cottage, we were greeted with an American flag flying from one of the utility poles. Such extra touches of hospitality these people think of.  This same host had gone the extra mile to welcome us by learning "Tennessee Waltz" on her guitar. 

Jane's delightful cottage high above the strand

Welcome U.S.A.!

Neil O'Keefe, Michael Drury, Barry Lynch and Tony Robinson on the cliff's edge

One of our other new friends, Neil O'Keeffe, generously offered to give us a lift to the Dublin airport the next morning, which made leaving this beautiful place a bit more tolerable for us. With hugs all around, and more than a few tears in my eyes, I left this place from where my roots most certainly stood firm generations ago.

For more information on the event, to be included in next year's communication, or to see more photos, visit one of these sites: