What is the Core Ingredient? Meeting Dermot Gannon, The Old Convent, Clogheen Cahir.

 

old convent 1My mind is preoccupied with questions to ask Dermot Gannon when, on Sunday, December 8th , I traveled to Clogheen near Cahir, with Seosamh and my three sons, to meet the chef and owner of ‘The Old Convent’.

Specifically I have been thinking about the overlaps between creating art and creating dishes for others to eat. Neveana Sticic writes that  food functions symbolically as a communicative practice by which we create, manage and share meaning with others. Understanding culture, habits, rituals and tradition can be explored through food and the way others perceive it’. ( Hemispheres: No 28 , 2013).  This is an academic way of saying food preparation, like art, allows the cook/home chef, to create something that has a symbolic meaning – that expresses something about themselves and about the world he/she lives in.

Is the art of being an artist not very much like the art of being a chef?

There was a weather alert in place on the same day we were heading down to South Tipperary as yet another storm hits Ireland. Intermittent busts of heavy rain lashed down as we drove along the M8, listening to the start of Christmas music being played on Lyric FM.

We branch off to take the side roads leading down to Clogheen (from the Irish Chloichín an Mhargaidh, “Little Stone of the Market”) and the sun emerges from the clouds. We all are struck by the incredible beauty of the landscape.

The Old Convent

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Winter at The Old Convent

The Old Convent is situated in the shadow of the Knockmealdown mountains in this unique part of Tipperary. The building stands out in the landscape. It was, as the name suggests, the home of the Mercy nuns for several decades. In fact it was designed by one of the nuns in 1886 (Mary Ann Vaughan, in religion Sr. M. Bernard) who was clearly a very talented woman. When the Sisters left the house in 1991, it first became a fishing lodge and then a holistic healing centre. In 2006 Dermot Gannon and his American wife Christine took up residence and The Old Convent was reborn as an innovative foodie destination in Ireland.

We arrive a few minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Seosamh and Étienne go for a little stroll in the grounds, while myself, Don and Joss get organised to meet Dermot. We sit down in the front room, at a lovely old table with matching chairs and the conversation begins.

‘You are not originally from Tipperary?’ I inquire.  ‘No – from Connemara, one of 11 kids, council house, no background in food and cooking or things like that’, Dermot says, matter of factly. He tells me he got a job at fourteen years of age washing pots and peeling potatoes at a nearby hotel – Renvyle House, in Galway and maintained that job for three years while finishing in secondary school. His interests were not academic.

Motivator

So, what motivated him to get work in the hotel?. A sense of an innate talent or ‘vocation’?. ‘The motivator’ Dermot tells me ‘was to simply earn my own money and avoid days on the bog! “.

Dermot got a job at seventeen at  Rosleague Manor Hotel under the mentorship and guidance of Paddy Foyle . ‘He taught me how to cook. He saw that I had a natural kind of ability…. which didn’t come from anywhere really as far as I can tell’,  Dermot suggest. ”Luckily and crucially for me,  my parents imparted a strong work ethic which is more beneficial than anything else in this industry”

This was the ‘old school way’ of getting into the food business, I now understand. One worked in a kitchen and learned as an apprentice – this gave a rounded and broad understanding of the business. ‘I found something I was really good at and enjoyed’ Dermot tells me ‘ and it was one for the few sectors where there was employment at that time’. We return to this later in the interview.

After his apprenticeship he leased a restaurant from the same Paddy Foyle at the young age of twenty two and ran it himself for seven years. He tells me he wasn’t really ready for it, in some respects, from a financial management point of view. But Dermot  learned fast.  He made mistakes the first year and quickly adapted to sustain the business. Another aspect of this job, at an early age in his life, that appealed to him, was that the restaurant was closed from October to March every year – ‘so I would head off back- packing in Australia,  New Zealand , Estonia – lots of different places’.

Colorado

At twenty nine Dermot decided he needed a more dramatic change so he left Ireland to go to Colorado for two years. This was a totally new experience in learning how to run a bigger sized restaurant. ‘Get it out fast, get it out big and make as much as you can’ he tells me was the business model. He continues: ‘I was used to a small restaurant and dealing directly with farmers, fishermen and growers. In Colorado everything came in, in an artic truck. I spent more time on the computer than in the kitchen – but I learned very fast and how to deal with volume and to give people what they want. Not what you thought they should be eating .’

