Sandra Woods
Art despite pain

In the news

(posted on 19 May 2024)

This past Friday evening was the opening night Vernissage of another art show, the juried annual exhibition of the Women's Art Society of Montreal (WASM). This year's edition is special, as it marks the 130th anniversary of this historic Canadian art organization.
Being presented at the lovely Viva Vida Gallery in Pointe-Claire Village, not far from my home, this show feels much more personal to me than usual; my husband and I have coffee across the street, almost once a week!
Unfortunately I got home later than expected, so missed the start of the Vernissage at 1730 - along with the awards presentations and speeches.
So it was quite a shock when I walked in, and another artist I know told me that one of my paintings had a "dot".

I should mention that each artist in this juried exhibition was allowed to display only two paintings; both of mine are watercolours, in a more contemporary an experimental style for me.
Coincidentally with the recent Northern Lights phenomenon, caused by solar flares & geomagnetic storms, one of them is entitled "Aurora borealis, the Rockies". I say coincidentally, because I submitted my watercolours to this exhibition long before I'd heard anything about this season's extraordinary Aurora borealis.
The other is a Chronic Pain awareness painting, named "One in Five Canadians Lives with Chronic Pain". It features an orange-flame background on which float/fly five bird-like creatures; the orange pain-suffering figure is being ignored by most of the four blue creatures... But one of the blue figures is leaning down to interact with the orange one.
My goal for this piece was to convey the message that anyone can be that one figure/person, showing empathy towards someone living with chronic pain (or any other chronic illness).
Living with an invisible chronic conditions often caused isolation, and that can be prevented - by simple human kindness.

Back to "the dot" - have you been wondering what that meant?
In this exhibition, a red dot beside a painting signifies that it has been sold while a blue dot indicates that it was awarded an Honourable Mention by the Jurors.
When I finally got to my Aurora borealis painting, after touring the rest of the exhibition, I was absolutely thrilled to see a blue dot beside it.
What a truly wonderful way for me to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Women's Art Society of Montreal - Thank you so much to the Jurors!
This art show continues through May 22, 2024 at the Viva Vida Gallery in Pointe-Claire Village; at 278 Lakeshore Road in Pointe-Claire, Québec.
A portion of proceeds of this event will be donated to mental health initiatives at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) hospitals, here in Montréal.

During a late-evening drive from Montréal to Ottawa in the spring of 1989, a friend and I pulled off the highway to watch a stunning natural phenomenon; the Aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. Pulsing across the sky in waves of greens, pinks, and purples, I recall being captivated by this extraordinary sight.
I'd never before seen the Aurora borealis, and we soon found out that this natural lightshow had appeared much further south than usual due to a major geomagnetic storm.
This storm, caused by solar flares, was in the news when we arrived in Ottawa as it had also knocked out much of Quebec's hydroelectric grid and caused a half-day blackout for more than five million Canadians.
Until this past weekend, that night thirty-five years ago had remained the only time I'd seen the Northern Lights.
So when I heard recently that another major geomagnetic storm was expected to once again push the Aurora borealis further south than usual, I scoured local news reports and autonomy websites for details.
The Northern Lights were expected to appear over Montréal Island overnight on Friday, then continue through the early hours of Sunday, but we'd only have clear skies on the first night.
Astronomers advised that this geomagnetic activity would likely make this Aurora borealis more colourful and vivid than usual, as well as pushing it over a much larger area; not only over swathes of southern Canada, but also into the Midwestern US and parts of Europe that wouldn't normally experience this phenomenon.
Even with an almost cloudless forecast for Friday night, experts recommended leaving the light pollution of urban regions and traveling to darker places for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
The reality, though, is that my usual bedtime is about 2200. Living with two different rare diseases means that I rarely sleep well, and keeping the same bedtime is supposed to help.
Before hitting the hay I went outside and looked skyward, but couldn't see anything other than stars in the sky.
At about midnight I was woken by intense pain in my right hand and arm, from one of my rare diseases.
Hoping to finally see the Aurora borealis, I quietly dressed and slipped outside - trying not to wake my sweetheart. With the streetlamps still lit, and several homes in the vicinity bright with excessive outdoor lighting, I still couldn't see the Aurora borealis.
Given the level of pain in my hand, I knew that it'd take at least an hour before I'd be able to get back to sleep, so I decided to drive to a darker area not too far away.
My sweetheart woke as I was getting my keys, and opted to go back to sleep - a decision I think he later regretted, because what I saw was so spectacular!
I headed northwest, over a bridge off Montréal Island, towards a specific spot I knew would be dark - some waterfront farmland on the way up to the Ontario border.
News reports had said that this geomagnetic storm might push the northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see them again.
My destination was a lakefront park, facing north across the water and the forest beyond; a perfect choice. Several other people were already there, and I spent a spectacular hour watching the gorgeous waves of colour ebb, flow, and pulse... and chatting quietly with strangers.

