Justin Waldstein

16The artists’ Residency Program at Belmont Mill has been of incalculable value to me. The impact it has had on my work as an artist — as well as on my spirit — has been exquisite and profound. As a native New Yorker, living and creating in the vast countryside of Ireland has been a truly dramatic change; the value of this experience cannot be overestimated for a city slicker like myself. In the initial weeks of rain I felt under attack from the forces of nature, as I slowly adjusted to the blank onslaught of silence, slugs, spiders, goats, trees, bog, horses, cows and roosters that don’t crow at the right hour. As the bustle of New York faded into memory, the creak of the subway made way for the bark of the grouchy rooks in their trees. I was forced to rethink my usual artistic plans and methods and adjust to this new, beautifully primordial environment, and I began incorporating elements of nature into my usual visual repertoire. Drawings of vines, slugs and snails took their place with the figures I usually render. It was a welcomed change, and the stunning Irish countryside is now an permanent part of my visual vocabulary. These muddy elements have taken precedence over the concrete culture I am used to. The residency program also fostered an interaction with Irish history and tradition, the local community of Belmont, and the surrounding towns of Ferbane, Birr, and Cloghan. The Mill itself, with its impressively haunting structures now reconfigured into a new context, along with the craftspeople who also work there, have been an equally valuable asset. Long walks and bike trips along the Grand Canal, where not a soul is in sight for miles (with the exception of cattle), fostered penetrating contemplation of the artistic work I would return to back at the Mill. Ancient monasteries in the region, such as Clonmacnoise, added to the sense of contemplative history and cloistered focus. None of this experience would be possible, of course, without the generosity and vision of Tom Dolan and Sandy Lloyd. Without their transformation of the Mill into a hub of artistic activity and artisinal work, (as well as a beacon for a sleepy community) and their deep interest in the arts, this program and life-changing experience would not be possible. Their hospitality, humor and dialogue was an added benefit to the entire experience. Tom and Sandy’s respect for the creative process, establishment of a comfortable living situation and large studios free of outside interference and structure, encouraged our own artistic discipline to emerge from within while embracing the world of Belmont itself.