So, Dermot took this on as a challenge and enjoyed upgrading his skill base to deal with the large numbers. ‘It was a stepping stone for me’ he explains. ‘I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Colorado’.  A critical stepping stone none the less as he also met his American wife Christine during this time. They decided to return to Ireland together but went travelling to China and other places on route.  Christine wanted to do a Masters in European Development at University College, Cork .

Cahir

This was the early Noughties in Ireland. Dermot tells me that ‘I  started looking for a restaurant to lease, but this was the height of the Celtic Tiger. The key money alone in Cork was €200,000. So, I traveled around looking for a possible place, but it was proving hard to find. Then we saw a lease for sale in Cahir, so we drove up, in a rental car, from Cork to look at the place – ‘The Bell Pub’in Cahir. Tom Shannahan  was the owner’.

There was a restaurant upstairs which was ran by Michael Clifford, a well-known chef who was then in his twilight years and he was moving to Clonmel so the lease was available. ‘We walked in and asked to meet Tom the owner of the premises and I asked what the key money would be.  Tom  asked: ‘what is key money?’.

Dermot agreed to take the lease.

He tells me about how various things fell into place then, to allow them to get a small loan to upgrade the premises they were leasing.. and ultimately lead to their legacy in the history of the old convent building.  ‘Christine went to the AIB in Cork to see could we get a small loan and she was met by a woman who was unconventional, and well disposed to the idea and she knew this area of Tipperary well. She had two friends here who were the two ladies running the old convent at that time as a healing center’.

‘The incredible twists and turns of life ‘ I comment. Christine got the loan and their AIB manager and her two friends, then running a business at the old convent building, were among the first diners they had at their newly leased premises in Cahir. Dermot started doing bar-style food like fish and chips and dishes he had perfected in Colorado and the business took off really well , aided by his natural talent and dedication.

A New Phase for the Old Convent

After a while based in Cahir,  Dermot and Christine were looking for someplace to buy to live.

The women running the holistic centre at the old convent , who were by now friends of theirs, told them they were selling the building and maybe they might try to see could they raise the finance to buy it. Demot laughs and tells me: ‘they were overestimating our financial situation at the time!’

While Dermot and Christine were doing very well in their rented premises in Cahir  – this would present a very large investment and commitment and a loan/mortgage would be needed obviously. Dermot says they were turned down about ten times by the Banks but eventually, with a little help from family, they were able to secure the finance to buy the premises.

Exciting and Challenging Project

I feel envious just thinking of how exciting the project must have been….to have found such a unique building, in such a stunning setting, and to have the combined skill base that this couple have, to make it a success.

Christine has an eye and attention to detail, financial management skills, and her role is ‘front of house’. Dermot is the innovative chef ‘back of house’ – though this is not the term obviously,  essential for such an establishment to work. These two individuals and their strengths, were destined to turn the project into a success.

And they did.

Old Convent Clogheen

Dermot also had a unique way of running the restaurant – he wanted to cook for a certain amount of people, at one time. They can take 36 at any one sitting and they do this just at weekends at 8pm. ‘I can’t think of anywhere else doing what we were doing, at that time, which was a multi tasting menu’.

What also appealed to Dermot about this way of running a restaurant, which has become popular in Ireland, was that he could change the menu every day. ‘Within reason’ he advises, ‘as we got to know our clientele’.

Managing a Small Family Run Business

Dermot explains to me there is a lot of ‘prep’ involved on the nights they do these sit down tasting menus. This leads us into a chat about the huge responsibility it is running and managing your own business, in particular a business like this where Dermot’s skills in the kitchen are vital. ‘If I am not here there is no service’. He tells me that only happened once in the fourteen years that they have been running the business. ‘If we are not here it does not happen’ Demot explains, giving me some idea of the enormity of the commitment involved running a small boutique-style business like this. The couple also have two children now aged 7 and 3, since they bought the premises.

Becoming a Chef

Our conversation then veers back into a discussion of the training involved in becoming a chef.