An elder gentleman was letting everyone take a look through his telescope, a young woman with her binoculars; I later found out that they were grandfather and granddaughter. One person was off to the side, wearing a dress that could've been a representation of the Aurora borealis, using a tripod-mounted camera. I approached and complimented the dress, asking if they'd mind some company - away from the haze enveloping the others, who were mostly smoking... something.
We had a lovely one-thirty-in-the-morning conversation ranging from astronomy to birdwatching to gardening, all with our heads tilted upwards to watch the lightshow across the sky.
Every now and then a few camera shots would be taken, then I'd try to capture the overhead scenes using my phone - with no success. My images were dark with a few vague blurs, and I didn't want to ruin my night vision by adjusting the settings.
So my new aquaintance, Émilia, shared a few of her photos with me and gave me permission to post them on my social media; with photo credit to Émilia Goulet (she's taking a break from social media, and asked that I not tag her; she has one of my "handles" in case she changes her mind).

Just before 0200 we'd both decided to head back to our homes, so I helped Émilia stow her photography equipment in her car-sharing vehicle - and declined her offer of a swig of the "super-stong coffee" she'd brought in a thermos.
It was a beautiful and ethereal event, and I'm glad I opted to head to a darker location rather than simply hoping to eventually see the Northern Lights over my home.
I hope you had an opportunity to see this geomagnetic storm in action as well, without any of the power outages or communications interruptions that occurred in 1989.
For more information on this geomagnetic storm, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Company) has a good summary
* Photo credits: Émilia Goulet 11.05.2024, Montréal, Canada.

There's something new on TV this week, free and online, about chronic pain.
The award-winning short-form documentary series, "You Can't Ask That", from the CBC Gem and Accessible Media (AMI-tv) networks, finally created an episode on Chronic Pain to close out Season 3.
Although it was released today, the filming of my segment of this episode was done back in February at Pixcom Productions' TV studio in Old Montréal.
I was filmed alone, as were some others in different cities, and there were also some small groups of two people. Aside from the groups, none of us were aware of the other answers to each question.

Although I was in filming for an hour and a half, the final episode is only 22 minutes long; it will be a half-hour TV show, once commercials are added.
We all answered the same questions, but our replies were edited to avoid having too many people saying the same things in response to each question.
The concept of the series is to ask people living with disabilites and/or health challenges the kinds of impolite or even derogatory questions that many of us have already encountered in real life...
And to give us the opportunity to respond - honestly and sometimes emotionally - in a safe envionment.

The questions are MEANT to be almost confrontational; that's the whole concept of this award-winning documentary series, to have people answer questions that "polite society" would never ask.
From the introduction to the Chronic Pain episode:
"You’re not really disabled, are you? Are you really in pain, or do you just want to get high off pain meds?
These outspoken Canadians set the record straight on the stigmas and realities of chronic pain."

