Impressions of France
Riverside workshop refreshes, inspires artists
BY KATHERINE CALOS
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Sunday, July 23, 2006
In a remote part of France, on a road that doesn't appear on
maps, along a stream that once fed Roman aqueducts, in a stone
mill that's now a house, a Richmond-based group of artists came
They found it in a workshop on "French Countryside Painting:
Micro-Macro View." For 10 days in May, Emma Lou Martin,
a founder of Richmond's Uptown Gallery, transported her technique
to The West Mill in the south of France west of Avignon.
Like a growing number of Americans, the nine women and one man
opted for a more in-depth, personalized experience in Europe
rather than a fast-paced tour group.
"The big buzzword is 'experiential' travel," said
Nora Brossard, New York spokesperson for the European Travel
"More and more, people are getting away from the standard
'travel around by air-conditioned bus and check into a motel
and do sightseeing.' This is an interactive age and everyone
wants an interactive experience. They want to learn something,
to feel that they're enriching their lives, that they can get
more out of it than they put in."
That's certainly the way the Richmonders described their experience.
In September, you'll be able to judge for yourself when the
fruits of their experience fill an exhibition at the Uptown
Gallery, 1305 W. Main St. The opening reception on Sept. 1 will
be part of the First Fridays Artwalk. Kirsten Sachwitz Apple
of Alexandria, owner of The West Mill and self-described as
a "hobby artist," will contribute some of her work
Some of the artists completed several pieces during their time
in France. Others soaked in the experience and made sketches
to use when they returned home.
"It was a wonderful adventure, painting in a scene that
I had not been to before," said Helen Sanders of
Midlothian, who painted six oils and three watercolors on location.
"The neat thing is, we were away from the tourist area,
totally away, close to a little town at a little mill on the
Gardon River. The marvelous thing was the scenery, the ambience,
the buildings, the people, the greenery. The beautiful poppies
"It gave me a wonderful rebirth, a burst of energy, a burst
of enthusiasm. . . . The place was like that it kind of spoke
Linda Reynolds of Richmond never set up an easel. She made some
sketches, several of which already have turned into framed canvases,
but she also created art in the river.
"The rocks were fascinating to me," she said. "I
did a small installation there inspired by the pink quartz.
. . . They didn't look very vibrant when dry, but when you put
them underwater the color intensified.
"Everybody seemed to get a kick out of it. They would add
to it when they found a rock that had red and pink in it."
Bob Harper concentrated on photography, some of which is on
today's pages. He also is using his photography in collages
and to illustrate his travel haiku poetry.
Apple, the mill's owner, had planned an itinerary that took
the group to art-rich cities such as Arles, where Van Gogh painted,
and Aix-en-Provence, home of Cezanne. She bought easels and
stools for the group to use, arranged for a neighborhood couple
to bring breakfast and lunch every day, and made reservations
for evening meals in nearby towns. She provided a van for them
Apple had bought the mill during the four years she worked in
London, in part because she didn't think she'd ever have the
half-million dollars it would take to buy an apartment close
to London. Some friends bought a farmhouse in France for about
$50,000, and "I thought, 'I can afford that.' It started
my creative juices flowing," she said. For the next year
and a half, she went to France about once a month, looking for
the perfect place.
"The interesting thing about this property," she said,
"I ended up purchasing it never seeing the inside. I fell
in love with the river and the beauty around it. It didn't matter
if I had to redo everything on the inside."
The house hadn't been lived in for a year, so there was a lot
of cleaning up and painting that had to be done. After that,
she started doing a major project almost every year -- redoing
the pool, upgrading the electricity, converting a former bread
oven room into a bathroom. The property now has seven bedrooms
and three and a half baths.
She's been renting it out by the week, similar to a beach house.
The Richmond group's workshop was the first time she'd planned
a full program. It went so well that two other art workshops
are scheduled for spring with different teachers.
"I hope as these workshops continue, I'll be able to join
some of them and do some of my artwork," she said. "Right
now I'm just coordinating it."
She visited most recently last Christmas when she took her 3-month-old
baby along and was joined by a sister-in-law who had a 9-month-old
baby. Apple will return in September with a different sister-in-law.
"I go once or twice a year and whoever wants to go, can,"
Sanders, the Midlothian artist, was glad she had the experience.
She raved about the food, as might be expected in France, and
also about the people, which some might consider a surprise.
"Everyone was extremely kind and nice and friendly,"
Sanders said. "You hear these stories of French people
not being nice to Americans, and it's just not so."
For Sanders, the peak experience was connecting with Cezanne's
mountain in Aix-en-Provence.
"He painted it over 65 times from different angles. It
just stands up from the landscape. It's like a huge sculpture
that's been created over millions of years. He was just enthralled
by it. He often said he wanted to die painting the mountain.
I can see why."
Traveling as an artist made the trip more than a tour.
"You read about people going places, but normally they
just tour," Sanders said. "We went with a purpose.
Particularly if you go as an art person, you're interested in
the way things look, the landscape, the people. You're not just
looking at the history but at the composition [of a scene].
"You have an instructor, which is fine. But you can also
go off on your own and do as much or as little as you wish.
It's not that today I'm going to teach you to paint a tree.
You can paint a mountain if you like."
That would be Cezanne's mountain. It's her favorite image from
the trip, "painted on the spot, very quickly, more of a
It's a continuing inspiration from a trip that aspired to be
just that. And succeeded.
Contact staff writer Katherine Calos at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (804) 649-6433.