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RI Archives: Arts

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Donkey Inspiration: ‘Travels With Missie — The Artists’ View’

Missie (as Carousel Donkey), by Susan Edwards

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Kevin O’Hara’s 1979 sojourn with a donkey named Missie has already been well documented. O’Hara, a lifetime Pittsfield resident (and quite proud of it, thank you very much!) who seems to have as many stories to share as he does friends around town, has already written a book (“Last of the Donkey Pilgrims”) about his year-long walk around Ireland with the donkey in question. (That’s in addition to his memoir “A Lucky Irish Lad.”)

But now, more than 36 years later, Missie marches on.

O’Hara retired a few years ago from a long career as a psychiatric nurse at Berkshire Medical Center. In 2013 he started leading annual tours of Ireland, retracing the steps —this time by chartered bus — of his quixotic journey. By happenstance, four Berkshire-based artists went on the tour last year, and had an idea: why not curate a group show of work inspired by their visit? An email was sent from the trip, and a Berkshire gallery committed to the idea before the travelers even got home.

Kevin O’Hara (author, photographer and raconteur), Mike Melle (sculpted the straw Missie), Sue Edwards (artist), David King (artist), Marge Bride (artist), Philip Pryjma (gallerist) and Scott Taylor (artist).

“Travels with Missie—the Artists’ View” is on exhibit at the St. Francis Gallery in South Lee from March 14 through April 12. It includes paintings by four locally based artists — Marguerite Bride, Susan Edwards, David King, and Scott Taylor — plus all sorts of assorted goodies like a life-size straw likeness of Missie crafted by Mike Melle of Plainfield, Susan Edwards’ wood carving of the now-famous donkey that will go on to be part of the Berkshire Carousel, and assorted ephemera and photographs from O’Hara’s original trip.

David King’s Cliffs of Mohar

In keeping with the Irish theme and O’Hara’s gregarious nature, the opening reception on March 14 is bound to be a bit boisterous, complete with live music.

“He wants it to be an Irish party,” Bride says of O’Hara, “and we want it to be an art reception, so we kind of met somewhere in the middle. We said we’re going to have wine and cheese — he said no, we’re going to have Guinness.”

When the artists got home from the nine-day trip, they decided to get busy painting but also to refrain from coordinating with each other. The idea was to respond to their own experiences and then see what happens.

McSweeney Arms, Killarney, by Marge Bride

Bride, who like Taylor keeps an artist’s gallery at NUarts Studios on North Street in Pittsfield, says she did get one pretty obvious clue about what her neighbor was up to. “All I know is, he used a lot of green,” she says.

The show is set to be a lush vision of the Emerald Isle. Each of the painters contributed upwards of 30 new pieces, which include work done in oil, acrylics and watercolor.

Aside from his four-legged companion, O’Hara’s journey was a solitary one; in-between visits to farmsteads and pubs where, he says, he was greeted warmly once anyone caught sight of the donkey and apprised his earnestness. Through years of storytelling, and now bus tours and this art show, he’s able to share the experience with his friends.

“The only regret I had in my donkey travels was I wished I had a bleacher section on each of my shoulders to have all my friends there, so I could turn my head and show them the most beautiful vistas and countryside imaginable,” he says. “It was sort of heart-wrenching in ways. I did have my dear donkey, but she didn’t pay much attention to the sunsets.”

Scott Taylor’s Pastureland

Sunsets, landscapes, seascapes, architecture: “Travels with Missie—the Artists’ View” will share a great number of these views, straight from the Emerald Isle.

“Travels With Missie — The Artists View”
Artist Reception & Celebration: Saturday, March 14, 2-6 p.m.
St. Francis Gallery
1370 Pleasant St., Rt. 102, South Lee, MA
(413) 717-5199

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/10/15 at 08:12 PM • Permalink