So if you notice me sometimes looking towards the ceiling during the episode, or off to the side, it's because I'm trying not to cry. Because if I'd have started crying then they'd have stopped filming, and I wanted to finish taping the show.
I'm hoping this episode could be a way for people living with pain to start or revive conversations about how they're really doing, with their family and friends, maybe even colleagues and community members.
And to let them know that they're not alone.

You can watch the Chronic Pain episode of You Can't Ask That here:

I got a nice surprise last week, while catching up on art magazines and newsletters after getting my solo show "Watercolours on Two Wheels" set up.
What was the surprise? My tip for plein-air painting was selected for the article "13 Plein Air Pointers", for the May/June 2024 issue of Artists Magazine.
Every now and then the magazine will create an article by asking several of their featured artists the same specific question. They’ll also ask the magazine's artist-readers to respond to the same question, then select a few of these to accompany the article.
Back in January, Artists Magazine asked: "What’s an important thing to know when plein air painting?"
In the May/June 2024 issue, they combined the responses from three featured artists with the Top Ten reader responses in "13 Plein Air Pointers" - including mine.
What was my response - what did I say was "an important thing to know when plein air painting"?
"You can't squeeze the entire 360° view into a single painting!
Pick a sliver of the landscape, using a viewfinder or a photo from your phone, and paint that scene.
Use artistic license to move or remove features that negatively impact the overall composition of a painting; make mountains, people, rocks, streams, trees, etc. part of the composition and rhythm of the piece."
What do you think? Was that a good tip for painting outdoors, en plein-air, the way the Impressionists often did?
Feel free to let me know in the Guest book (comments) section of the website!
You can read this article from the Artists Magazine here - enjoy it!

(posted on 21 Apr 2024)

This post is to say Thank You. To you, for stopping by! To the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning (MCLL), housed within the School of Continuing Studies of McGill  University, for presenting my solo show this semester.
"Watercolours on Two Wheels" opened this past Monday, in The Lounge, and continues through June 21, 2024.
And I'd also like to say thank you for highlighting this show in the Spring edition of the MCLL News.
From the Exhibition Introduction:
"In 2016 I developed CRPS, a rare autoimmune and neuroinflammatory disease with execrable pain and many other symptoms.
CRPS caused my Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in late 2018.
A lifetime art lover, I began learning to paint and sketch in 2021; as DIY neuroplasticity training for my MCI, and movement therapy for my CRPS-affected right hand/arm.
Watercolours touched my soul.
My Art Despite Pain initiative soon began, using my artwork to raise awareness of chronic pain.
With art added to my 'exercise + nature' pain-management tools, I carry watercolour or sketching supplies in a back- or bike-pack.
I adore painting en plein-air (outdoors), when my symptoms necessitate rest stops while cycling; watercolours dry quickly, pack easily.
These scenes are from my rides on Montreal Island, often in nature parks."

Most of all, on his birthday today, I give thanks to my dad. He left us last July, but will be with me always...
It's from him that I got my love of nature and of outdoor sports, as he took me canoeing, cross-country skiing, cycling, hiking, and more as a young child. And he taught me the endurance I need to keep doing these kinds of activities after I developed two different rare diseases.
What we call resilience now, is what he taught me then.
Best of all, his awe and wonder on seeing wild creatures and wild spaces - even in urban areas - never waned. He was the first person I'd call after seeing a wild animal on one of my bike rides, hikes, or snowshoeing treks; deer, egret, fox, hawk, heron, owl, snake, turkey, turtle... it didn't matter which it was, he'd be as excited as I was to know that these creatures were so close to us.
So thanks, dad, for teaching me to see the beauty of the natural world around us; to stop to appreciate it, and to share that wonder with others.
That was, after all, the inspiration for "Watercolours on Two Wheels"; the stunning moments of nature that I get to see while biking around Montréal Island.

One of my favourite quotations is also among the most misquoted or only partially quoted. You've likely heard Alexander Graham Bell's expression "When one door closes another door opens", but that wasn't his entire statement. His full comment was:
"When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us."