Firstly Dermot discusses the pros and cons of learning to become a chef in the older style way as an apprenticeship, in contrast to the more conventional approach today which is to go to a cookery school or college to learn your ‘métier’.

‘There is good and bad to the new way’ Dermot explains. ‘The bad is people come out of college or cookery school and want to be head chef straight away but their knowledge base would be slim – they would be good at a couple of things….some can make a living out of that, like open a food truck or a café…..but the old system of apprenticeship, where you do a year here and a few years there…that model for training people in not really around anymore.’

The Art of being a Chef?

We are getting into some of the areas here that I have been thinking on for some time and I mention at the start – perhaps I might even take them further into a possible MA thesis, if I am fortunate enough.

Dermot knows I have an interest in art, and an interest in food, and I am looking at where perhaps the overlaps historically and culturally lie. I explain to him there are three ways to approach this,  which is largely unexplored academically.

The first would be to look at  how food has influenced the painting of art historically – think of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ as one classic example but there are millions of others.

The second would be to look at a relatively new trend in food circles which is the process of ‘plating up’. Instagram has been a great facilitator here and there are many chefs and restaurants that really focus their energy on this side of the restaurant business.  Cookery programmes on TV and food magazines and books have all zoned in on this aspect of the food business.

Thirdly, and perhaps the one that most interests me, is the idea that the chef, or indeed the home cook, anyone who  approaches the task of feeding oneself or others, consciously, aware that the exercise is an expression of personality, in so many respects, are displaying a skill, an enthusiasm – an aesthetic ability. All essential ingredients if one is to be deemed an artist. The practice of preparing food  is around since our very beginnings as a species, perhaps the first manifestations of humans, attempting to express themselves, depended on an everyday object – food.

‘Art, the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Art is something we do: a verb. Art is an expression of our thoughts, emotions, intuitions and desires but it is even more personal than that: it is about sharing the way we experience the world, which for many is an extension of personality’ –  ‘Art as a Means of Communication’ , Steemit. 

Food and how we prepare it is a communicative practice, as I quoted at the start of this blog, rather like art it is a way of sharing the way we experience the world, also a communicative practice, as Steemit presents it.

The Core Ingredient (s): the Gift and the Produce

So I put the question to Dermot: ‘What you do is a form of artistry I suggest, but you probably would never think of it like that ?’.

‘No’ says Dermot. ‘I wouldn’t have’.  He tells me he sees what he does more as a ‘craft’.

‘I am a introvert by nature and not a great communicator and Christine often accuses me of ‘ communicating feelings through cooking instead of words’,  which can be frustrating for her at times I suppose.”

This opens up a fascinating debate about what the difference actually is between an art and a craft . The former is considered more universal in application – someone who does something to be admired, rather than to be used. The latter, crafts people, are perhaps perceived as making things that are ‘useful’ – of everyday application.

But really this distinction could be taken apart and questioned as I do.

Dermot continues to explain to me that he can find it hard to discipline himself: ‘to hone his craft’. This is his expression. He thinks this difficulty is possibly because he has a natural gift as a chef,  as was spotted when he was a teenager in Galway and as his career obviously has demonstrated. But what I find interesting is that Dermot juxtaposes two things here: a natural gift at preparing food: and : a ‘honed craft’ where one is trained  to focus more on what they do. The visuals?.

‘I find if I get too  wrapped up in how a dish looks I  loose the spontaneity and  freedom that attracts me to the craft in the first place’ he explains.

He continues and is intent to emphasize to me that: ‘I am more interested in products and suppliers as opposed to methods ..if someone has a product like the Ballinwillin farm venison or wild boar, Ummera smoked ducks, great Tipperary cheeses or a great piece of well aged  beef…that is what motivates me. The visuals would not be the first, it wouldn’t be the second,it may not even  be the third thing I would think about.  I think of taste, texture, balance and only then would I think of how will I make it look attractive’.

 

Old Convent Clogheen

 

So, the ‘visuals’ are not the first thing Dermot thinks about when he is in the kitchen. Though this of course does not suggest – to me – his skill and gift is not an art form.

