The Good Life France talks to an artist in France in love with and inspired by the colours and landscape, the rural ways, the people and the pace of daily life in Boussais, Poitou-Charentes, in south west France…
Grace McKee and her husband Phillip moved from the UK to the US when as pathologists they were invited to work at renowned Harvard University in 1998.
Although they loved it there, the “horrendously cold winters” made them miserable and they moved “to the other temperature extreme – Arizona”. Grace gave up work when she found that her UK and Massachusetts licence wasn’t recognised in Arizona and took an art workshop which was to change her life. She found that she absolutely loved to paint.
After that she says that she “painted every day and was lucky to have my work in several shows and galleries in the States and in Ferrara in Italy”.
In the spring of 2013 Grace and Phillip decided to move to France.
Before moving to the US, Grace and Philip loved visiting France and had bought a farmhouse in Gascony which they thought would be perfect for their retirement, but when they moved to the US they had sold it “as it was just too far to visit regularly with only three weeks annual leave a year!”
Grace never forgot her dream of retiring to France though and when she visited Poitou-Charentes at the beginning of 2013 the couple found the perfect place in Boussais which they bought as a holiday home. Returning to Arizona, the searing heat started to build up and Grace says they “decided to move to La belle France” taking their ten year old cats with them.
Life in France is very different from the life they had in Arizona but Grace says “we don’t miss the mod cons and large houses we’ve had – except the snazzy bathrooms!
“The new bathroom is being tiled and the new electric water heater should soon be connected. I might even miss the sudden drop in water temperature while showering each time the temperamental gas pilot light goes out, usually when my hair is covered in shampoo and it is impossible to open my eyes! Oh well! It is still better than roasting at 111 deg F in Arizona!
“The area around us is a haven of tranquillity with farms, fields, vegetable plots, beautiful walled gardens, a cherry tree in almost every yard, goats and donkeys in neighbouring fields and birds twittering in the trees from dawn to dusk. We are in a small hamlet (L’Hopiteau), which is a commune of Boussais and we have a courtyard with flowerbeds along the walls. I have replaced the knee-high weeds with a fig tree, a gooseberry bush, a grapevine, a climbing rose, a pink magnolia, strawberry plants and nasturtiums…”
Grace says that their French neighbours have been very welcoming, sharing garden advice and fruit and vegetables from their gardens, one farmer gave them so many cherries Grace said thank you by giving him one of her paintings – a bowl of cherries of course.
“Our neighbours are friendly French farmers who tolerate our broken French and who wave from their massive tractors as they thunder past, utilizing every possible hour of sunshine between periods of heavy rain. I love hearing the kids calling out ‘Bonjour’ as they cycle past. We have our favourite cafés and love the fresh food, especially the little ‘garriguette’ strawberries – misshapen but delicious. No more processed foods with cinnamon in almost everything!
“When my computer and painting supplies arrive, I will be painting again every day, starting with the lovely scenery around us and then other places in France.”
Grace is planning to paint small canvases quickly, she says that larger oil paintings can take two days or even a week “I am doing little water colours at the moment as my next big project is a sketchbook with paintings and descriptions of our beloved France – There are so many beautiful hay bales just waiting to be painted!”
See more of Grace’s paintings: Art by Grace