SAN FRANCISCO – April 16, 2014 – Seduced by the romantic notion of living a carefree life abroad, many people dream of moving to the South of France to eat, drink, and explore the countryside. Most people don’t then decide to move to France, revitalize a forgotten water mill, host an artist-in-residence program, and start a new career. But that is exactly what Judy O’Shea, a San Francisco installation artist, did with her husband, Mike. Now, O’Shea has collected her vivid journal entries and letters to her beloved sister, Linda, into Water Paper Stone, a memoir that immerses the reader in life in the heartland of France. Water Paper Stone: Letters from a Mill in France is now available for purchase on Amazon.com in softcover for $17.95 and as an e-book with more than 100 photos for $9.99. The book can also be ordered through local bookstores.
“A lot of people ask themselves what would it be like to buy a ruin overseas, restore it, and actually live there. I had wondered and dreamed about it, too,” says O’Shea. “It wasn’t until my sister, Linda, was handicapped by a stroke when she was only 46 that I found the courage to act on my dream. This book revisits my journey in France through letters to Linda, telling her about the crazy joy of it all, along with journal entries that capture the reality, frustration, and sometimes heartache of that time.”
Judy and Mike begin their adventure with the purchase and restoration of a water mill—La Pilande Basse—on the outskirts of Plaisance, a village of fewer than 100 people in the steep hills of the Aveyron department of France, Roquefort cheese country. During the restoration of the mill, Judy evolves from a corporate businesswoman to an installation artist, having decided to start a new career in art after 25 years in biotechnology start-ups. Inspired to share with and learn from other artists, the O’Sheas create an artist-in-residence program and host more than 30 artists from France and the United States during their 17-year stay in Plaisance.
Knowing no French, the O’Sheas work side-by-side with local artisans to restore the mill, learn the language, the culture, the regional cuisine, and the secrets of a French garden. They become fixtures in the town of Plaisance as they contribute to the social fabric of the community, its people, and ultimately its legacy.
Francophiles, travellers, foodies, artists, and art enthusiasts will all find something to relate to in Water Paper Stone, as O’Shea relives each scene in vibrant detail and explores the challenges, joys, and cultural meaning of the area’s people, art, language, and food. The story of these years is told with a humor and self-effacing charm that makes this memoir a joy to read.
“Water Paper Stone is an entirely satisfying French feast of a book, essential fare for anyone who has contemplated a mid-life adventure in another country and culture. The beautifully written, hilarious, and sometimes heart-wrenching details of the O’Sheas’ 17 years in Southwest France—who they met, what they ate, how they achieved the daunting renovation of an ancient mill, and created art along the way—are related both in journal entries and delightful but unsparing letters to Judy O’Shea’s sister back home in the States,” says Mary-Rose Hayes, author of What She Had to Do.
Judy O’Shea will present Water Paper Stone: A Walk-Through Book, an art installation celebrating Water Paper Stone, at the San Francisco Center for the Book from Sept. 4through Dec. 5, 2014. The installation will include art by 18 of the French and American artists who participated in the artist-in-residence program at La Pilande Basse.
Water Paper Stone: Letters from a Mill in France
Publication date: Feb. 14, 2014
Page count: 412
About the Author
Judy O’Shea is an installation artist and author based in Northern California who has built successful careers in both the corporate and art worlds. She sustains an active schedule of art installations and curating in the U.S. and France. Her installation celebrating her first book, Water Paper Stone, will be shown at the San Francisco Center for the Book Sept. 5 – Nov. 30, 2014. For more information, visit