When a sudden frost ruined the Texas citrus farm that Montgomery-based artist Shawn Dell Joyce grew up on, it split her family in different directions. The farm girl who "began drawing before she could even talk" moved north in the 1980s and became a part of New York's East Village art scene. "I had some success, but there wasn't much heart and soul in that scene," she explains. "It was pretty vacuous and I wanted to be where I felt a sense of place. I happened up here on a motorcycle trip and fell in love with Orange County."
She soon moved to Montgomery, opened a studio, and started giving plein air painting lessons. They grew so popular, she was able to receive a grant from Orange County Tourism to hire extra teachers. From there, she opened the Wallkill River School, a school of art and activism, rooted in the same philosophy as the Hudson River School painters—preserve natural land by showing people the importance of its beauty and the beauty of its importance.
"The Hudson River School artists are our forebears," she says. "They tried to raise awareness to stop railroads and iron mills throughout the region. The Wallkill River School takes that philosophy and localizes it. We work with land trusts and farmers to raise consciousness about their needs to the public, and we do it with our art," she says. Joyce's main medium is pastel and her paintings are shown in museums and collections around the world. But she says her proudest achievement is in her work with the school. "There was a student who took classes as a child; he's now one of our teachers," she explains. "Seeing young people with the same passion becoming the future; that's something I'm proud to contribute to. To make something bigger than myself—something that lives on beyond me." Joyce's work can be viewed online at Shawndelljoyce.com. Learn more about the Wallkill River School: Wallkillriverschool.com.