In early 2016, I had the absolute pleasure of finding my dream job; a role that combined my recently-earned graduate degree in bioethics with healthcare philanthropy, ethical financial and organizational governance, and a good dose of corporate training and development - building on my military experience as an officer-instructor.
Within several months I was diagnosed with a rare disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) as it had previously been known. Both an autoimmune disease a neuro-inflammatory condition, CRPS primarily affected my right hand and arm, causing issues with the bones, joints, and skin. There was localized oedema or swelling, when my fingers would balloon out like giant sausages. The skin over this area would change colour, from almost pale blue to dark purple, while the skin temperature changed from cold to hot. Red stripes would appear on the skin, over each of my finger joints, and the joints or knuckles became rigid as adhesions seemed to form within them.
If this all sounds painful, it was. It still is, really. The scientifically-validated McGill Pain Index (MPI), used in hospitals and healthcare centers around the world, rates CRPS pain as being more severe than childbirth, kidney stones, or even the amputation of a digit - a finger or toe - without anaesthetic.
Unlike those pain-causing events, though, CRPS pain continues; as high-impact of severe chronic pain. I was vomiting from pain at work, several times each day. I'd carry ziploc bags with me, as I couldn't always make it to a washroom before vomiting. I finally began secretly fasting each day, until I got home from work in the evening, to avoid vomiting in our carpeted office space. There were also some full-body effects of CRPS, like extreme fatigue, and other hand and arm problems like spasms and tremors.
All that time, I hadn't wanted anyone to know how badly I was doing, physically, because I didn't want to stop working - I adored my job.
Looking back, I realize that this approach wasn't sustainable, but I never really got the chance to find better ways to adapt to working with CRPS.
By the end of 2018 I'd begun to experience cognitive issues; problems with my memory and speech were most obvious. Like the time I kept saying "congratulations" instead of "condolences" at a funeral, or "elephants of" rather than "elements of" in a presentation that I was giving at work. Once I found myself outside the door of my home, holding a key in my hand, but unable to figure out how to get inside.
Scary stuff, absolutely terrifying to be honest. Soon after that I was diagnosed with a Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), resulting from the neuro-inflammatory aspect of CRPS. At that point I had no choice but to stop working, to abandon the career that I adored and had worked hard to build.

When that door closed, I took Alexander Graham Bell's sentiment to heart and vowed not to look "so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us."
With my background in healthcare I soon found myself involved in chronic pain patient advocacy, volunteering for projects as a Patient Partner, and raising awareness of chronic pain - which affects an estimated one in five adults in Canada.
Although my MCI requires much more time for reading or writing, and frequent 'brain breaks', I'm still able to help others. Instead of only seeing the closed door of my career, I set my sights on finding out what I might still be able to do.
It wasn't easy, and at first I constantly overestimated my abilities and then had to scale back - which was tremendously discouraging.
But I eventually found a level at which I could volunteer without worsening my cognitive issues.

After reading research on the benefits of art and creativity for both pain and the brain in 2021, I chose to tackle my lifelong dream of learning to paint - with watercolours... often described by artists as the most difficult medium to master.
At the tike, to be clear, I couldn't draw a stick-figure! During the pandemic I immersed myself in live-virtual watercolour classes, to the extent that my MCI permitted, many of which I've continued to this day. And I almost immediately began using my artworks & experiments to raise the of chronic pain, through my Art Despite Pain #artdespitepain initiative.

I joined art associations, took in-person classes and workshops once lockdowns ended, and considered my college and university art history classes in a new light.
Three years on, I've won a national art award, first prize in a City of Montréal art contest (amateur watercolour and gouache category), and my paintings have appeared in more than 30 group exhibitions.
Several paintings that I've donated to charity events have been sold, and two are part of the art collection of a health research centre in Québec City.

