Gearing up for August in West Cork

August has roared into West Cork bringing gorgeous weather and a plethora of can’t-miss events. I am wrecked already and we are only a week in! As I type we are in the middle of the marvellous West Cork History Festival. Yesterday Micheál Martin, our Taoiseach, came for the afternoon, as he has done several times in the past. He’s a former history teacher and very supportive of our Festival. He spoke compellingly in a few introductory remarks about our need for a nuanced view of Irish history, one that no longer depends on a single narrative. It was an honour to have him there – no fuss, very discrete security detail, and giving us his whole attention. (Above, Simon and Victoria Kingston, visionary Festival Founders, with their children Rory and Constance, and An Taoiseach.)

The theme of the first day was Black 47 – its the 175th anniversary of the worst year of the Famine – and I am struck anew by the horror of it all (That’s Lilian Lucy Davidson’s harrowing depiction, titled Gorta, above, which featured in the Coming Home Exhibition in Uillinn in 2018). Take a look at the Festival Program to see the range of what we were offered today. It’s a blended festival this year: a small in-house audience but anyone can register for the program online. It’s a high-quality production too – several pony-tailed and bearded young men in black were in command of all that. You can still buy tickets for the online portion – they will be good for two weeks. The luminous Jessie Kennedy, a long-time Festival collaborator, has assembled the Celestial Quartet, and together they have devised a selection of classical and newly-composed music to honour Agnes Clerke, the famous astronomer who grew up in Skibbereen during the Famine. Read all about her in my post From Skibbereen to the Moon.

The festival continues today with an emphasis on the Bandon Valley Killings – a traumatic episode in our West Cork History that deserves a full examination 100 years later. 

On a more cheerful note, yesterday marked the opening of what is consistently the best art and craft show in West Cork, year after year. It’s called West Cork Creates, is located in the O’Driscoll building in Skibbereen, and is curated by Alison Ospina and her jury panel. The calibre is as high as you will find anywhere. Above, for example, is Hilary Nunan’s work, which mixes fibres with acrylic paint – these are titled Grasses. Below is New Age Medieval, a painting by Carin MacCana. I wrote about Carin’s stained glass work in this post – she is now retired from teaching and has stated to devote her time to painting. She and Penny Dixie share an extension of the Gallery for their own show as well.

Dubhaltach Ó Colmán has several striking metal sculptures in the show (above). His work goes from strength to strength. But perhaps our favourite were the two deckchairs below, reclaimed by Suzanne McGuirk and covered with her own exquisite organic linen woven fabric. They are soon to grace the terrace of our own home!

In Schull, the Blue House Gallery has just opened an exhibition of work by John Doherty. A photorealist painter, John’s work draws you in initially with its detailed representation of everyday objects: it’s nostalgia, you think at first, before it dawns on you that, as the Taylor Gallery says of his work: His images, coupled with the wry wit of their titles, point towards the human stories that exist behind the facades that represent a meticulous  examination of the half-forgotten life of the past. No, that’s not a photograph, below, of Connolly’s of Skibbereen – it’s one of John’s paintings.

And in our small village of Ballydehob we have not one but four exhibitions, all worth visiting right now! Starting from the top of the main street, let’s first drop by The Working Artists Studio, who are currently hosting the sculptor Denis O’Connor. He’ll be giving a talk on Friday and we intend to be there.

Of his work he says: 

Process and Making are central to my sculpture, working in an intuitive, physically dynamic way, trying to develop new ways of defining my language of sculpture.  I work with the medium of steel towards creating physical forms [rocks and boulders] which begin to transcend a sense of how elements of the landscape are made but also its physical vulnerability and hostility.

Just down the road is the Ballydehob Arts Museum. Robert wrote last week about the unique exhibition of Lynn and Ian Wright’s ceramics – everyone who visits enjoys their humour and skill.

Next door down is Rosie’s Pub, where the art-loving proprietors, Noel and Chris Camier, host regular shows all summer in their Aisling Gallery above the pub. The current show is the Ten Hands Group – ten Artist/Makers at the top of their game coming together for a marvellously-curated show. That’s the ten of them, above.

Finally, a new-ish addition to the village, the Kilcoe Studios is hosting Timpeallacht (it means surroundings or environment) in which all the items have been made from local and natural materials.

There’s more – much more – but this will give you a flavour of how we are spending our time right now. Next up for us is the superb Ellen Hutchins Festival. No wonder I’m exhausted – and blissed out. I will leave you with a ‘Head’ from the indefatigable Angela Brady – regular readers will remember we took a glass workshop with her.

