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Allison Doherty - Atelier Montmiral 2009 Travel Journal and Photos
I began this journey in Toulouse, France’s fourth largest city, where I spent several days wandering and sightseeing. In ancient days, Toulouse (then Tolosa) was the unofficial capital of Occitania; in the Middle Ages, it was the capital of Languedoc. Now the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region, an Occitan cross is embedded in the cobblestones of the enormous square facing the Capitole de Toulouse. Nicknamed la Ville Rose (the Pink City) because of its pinkish-terracotta brick architecture, Toulouse has numerous cultural sites and museums to explore, including two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Basilica of St Sernin, owing its significance to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, and the Canal du Midi, a remarkable feat of engineering built between 1667 and 1694 linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Toulouse’s early economic fortunes were mostly based on a plant-based blue dye known as pastel, which was exported throughout Europe. The wealthy pastel merchants began building grand town houses, and both architecture and the fine arts flourished. My time in Toulouse was capped by a tango ensemble’s performance in the cloistered gardens of St Sernin, and a long, pleasant stroll along the Canal du Midi.
Taking a bus back to the airport to collect a rental car, the next part of my trip took me away from the Pink City and towards an artistic residency located within an ancient village. Enroute, I paused in the hamlet of Rabastens to visit Notre-Dame du Bourg, another UNESCO World Heritage site containing 13th and 14th century frescoes, situated along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Located within the Tarn region, the beautiful medieval village of Castelnau de Montmiral—‘un des plus beaux villages de France’—is perched above the surrounding countryside and therefore visible long before arrival. Popular with summer tourists, the village is a bastide (fortified new town) built to replace the one destroyed in the Albigensian Crusade during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Atelier Montmiral, beautifully restored, had once been the village school and occupied a prominent position in the heart of the village, with wonderful views across the valley from its high vantage point. The interior was comprised of a spacious studio area with facilities and equipment for drawing, painting and printmaking, with a small dining room and kitchen at the back. British hosts/owners Mick and Bunny Newth, artists themselves, offered comfortable accommodations above the atelier and were responsible for its remarkable restoration. There were several other artists here during my time, most from Britain and one from Norway. Each of us staked out a corner of the atelier and kept an eye on each other’s progress. Every morning and evening we gathered together at the long, narrow dining table for wonderful food cooked by Bunny, local wines “discovered” by Mick, and long discussions about art and life. Once, a local farmer stopped by to offer vegetables from his garden, along with lavender-scented honey, which was graciously accepted and gratefully eaten the same day.
Castelnau de Montmiral was surrounded by verdant farmland in shades of yellow, orange and green, with wheat and sunflowers among the primary crops. Numerous walking trails offered opportunities to explore on foot; indeed, one could walk to other villages, as well as to a prehistoric site containing a dolmen. The weekly market set up in “main street” each Tuesday, and offered ample opportunity to purchase locally made, grown or raised items. We had “front row seats” for the market, as we could check out the activity from the front windows of the atelier before actually strolling down the street to check it out. A summer music festival in the small, main square brought people from miles around to listen to music and eat communally at the outdoor tables set under the ancient arcade. Eventually, the entire village appeared to be on its feet dancing till late in the evening.
I created work here in hopes of echoing the soul of this place. “The Barn Below,” the largest piece, is a “portrait” of a barn I fell in love with and dreamed of buying. Surrounded by fields of sunflowers and magically sited just below Castelnau de Montmiral, I happened upon it while out for an early morning walk. The barn had been partially renovated, and I returned often, as though on a pilgrimage, attempting to see it from all angles to feel how it might be to live there. Attempts to contact the absent owner were futile but the spirit of the place stayed with me. Another piece, “The Village Above,” captured the long view from the barn up toward Castelnau de Montmiral, and I completed all of the preliminary sketching for this piece on site. This mixed-media piece occupied most of my time at the Atelier.
It was wrenching to leave the atelier, the wonderful people I met and worked alongside, and the energized, work-filled days of the studio. Sadly, Atelier Montmiral has been sold and is now closed.
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Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
 
Allison Doherty Travel Photos - Atelier Montmiral, 2009
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