Our community of Hermann lies 80 miles west of St. Louis and 180 miles east of Kansas City. Amtrak also makes two daily stops in Hermann, in either direction. So, for the most part, the majority of visitors coming to Hermann, as well as staying with us at our guest house, the Grapevine Guest Suite, are from these urban areas. It’s an easy trek to make, especially for a weekend getaway, as the drive time commitment is fairly minimal. And for those wanting to start their vacation earlier, boarding the train and heading to the lounge car for drinks can make the trip even shorter and sweeter! We’ll even be there to pick you up and drive you to the Grapevine when you disembark.
We do welcome the occasional guests who decide to take the “detour” off of I-70 and discover Hermann. Maybe they saw the signs along the highway promoting all of the wineries in the area, or they read an article in Midwest magazine lauding Hermann’s German heritage. Regardless, these visitors from Washington State, Georgia, Arizona, to name a few, are always happy they took the twenty minute drive from the highway, winding down into the Missouri River valley, crossing the bridge into this picturesque town. Taking a self-imposed detour is usually far from a waste of time – whether it’s a few minutes or a day or two, the experiences gained can be so fulfilling.
While my husband and I were visiting County Donegal in Ireland last month, I fell in love with some paintings I saw in a hotel lobby in the village of Ardara. The artist was named Stephen Bennett, and the paintings were representations of everyday life in the Irish countryside – farmers putting up hay, old men sitting outside their thatched-roof cottages, musicians gathered around a table in a pub. These are fairly common themes among Irish artists, but these paintings were so bold – strong strokes and vibrant colors that really set them apart.
The next morning, as we’re driving out of Ardara, following the coastline, I saw a sign saying “Stephen Bennett Studio Gallery – Turn Here”, and so, we made our first detour of the day. When we got to his studio there was a small note on the door asking visitors to knock at their home, and so I knocked. No response, and so I knocked again. Stephen’s wife, Bernie, came to the door, apologizing for not hearing us. She was doing laundry, and apparently she needs a new washing machine – when it’s in the spin cycle, it’s so loud that she figures it will just lift off one day and go through the roof. She unlocked the studio for us, and before long Stephen appeared, letting Bernie get back to her jet-fueled wash.
Stephen was not what I was expecting. His artwork is so bold and energetic, almost loud in the use of colors and style. Stephen is just the opposite – soft-spoken and with a gentle demeanor, he is warm and understated. He told us that his father had been born in Ardara, but left for London where Stephen was born. After college, Stephen spent 18 years living in London and working for ad agencies as an illustrator, but his dream was always to return to Ireland. So, fearing for his sanity after working too many years in a highly-competitive and stressful job, he also took a detour. His detour took him back to his father’s birthplace, and it turned out to be a permanent one.
In his studio, he and I found common ground in our admiration of Toulouse Lautrec, the French painter who so well captured the nightlife and seedy underworld of late-nineteenth century Paris. He felt inspired by Lautrec when he moved back to Donegal, painting the ‘loyal patrons’ of the local pubs. He and my husband, Mick discovered they both had a love for public radio – Mick was the consummate volunteer at our public station in Alaska, spinning a variety of different shows whenever he could. Stephen does a regular Sunday afternoon program featuring country music and gospel.
I finally settled on one of Stephen’s limited edition prints called “In the Hayfield”, a painting of a man striding through a field, hayfork in hand, with a small boy running from behind, trying to keep up. The image spoke to me because while it was a scene from Ireland, it could have easily been a field here in Missouri, today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the past. It seemed timeless in its content.
Stephen invited us in to his spacious home while he ran my credit card. While sitting in their living room with a beautiful view of the inlet, his young son, also Stephen (home from school with a sore throat), came in with his new puppy, Hero, to say hello. With Hero crawling all over us, we got a tour of their personal gallery – a touching set of family portraits painted by Stephen, including one of his father shortly before he passed away. Stephen even pulled out a set of blueprints, showing us the plans to expand his studio. If we hadn’t left when we did, we might still be there – they truly welcomed complete strangers into their home with warmth you rarely find from people you’ve known for years.
That little detour certainly wasn’t on our agenda, and we didn’t get as far up the coast that day as originally planned, but our time with Stephen and his family turned out to be the most memorable part of the trip for me. It just goes to show that sometimes a detour is anything but a waste of time.
The view from Stephen's living room