Working With Glass

Finola and I went to a workshop on creative fused-and-painted glass. It was wonderful! We were guinea-pigs in that the glass artist – Angela Brady – was keen to try running an event and we were privileged to be invited, joining our friends Brian and Clair Lalor.

Top: that’s Angela introducing us to the medium of glass and showing us some of her own work. Centre: she’s encouraging Brian to turn his artist’s mind to the possibilities of the material. Above: Angela Brady and Robin Mallalieu (who are also architects) have taken over the former Brush Fire Pottery, just outside Ballydehob. This was the home and workplace of dynamic artists John and Noelle Verling, who bought the Gurteenakilla premises in 1973 and lived and worked there for very many years. John died in 2009 and Noelle now lives not too far away. To spend the workshop day in such hallowed surroundings added to the ambience, and could only have inspired us in our artistic endeavours!

Back in the 1960s – the heyday of the Ballydehob Artists’ community – the pottery at Gurteenakilla was established by Christa Reichel who – together with her partner Nora Golden – went on to set up the Flower House on the main street in the village as a gallery and meeting place for the artists. They painted the vivid facade of the Flower House (the photo below dates from 1963, and is reproduced with the permission of Andrew Street): similar decorations were applied to the Brush Fire studio, where they survived and are now being restored by Angela and Robin.

Below the Flower House picture is Nora Golden outside the studio at Gurteenakilla; and here are pics of Robin painting the studio building, and Angela’s restoration of the Reichel / Golden decorations. But back to the job in hand: in these venerable surroundings we learned how to cut glass, paint on it and prepare pieces for the kiln. We all had our own ideas: Finola and I decided to paint glass tiles with ancient motifs: Rock Art from Ireland and Scandinavia, some thousands of years old. Brian chose to use cut glass to enhance one of his exquisite sketches, while Clair was perhaps the most ambitious, planning a flower from cut pieces of glass which would require two sessions in the kiln to allow it to be ‘slumped’ to a three-dimensional shape. My view is that all the pieces were equally successful in their execution (but I am prejudiced!)

Top: Angela instructs Finola in the technique of cutting glass shapes, although Finola chose to use glass paint to reproduce some of her own Rock Art images traced during her studies in the 1970s. Above: Clair cuts and assembles a flower shape.

Top: my own pieces: on the left are attendants pushing the sun across the sky, while on the right is a ship carrying souls to the land of the Gods under a potent sun. All these Bronze Age images are found in Norway. Above, Brian working on his cut-glass sketch.

Artists at work in the studio – and the kiln room at Brush Fire. Before going in the kiln, we laminated our pieces with additional glass, to provide a stable background and – in some instances – colour. The firing is carried out overnight at a temperature of at least 760 degrees C. During that time the glass fuses and – hopefully – does not crack.. Angela was firing some of her own pieces at the same time: if you went to the West Cork Creates exhibition in Skibbereen during August of this year you would have seen many examples of Angela’s brilliant work, together with the work of other artists using glass as a medium.

In Angela’s studio are many reminders of past times. John and Noelle Verling specialised in fish imagery – here’s the Brush Fire Ceramics sign that they made back in the day (above – since presented by Noelle to the Ballydehob Arts Museum), while above that is one of Angela’s glass pieces which pays due respect to her predecessors at Brush Fire. Below is a quirky example of Angela’s experimentation: she collected some interestingly shaped bottles from the recycling centre, and fused them together in the kiln:

The following day, Angela took our pieces out of the kiln once it had cooled, and washed them (above). Then we assembled at Nead an Iolair for the reveal. Thank you to Robin for the photos. Clair’s work had to be refired to allow it to ‘slump’, so that was unveiled later on.

Pieces (top to bottom) by Brian, Finola and myself. And – to finish as we started – Clair’s magnificent flower – before and after the second firing! Thank you to Angela for enabling each one of us to experience this most satisfying process. We would all like to take part again another day – and expand our new-found skills!

West Cork Creates 2021

I never fail to come away on a high from this annual exhibition, and this year just confirmed that all over again! It is packed with swoon-worthy pieces, like Paddy McCormack‘s Whale Rider seat, above.

Mary Ffrench, Embroidery on Monoprint

The divide between ‘art’ and ‘craft’, although useful in some ways, can pigeonhole work that does not fall neatly into one category or the other. This annual juried exhibition gloriously transcends any artificial dividing lines and instead celebrates all that is best in the West Cork visual arts scene.