Tomorrow will mark another milestone in my art adventure, a door that would have remained closed to me had I focused only on what I could no longer do - on the door than had closed.
My first solo art show opens tomorrow! "Watercolours on Two Wheels" features pieces originating from my cycling around western Montréal Island; plein-air paintings using my bike-as-easel set-up, and studio watercolours based on sketches done during my cycling rest breaks.
A mix of florals, landscapes, waterscapes, and wildlife, to reflect the beauty and diversity of this area; farms, historic buildings, lakes, nature parks, rivers, streams, and even a vineyard!

This solo show will continue through June 21, 2024 at the MCLL Lounge in McGill University's School of Continuing Studies, across the street from the University's main campus. The MCLL, by the way, is the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning:
680 Sherbrooke West, Suite 229, Montréal
(next to the McCord Museum)
Mon-Thu 0900 to 1700
Fridays    0900 to 1500
Closed weekends & evenings.

(posted on 8 Apr 2024)

I usually post "In the News" stories on Sunday nights, but made an exception this week because of the eclipse today.
My husband and I had been planning for this natural phenomenon for quite a while, ever since we realized that our area would be in the "path of totality"; that, if the weather was good, we'd be able to experience the total eclipse.
We blocked our calendars, ordered eclipse glasses from a recommended vendor, and started scouting out good viewpoints within cycling distance of our home.
We decided on the highest point along a paved cycling path, in the middle of a clearing and well away from streetlights or the lights on commercial buildings. As a bonus, we'd have a large forest behind us so could hear whether the birds changed their calls.
This spot worked out perfectly, and the wispy clouds didn't block our views at all. We were happy to have brought warmer clothing, but hadn't expected the temperature to drop as much as it did. My husband brought a thermometer, so we were able to see the temperature drop by 12 degrees centigrade - and quickly ended up wearing all the extra layers of clothing in our bike-packs.
Among all the 'special effects' created by the total eclipse, I thought the "diamond ring" effect was the most impressive. The photo below was taken with my phone's camera; the actual event was absolutely incredible.
There was also a 360-degree sunset, or a sunset effect all around us, which was spectacular.
The bird calls did change, although only during the period of darkness; the colder temperature and rapid rise in humidity stayed long after the entire eclipse had ended.
While waiting for the eclipse to begin, I did some pencil-sketching of the nearby forest. Once the moon started progressively blocked the the sun, I started creating quick watercolour sketches of the different phases - just for fun.

This quick watercolour sketch shows the moon covering about 20% of the sun - viewed with eclipse glasses but then painted without them; standing with my back to the sun.

(posted on 31 Mar 2024)

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, whether it's a Happy Easter, a blessed Ramadan, preparations for Passover, or another event, festival, or holiday, I'd like to wish you a Happy Spring.
I took advantage of the long weekend, with a holiday break from my volunteer activities in chronic pain patient advocacy  and pain research projects, to frame a number of my paintings.
With three art shows coming up, I've been doing quite a lot of painting recently. Not only several new works, I also finished up a few older watercolours that I'd set set aside while I decided how I wanted to finish them.
With almost ten watercolours to frame in a multi-step process, I took over our kitchen island and dining table feom Friday morning through to tonight's Easter dinner.
What are the steps I take, to frame each watercolour? That's a great question!
I'll explain it here, as it's quite different from framing an oil or acrylic painting on a stretched canvas or linen frame.
First I mount each fully-dried and flattened watercolour onto an acid-free and lignin-free mat, using archival-quality framers' tape.
The most challenging step is next, which is choosing the right frame for the matted painting. I keep a selection of solid wood frames at home; most are locally-made, and sold through an independent art supply shop that also houses a gallery. These frames are sold empty, with no glass, so I order museum-quality acrylic panels for each one. There's no risk of injury from broken glass during transportation to and from exhibitions, and the frames are a bit less heavy without the glass. Some art shows have begun refusing to accept glass panels, so this seems to be a new trend.
To select a frame for one of my watercolours, I consider the subject matter, the style of the painting, and the colours. I'll also think about what I was feeling when I planned and painted the piece, which emotions or feeling I wanted to express about the scene.
Based on all of that, I'll pull out a few empty frames and try my painting in each of them. There's often one frame that seems perfect, for a specific painting. I usually double-check by getting my husband's opinion; we're both lifelong museum-goers, and he has a good eye for frames for different styles of artworks.
Once the matted watercolour is safely ensconced in its frame - after I've cleaned both sides of the acrylic panel - it's time to add an acid-free and lignin-free backing board. Depending on the depth of the frame, I'll sometimes add a thicker protective board, to bring the surface flush with the back of the frame.
Next I cover the frame's back with brown paper, to prevent dust or damage. I also find that the brown paper, with folded-under edges, gives a nice "finished" look to my framed paintings.
Finally, I measure each frame to install D-rings in the appropriate locations and run coated framing wire between them. Each end of the wire is carefully twist-wrapped, to prevent slippage and to protect gallery walls.
I believe that paintings should be finished with as much care as is taken in planning and painting them, so my framing process takes a while. They could be framed more quickly, but then I wouldn't be as proud of the results when it comes time to hang the pieces for an exhibition.