‘And are local produce important to you?’ I ask as I quickly check my final few questions ‘Irish produce are important to me.’ Dermot explains ‘I don’t get totally hung up on local as it is small island so why not take advantage of that. The core ingredient would be Irish. That would be very important to me. That is what gets me excited. Not the way something looks on the plate, but a really, really good ingredient.’

Food for Thought

Time to depart and I have a lot of ‘food for thought’, to use an appropriate expression. Dermot shows us all the stained-glass windows of the former chapel in the convent, which is now used as the dining room.

A gifted and hardworking chef who has learnt the business through an array of work experience; travel experience and trial and error in the kitchen. He was also fortunate the way some opportunities came his way: ‘It is one thing’ he tells me’, ‘having a talent and another thing getting an opportunity. It is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. It is hard bloody work’ he says

I suppose anything one does , with dedication, any vocation, has to take tremendous time and effort and hard work.

Hard work would certainly be a ‘core ingredient’ in Dermot’s experience . And there are two others: – the ‘natural gift’ and the produce used.

What he and many others do in the kitchen, is a communicative and creative act – an expression of personality.

An art, perhaps?

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A Pre-Raphaelite at Heart: Kate Hennessy’s Journey

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“Toledo was Wonderful”   by Kate Hennessy

‘Churches were the art galleries of the Irish People’, Kate Hennessy tells me.  She recalls being brought to mass on Sundays, by her respective Grandmothers, both of whom had a big influence on her as a child. Kate enjoyed the sculptures, mosaics, stained glass and woodcarvings, not to mention the tile designs these beautiful church buildings boasted in Ireland.

Kate continues to tell me that one of her Grandmothers had several religious statues under glass domes at the top of her stairs which were arranged in an aesthetic manner. The other Grandmother had a double brass bed draped in lace with statues of Our Lady, the Infant of Prague and others all creatively adorning the bed. Kate says she would love to do an installation of these memories, and I agree it would be most interesting. My own childhood was not dissimilar and I remember vividly how my dear Mother had so many statues and religious pictures all around our home at Killough. Many had been in the house from previous generations who lived there. Apart from one or two reproduced landscapes in the parlour and family photographs on the various shelves,  the only art we had in Killough, when I was a child, was of a religious nature.

Early School Experiences

This theme of churches in Ireland and the role they played, by default, as gallery spaces, is continued into our discussion of Kate’s early school experiences. Of course school life in the 1950s, in Ireland, would have been deeply influenced by the Catholic Church hegemony. Kate tells me that on her first day in Junior Infants she was riveted by a huge painting her teacher, Ms Dignam had hanging over her desk.

It was of a boy and girl crossing a rickety bridge – but danger awaited them as there was a piece of wood missing on the bridge and they could fall through this gap. Some readers will remember the picture. It came into my mind immediately when Kate started to tell me the story. But the scary possibility that they might fall is redeemed by a huge Angel hovering behind the children and this suggested they were going to be protected and would get across the bridge safely.

Angels have played a big role in Kate’s artistic career. She loves drawing and depicting them and the way they emerge in different cultures and styles of art. Many of her works feature Angels like the examples here.

 

Religious painting even sparked debates about gender in Kate’s home growing up. ‘When I was very small we had a picture of Jesus in our hallway’ Kate continues, ‘I used to fight with my brother Johnny because I thought Jesus was a girl because he had long hair in the picture. Johnny would say, ‘no, he is a boy!’. Men did not start to wear long hair in Ireland until the 60s and 70s so understandably Kate and her brother’s deliberation on the gender of Jesus, as presented in pictures like this, was totally understandable.

Other Early Influences

Another event from early childhood that left a huge impression on Kate was when she was 7 years old and then in Sr. Mary Gillen’s class. This kindly nun had spotted Kate’s artistic gift and asked her in December of that school year to cover her entire blackboard with scenes from the first Christmas. Kate remembers how overwhelmed she was to be given this incredible opportunity and how proud to be able to draw the scenes of the Nativity with chalk on the large canvas of the school blackboard.

Kate’s Mother’s youngest sister Debbie, who was training to be a hairdresser, also encouraged her. Debbie was very fashionable and had a lovely looking boyfriend, Kate recalls, who had dark black hair. When Debbie came to visit Kate, she would bring colouring books and crayons and tell Kate ‘Don’t go outside the lines.’