Brendan Ryan, Raku, The Old Mill; Bernadette Tuite, Sculptural Stoneware, Brow Head

Take a look at the website for bios of and statements by each of the artists. There’s a dizzying variety of approaches, materials and visions, but all are responding this year to the theme of Home Ground – and it’s not hard to relate, as we have all become so much more aware of our own patch of ground, and have taken to exploring all that it has to offer.

Greenwood chair by Alison Ospina with fabric by Mary Palmer (and in the background large jugs by Etain Hickey and Jim Turner; Kira O’Brien and her ceramic and hand-printed fabric piece ‘You+Me=Home’

It’s all for sale, too, with some very keen prices, so if you are looking to bring home a piece of West Cork, this is the place for you. The most lustworthy painting in the exhibition, to judge from the reaction of everyone who comes in the door, is Christine Thery’s Vanishing Island (below), a large oil painting of her beloved Heir Island.

Helen O’Keefe’s terroir is another Island – Long Island – and she captures the sometimes nostalgic emptiness of it all in her paintings, although the large one below shows her responsiveness to its vibrant colours as well.

Lots of jewellery too – Here is one of Michael Duerdon’s gorgeous brooches – Garden Shed. (If a particular person out there is wondering what to get me for Christmas…just saying.)

And glass! As someone who studies and writes about stained glass, I was delighted to see such a variety of glass this year, from classical stained glass, to fused creations.

In descending order: Deirdre Buckley Cairns stained glass inspired by the Calf Islands; Angela Brady’s witty ‘Ant Colony’; A vibrant kiln-fired plate from Trish Goodbody; Maura Whelan’s West Cork Wall, and a detail from that piece

Jim Turner and Etain Hickey each have their own ceramics in this show, but they have also collaborated on several items, including beautifully decorated large jugs (above, upper). Etain has been inspired by her lockdown walks this year to produce a set of wall plates in glowing reds and blues, all angles and arcs, illustrating the agricultural life around her (above, lower).

Geoff Greenham is one of my favourite local photographers and I love his approach to the theme this year – juxtaposing the old and new in his series on Skibbereen. Below is ‘Bollard’. Although the exhibition space, in the O’Driscoll building by the River, is superb for exhibiting, it’s not great for photography, so my apologies to Geoff and others for the reflections in some of my images.

Geoff Greenham and Sonia Caldwell were standouts for me last year, when West Cork Creates was solely online, so I will finish with Sonia’s sculpture in this year’s show – another one of her thoughtful, brooding figures which showcases her mastery of technique.

I have only shown a tiny fraction of what’s in the Exhibition. It’s on for another two weeks, until the 28th, so make sure you get there!

Bohemians in Ballydehob!

My first visit to Ballydehob wasn’t until around 1990. I remember being struck by how busy a place it was then – I only wish my memories from nearly 30 years ago were clearer. I now know, of course, that this vibrant little community has a history of being a cosmopolitan creative hub of the arts going right back to the middle of the last century. It’s a fascinating story, and Ballydehob is celebrating it by establishing an Arts Museum and permanent collection, with the first exhibition opening this week in Bank House: please come!

Above: two batiks by Nora Golden. Left – The Rock of the Rings (rock art at Ballybane West) and right – detail from a work depicting Loughcrew-type passage grave art. Nora and her partner, Christa Reichel were early arrivals on the arts scene in Ballydehob. In the 1960s Christa bought a farmhouse and set up the region’s first studio pottery in Gurteenakilla then, with Nora, opened the ‘Flower House’ in the centre of the town: you can see it illustrated in the exhibition flyer at the bottom of this post. All this is well documented in the excellent book by Alison Ospina (herself a talented furniture maker) ‘West Cork Inspires’ (Stobart Davies, 2011).

These denizens of 1970s Ballydehob are not a Heavy Metal band (to my knowledge) but in fact four important artists who had settled here: John Verling – artist, ceramicist and architect,  Pat Connor – ceramic sculptor, Brian Lalor – artist, writer and printmaker, and David Chechovich – watercolourist. They are wearing the uniform of the time. Here’s Brian Lalor in his studio today (photo by Finola) – you can certainly see the similarity . . .

Brian still lives near Ballydehob, and is the mastermind and Curator of the new collection. And, if you can begin to see it all fitting together, John Verling (on the right of Brian in the exhibition poster above) took over the Gurteenakilla Pottery with his wife Noelle and together produced striking ceramics, examples of which are in the header photograph.