The only time I frame my watercolours is when they're destined for an art show, or being donated to a charity event, so it's important to me to that they look their best - even on the back.
Although I take real pride in doing all of this myself, for each of my watercolours, my sweetheart screwed in the D-rings on 6 of these paintings over the long weekend. My right hand and arm are affected by a rare disease called CRPS, and this autoimmune and neuroinflammatory condition was acting up more than usual yesterday.
I started this art adventure a few years ago specifically because of the symptoms of this rare condition, including chronic pain and a Mild Cognitive Impairment, so my artwork is completely intertwined with my chronic pain.
That's also why I launched my Art Despite Pain #ArtDespitePain initiative, raising awareness of chronic pain - and encouraging others living with pain to try creative activities for pain management; brain-plasticity, or neuroplasticity, research has shown that art creation can improve quality of life for people living with persistent pain - and even reduce sensations of pain!
I mentioned earlier that I had three upcoming art shows, all free and open to the public, and the first of these opens this week.

The spring Art Expo of the Artists Circle of the West Island opens with a Vernissage the evening of Friday April 5, 2024, at the Pierrefonds Cultural Centre in Montréal.
Two of my plein-air watercolours will be on display, along with paintings by many other local artists using a variety of styles and mediums:

~ Vernissage (show opening): Friday April 5, from 1900 to 2100
~ Meet the Artists (show closing): Sunday April 14, from 1500 to 1700

The Spring Art Expo runs from Saturday April 6 through Sunday April 14, 2024:
. Thursdays & Fridays: 1600 to 2000
. Saturdays & Sundays: 1300 to 1700
. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, & Wednesdays.

The Pierrefonds Cultural Centre [Centre Culturel de Pierrefonds] is located behind the Pierrefonds Library, at: 13850 Gouin West, in Montréal.
Free parking usually available at the Library.
For those of you who're out-of-town, I'll post photos of my paintings here - after the opening night Vernissage.
Happy spring!

(posted on 24 Mar 2024)

Yesterday I had an up-close encounter with a wild animal, in front of my home.
It was an extraordinary moment, for several reasons.
First off, it's a type of creature that I've often seen while on bike rides in my area - but always along the edges of forests. Not strolling down the street, and up driveways, in a residential area.
Second, because when viewed in close proximity the colours of this animal are spectacular - not something we'd generally expect for this creature.
Third, this sighting was unbelievable because I was actually painting one of those same animals in my home studio when it ambled up our drive!
What was this mystery critter? A wild turkey.

I was adding another glaze or layer to a watercolour painting of a wild turkey yesterday afternoon, from a photo taken while cycling, when my sweetheart yelled to me:
"Quick, quick, come look, there's a turkey on our driveway!"
My husband had seen the painting I was working on, so for a second I thought he was pulling my leg - but there was too much excitement in his voice for him to be joking.