Of course,’ Kate smiles at me ‘I always went outside the lines in life’.  I tell her she was fortunate to have had such positive experiences and encouragement as a child in school and from her Aunt – but Kate explains she did meet resistance from her parents and from the Head Nun in Secondary school, prior to her Leaving Certificate, when she wanted to pursue a career as an artist.

Before this challenge emerged in Secondary School, Kate had wanted to take both Art and Latin as subject choices given her interest in Churches and older styles of design and the fundamental importance of Latin in helping understand other languages as they emerged. She was not able to do the two subjects sadly. Similar problems still exist today in trying to access subjects in secondary school not considered academically ‘as important’ as others. It infuriates me.

Kate did exceptionally well in her Leaving Certificate in Art and was determined she wanted to go to Limerick School of Art after leaving Secondary school. However as mentioned her parents were very much opposed to her following a career as an artist and insisted, after she finished secondary school, that she would do a secretarial course and find a ‘proper’ job. ‘I got a job as secretary for George Stackpoole, the antique dealer but I only stuck it for 6 months.  I was so unhappy and still going up to the Art School in Limerick at night to continue my studies there’ Kate tells me.  Stackpoole was head of the Irish Antique Dealers Association. ‘It was from him’ Kate tells me ‘I got an appreciation of antiques and good workmanship’.

They are still friends all these years later.

My Mother told me ‘All artists are immoral’ and the head Nun in Secondary school told Kate, before she left the school, to obey her parents and find a ‘proper’ job because (and Kate tells me to quote this one verbatim) ‘Art does not lead to God’.

 Limerick School of Art and Design

The Current home of LSAD is in a former Convent (Wikipedia)

The Current home of the Limerick School of Art and Design is at Clare Street Limerick , in a renovated former convent  (photo Corcs 999)

 ‘On 3 July 1852, a public notice appeared in the Limerick Chronicle announcing the opening of the School of Ornamental Art at the Leamy Institute on Hartstonge Street. The school offered instruction to the general public in drawing and modelling. The first prospectus stated the school’s objective of ‘providing instruction in all those branches of art which are applicable to manufactures and decoration’. The school opened on 2 November 1852 with 28 male and seven female pupils’ (Wikipedia)

Kate Hennessy was fortunate to live in Limerick and to have a third level educational option close to her home, where she could pursue her artistic education. Many people lived too far away from centres of education to be able to go to third level. While the school did close during the War of Independence, it reopened and eventually came under the Management of the Vocational Educational Committee in the new Independent Ireland of the 1930s. When Kate was a student there Jack Donovan was Head of the school and a painter himself.

A pivotal event happened later in the 1960s while Kate was a student there. She tells me there was an emerging ‘anti-academic’ culture in art circles happening.  In fact it had begun in France and England decades earlier. This Movement (if that is the correct word) was now infiltrating what existed of an Irish art scene in the 1950s and 60s and was directed at the educational ethos of the art colleges that existed in Ireland at the time, which would have been using Victorian pedagogical styles and techniques.

Kate remembers coming into Limerick School of Art one morning to find all of the plaster cast statues in the school had been smashed. It also happened in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Crawford School in Cork escaped the demolition and they still have their plaster cast statues – donations made at an earlier period to these third level educational facilities by the British Government (probably to support Classicism and to avoid using nude models like some French schools did!!)

Kate was angry at this act of subversion. She found one plaster cast head intact – the head Venus De Milo, which she took home and even though she changed her dwelling about ten times after that in her early teaching career, Venus De Milo’s head came with her to each new abode. She still has the head to this day in the home she shares with her husband Tom Muldowney in Limerick city centre.

The Pre-Raphaelites

To put this rebelliousness towards what might be considered Victorian styles of aesthetics in Ireland in the 60s, into context, one needs to first look at the disagreements in France between the Impressionists and their contemporaries some decades earlier. The Impressionists wanted to be outdoors, capturing light and dismissed many of the techniques of older French established schools of aesthetic thought at that time – we might broadly call that ‘Classicism’.