Gurteenakilla is lived in today by Angela Brady, an artist who works with fused glass. She is also an architect. And – she’s performing the most important task of opening the first exhibition in our new Arts Museum on Friday. Finola wrote about Angela and other artists who contributed to the 7 Hands show on the pier in Ballydehob two years ago: have a look at her post and see if you recognise any other names.

Beautiful stoneware goblets by Pat Connor, who is well represented in the collection. His maker’s mark is a memorable graphic. Another well known West Cork ceramicist represented here is Leda May, who with her husband Bob found Ballydehob in the late 1960s when they were invited by Christa Reichel to set up a pottery behind her own shop. Leda is still working in the area today, producing very fine painted porcelain ware (an example of which is shown below).

Above, from the exhibition – two earthenware mugs by Etain Hickey and Jim Turner, Rossmore Pottery 1983 and two Raku lustreware pieces by Jim Turner 1982. There are more stories to be told – to add to Alison’s comprehensive volume: the rise and fall of the Cork Craftsmans Guild, establishing the West Cork Arts Centre, exhibitions in far-flung places including Zurich, enigmatic repousee work – as yet we can’t trace its history . . . But all that is for another day, once the Ballydehob Arts Museum (BAM) is under way.

Below, posters by Brian Lalor and Repousee work by Shirley Day.

So here’s yet another reason to come to West Cork! This ‘taster’ exhibition starts on 10 August and continues through Heritage Week and Ballydehob’s Summer Festival until 26 August. We have to commend our Community Council in Ballydehob who are giving us the space in Bank House – right in the town centre (the former AIB Bank building) which they acquired for the permanent enjoyment of the local community. Also we have benefitted from Cork County Council who have given us a grant under the Creative Ireland Programme to help get the whole project off the ground. And most of all we have to thank local people who have freely donated pieces for the permanent collection – all will be acknowledged when the Museum is up and running.

Bohemians in Ballydehob! opens at 6pm on Friday 10th August at Bank House, Ballydehob

 

Celebrating Irish Design in West Cork

7 Hands crafts

2015 was the Year of Irish Design. In celebration there were exhibitions, events, talks and programmes all across the country. RTE aired a four part documentary, Designing Ireland, introducing us to the history of design in this country. Hosted by Angela Brady and Sandra O’Connell this fascinating series took us from our roots in vernacular design and use of materials, through the dawn of modern design in Ireland via innovative architecture and fashion designers, to the heady days of the Kilkenny Design Centre and into the digital era where computer-based planning is married to mastery of materials by engineers, architects, fine crafters and designer-makers to produce products that can stand with any in the world.

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Alison, Angela and Sandra at the 7 HANDS Exhibition in London, with Alison’s greenwood chairs*

Artists and craft people gravitated towards West Cork throughout the second half of the 20th century for the light, the distance from civilization, the beauty of the countryside, the affordability of land for studios and housing and for the support of a community of like-minded individuals. Alison Ospina, in her book West Cork Inspires, describes this period  and profiles many of the practitioners who discovered this unique area, drew inspiration from it and made their home here.

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Last  summer in Ballydehob the 7 HANDS Group harkened back to this golden era of West Cork Design with a stunning exhibition of contemporary fine craftwork by seven local artists. The exhibition moved on to Dublin and London where it was well received, although I cannot imagine the settings there could rival that of our tiny pristine Haugaard Gallery on the Pier in Ballydehob.

Kieran Higgins is a master woodworker *

The exhibition was supported by a series of artists’ talks and it was quite magical to listen to Brian Lalor talk about the detail and precision of his etching process, compared to Alison Ospina’s approach to her greenwood chair building in which the material reveals the ultimate design to her.

Angela Brady walked us through the making one of her luminous glass creations (those gorgeous beetles!) and Paddy McCormack spoke about the fiery furnace in which his wonderful chess set was forged.

We came away with our own little souvenir – yet more hares for Robert, this time by Etain Hickey.

Etain Hares

The 7 HANDS group has larger ambitions. They want to re-establish West Cork’s place in the Irish design and craft pantheon. With this, their first exhibition, they have made an excellent start.

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Patrick Connor’s quirky portraits *

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The extraordinary intricacy of Brian Lalor’s ‘Liffey with Cranes’*

*A special thank you to Angela Brady for some of the photographs in this post.