• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

That defining moment when I became an artist...

Recently, I was asked to write about a painting that influenced me artistically.


As a little girl growing up in Texas, art museums were about as rare as icebergs. I was always sketching, drawing and painting and caught the eye of a family friend who took an interest and brought me to the Dallas Museum of Art.


This was my first encounter with fine art. When we walked through the doors, prominently displayed in the entrance was the recently acquired; “The Icebergs” by Frederic Church. I was spellbound.


From a child’s perspective, the large painting loomed over me and surrounded me. I was transfixed by the light on the ice and play of warm and cools in the shadows, the rich viridian and blue hues of the water.

I couldn’t tear myself away from this one magical painting, and felt the artist must be nothing less than God’s very hand. How else could he capture something so surrealistically beautiful?

Years later I followed Church’s philosophy of Transcendentalism and studied how the Hudson River School was really America’s first environmentalism movement. I moved to NYC and enjoyed the parks designed by Vaux and other Hudson River School artists, including Central Park.

Soon after, I followed the Hudson River School upstate and began painting the same scenes, changed by time and development, and standing in places where they once stood. I founded a plein air school based on the philosophy of preserving open space and farms through plein air painting called the Wallkill River School (after the Hudson River School, only more localized).

All the while I studied different artists in the Hudson River School movement like Kensett, Cropsey, Bierstadt, Heade, and Cole, and how they impacted culture and the region. Art became more than painting pretty pictures to me, and instead became a means of preserving the natural beauty of a region pressured by development. They began a place-based art movement that I wanted to continue.

I led plein air classes to places slated for development and now lost forever. We painted them, and auctioned paintings to fund sustainable agriculture projects in our area. We partnered with farmers to raise consciousness about the viewshed and the value of preserving small family farms.

Church’s home, Olana, is a state historic site in Hudson, NY and calls to me every year, even though I presently live in Florida. I teach workshops there on plein air painting, as well as Beverly Street Studio School, and other places. When I stand on the hallowed grounds of Church’s home, and see how he situated the house to partake of different views, I am as awestruck with joy and wonderment today as that little girl was so many years ago.


“View from Olana” (Hudson, NY) Pastel 15” sq. 2018


Shawn Dell Joyce began her career as an artist’s apprentice in NY’s SoHo area in the 1980’s. Her entrepreneurial spirit called her North to the Hudson Valley, where she began teaching a series of plein air painting classes in 2000. Her classes became so popular that she hired other artists, and founded a plein air school with an Arts and Agricultural mission based on the historic Hudson River School. The Wallkill River School of Art, a nonprofit arts organization with a mission of preserving agricultural history while creating economic opportunity for local artists brings cultural tourism to the Hudson Valley region through plein air painting workshops and events on local farms, historic sites and open spaces. Joyce has won many prestigious awards for plein air painting, and is a signature member of New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP), and International Plein Air Painters (IPAP), and has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines like the New York Times and Plein Air Magazine. She has participated in many national exhibits and plein air festivals, and is represented by galleries in NY and Florida. She teaches workshops in pastel and plein air techniques across the country, and is included in collections in the Georges Pompidou Museum in France and the Museum of Modern Art in NY.

© 2020 by Shawn Dell Joyce.Shawndelljoyce@gmail.com