Tales of a travel addict: Claremorris is the new Santa Fe


It’s no surprise that the largest art market in America is in New York, nor that the second is LA, but that the third is a sleepy adobe town in northern New Mexico is puzzling.

There is no obvious reason for Santa Fe’s pivotal and profitable role in the art market other than the fact that artists have always been attracted to the clarity of the desert light and the spiritual resonance of nearby Taos, an important shamanic site for Native American Pueblos.

Perhaps Claremorris’s similar position in the Irish art world is also due to the open Connaught skies and the allure of the Marian Shrine in Knock.

What else could have caused a sleepy Mayo town to foster a landmark annual art event, the Claremorris Open Exhibition. For 35 years the town has had a central position in the art world, and its galleries and crafts venues are now more distinctive than its pubs.

It’s a genuine pleasure to enter a lacklustre rural town and be confronted by a range of unapologetically arty shops and flamboyant façades that wouldn’t look out of place in California.

The window of Mindful Productivity glistens with luscious glass beads, handmade jewellery and vibrant items bearing statements such as: “I grá meaningfulness.” Engraved in the window is the invocation “obair + siopa”.

Next door is Stitched In, an emporium of patchwork pieces and coloured woven fabrics. A few doors from it is the Claremorris Gallery, a suave, by-appointment venue that wouldn’t seem out of place in Chelsea.

From next weekend Claremorris will gorge on art for the three weeks of the Claremorris Open Exhibition (coearts.org) with galleries popping up like buddleia bushes, displaying the work of 27 artists chosen from hundreds of entries by Andrew Wilson of Tate Briton.

There will be as many openings as on any Friday night along Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Deals will be made, money exchanged.

Perhaps Mayo’s vast spaces, like New Mexico’s, foster a receptivity to art. For, throughout the rest of the county another artist, Niamh O’Malley, has her work displayed in five separate galleries (featured in Irish Times August 30th. To see the entire exhibition requires a 212km trip.

The landscape along the way should more than compensate – especially the route skirting the Ox Mountains to the northern coast, then the bumpy road across the Nephin range to the Erris peninsula and the lush lost-world stretch through Ballycroy National Park.

A free bus leaves Castlebar’s Linenhall at 11.45am today, returning at 7pm. Before you go, grab a picnic from the revelatory Rua delicatessen and café in Castlebar: its chilli and coriander relish recalls Santa Fe.

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