I ran up the stairs, phone in hand, and sure enough saw one of these huge birds shuffling across the drive.
We've never seen a wild turkey in our neighborhood, and definitely never by our home.
So what are the chances of one randomly wandering by, while I just happened to be painting a turkey for the first time?
Absolutely incredible...
After a moment I thought to myself: "No one's going to believe this", so I ran outside - into the snow, wearing only socks on my feet - to snap a few photos.
Often seen lurking in the shadows along forested roads nearby, wild turkeys are not among the world's most beautiful birds.
But when seen in direct sunlight, the different colours of their iridescent feathers are quite surprising.
I'd never have guessed, for example, that they have beautiful shades of pinks and purples on their faces. Or that there's such a range of colours in the rest of their feathers.
While checking their sizes online (ranging from 4.5 to 13.5 kg, or 10 to 30 pounds), I happened upon a news item about local wild turkeys from last week.
It turns out that: "Wild turkeys are moving into Montreal ...  Milder winters have helped spur a wild turkey population boom across southern Quebec".
Apparently we might be seeing more of these big birds in residential areas.
What do you think; is this a beauty or a beast?

Hopefully my painting will be a "beauty", once it's finished, but I'm still several glazes away from completing this one.

On Saint Patrick's Day, I've been thinking back to a wonderful visit to Ireland with my husband a few years ago.I hadn't yet begun learning to paint, or even to sketch, although I was already taking photos with the intention of 'someday' painting them.
As lifelong art lovers and museum-hounds, our visit leaned heavily towards the arts. Similarly to Scotland, we quickly realized that this Celtic country's art and history are interwoven; visits to historic sites often also covered art history. With only a week overseas, we stayed in Dublin and took several day-trips to squeeze as much as we could into our short stay.

Most important to me was a guided coach (luxury tour bus) visit to Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne). Having visited the Skara Brae Neolithic village in the Orkney Isles, north of Scotland, we're both intrigued by these kinds of prehistoric sites.
Newgrange is a Neolithic passage tomb, dating to around 3200 BC, which makes it older than either the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge. Lonely Planet describes this UNESCO World Heritage Site as "one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe".
Not only is it an awe-inspiring construction, it's a monument to megalithic art; many of the stones within this site are engraved with intricate symbols, geometric patterns, spirals, and other carvings.  The Entrance Stone alone is a marvel of overlaid spirals and diamond or square designs.
According to UNESCO, Newgrange is "Europe's largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art."

Back in Dublin, one of my "life dreams" came true when we viewed the Scottish Book of Kells at Trinity College. Written and illuminated on the Isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland in the 800s, this famous tome was apparently taken to Ireland to protect it from Viking raiders - but was never returned. My Scottish grandmother was very clear in her stories, when I was a child, that I should someday visit Ireland to see this "Scottish treasure".
What I hadn't realized was that the "Book of Kells is primarily a piece of artwork", with absolutely stunning illustrations.

We visited a number of other museums combining the arts and history of Ireland: the Chester Beatty; Dublin City Hall Art Gallery; Dublinia; Dublin City Gallery - The Hugh Lane (including Francis Bacon's studio); An Post (GPO) Museum; Irish Whiskey Museum; Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship Museum; National Gallery of Ireland; National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology; and National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History (housed in the 1700s Collins Barracks).

One sunny day we took a train trip out to the picturesque harbour village of Howth. From there, we enjoyed a boat tour to see the Howth Cliffs and the uninhabited - and oddly named - Ireland's Eye island. This rocky isle is a nesting site for many species of seabirds, including gorgeous puffins. After a self-guided walking tour of the historic harbour and village, we took a 7 km coastal cliff walk along Howth Head.
We maintained our tradition of bringing back an artistic souvenir, a more meaningful memento than food or drink (although we did bring some goodies back as well!). While visiting the harbour, we toured Alan McLeod's West Pier Art Studio and fell in love with this triptych. We brought home a limited edition numbered print of the Bailey Lighthouse Triptych, which now resides in our living room. A little bit of Ireland, and a lot of good memories, in this artwork in our Canadian home.

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