In England a similar situation arose – a group of English artists, critics and poets came together in 1848 under the leadership of the William Holman Hunt. The ‘Pre-Raphaelites’, as they came to be called, wanted to embrace colour and vibrancy.  They wanted to reform art by rejecting what they considered the mechanistic approach adopted by rigid Classicism and in particular the rules of the ‘Mannerists’ – a title given to those artists who succeeded people like Raphael and Michelangelo.

The Pre-Raphaelites embraced vivid colour, symbolism and attention to detail and seemed radical when juxtaposed to the Classical poses and ‘elegant compositions’ of Raphael and his successors. The Pre-Raphaelites claimed these ‘classical’ techniques had negatively impacted on the teaching of art. They were anti the English Royal Academy of Arts. While they continued to embrace history painting and mimesis (imitation of nature) in their work, as older schools of art did, their love of colour, detail and complex compositions were more akin to Quattrocento Italian Art than the styles of their predecessors and some of their contemporaries in France and England.

Where does Kate situate herself in this debate I ask? She says with no pause for thought: ‘I am a pre-Raphaelite at heart who is open to all kinds of new cultural experiences and influences that delight me’.

I agree that Kate’s work, with it’s attention to detail, colour and pattern would certainly strongly suggest that to me. I will return, I hope, to some of these theoretical issues in Art History in future blogs.  I don’t want to veer too much into them now until I have more reading and a qualification in the area.

The Bauhaus

Kate considers Modern Art to be deeply influenced by the Bauhaus in Germany and their philosophy. The views of this group of people started to have an impact on art styles from 1919 in Germany. The Bauhaus was established by Walter Gropius in Weimar in Germany and ushered in a wave of Modernist thinking in art, design, architecture, typography, and graphic design. ‘They did not want decoration in anything’ Kate tells me ‘It was a reaction against the Victorian aesthetic’.

This emerging European unwillingness to ‘conform’ (if we can see Britain in the European ‘landscape’ that is??!!) I am chatting to Kate about – was now filtrating into art circles in Ireland with the breaking of the the plaster cast statues Kate experienced as a student at Limerick School of Art in the 60s. It was becoming the new conformity! In essence it was an attack against the Royal Hibernian Academy in Ireland and Victorian values, which were considered old school. It followed on from what happened in France and then in England with the Pre-Raphaelites, who had problems with the English Royal Academy of Arts.

Cubism, Minimalist art, Pop art, Expressionism and even Surrealism come under the rubric of Modern art. Yet I would consider Surrealism to be more akin to the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic if you think of the work of people like Salvador Dalí – but I am no expert on the subject – yet !.

All this relates to Kate’s career and experiences because what she was witnessing was slowly a new artistic aesthetic making inroads into Ireland from the 1950s and 1960s. The disagreements in the art worlds of France, England, Germany and then in American Modern art, as it seeped into Ireland, were the influences that lead to this ‘anti-academia’ culture.

Irish Exhibition of Living Art

The Irish Exhibition of Living Art encapsulated this aesthetic change in culture (1943-1980s).

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Irish Exhibition of Living Art catalogue, 1943. Courtesy of National Irish Visual Arts Library

Kate tells me it was Founded by Evie Hone, Nora McGuiness, Fr. Jack Hanlon and others in opposition to the then Royal Hibernian Academy which was considered traditional, although now it has changed beyond recognition.  I exhibited in their annual exhibition three times’.

I have tried to find a short quote from various readings to summarize what Kate was telling me, as I don’t like quoting from the source so many young students refer to on line – but in the interest of brevity I found it interesting  Wikipedia had this to say : ‘While not all of them subscribed completely to the Modernism of the rest of western Europe and the United States, these artists did seek to stray off the path established by Irish art institutions. Many artists that founded the IELA were influenced by the dissenting Impressionist art circles in Paris who broke away from the French Academy. Even though they understood this may cause friction with established institutions in Ireland, many of the founders saw the French as an example to be followed’. 

The ROSC Exhibition

Rosc 1967 poster designed by Patrick Scott

Poster based on a Design by Patrick Scott used for the inaugural ROSC in 1967

The ROSC exhibition in 1967 was another key forum following this new way of thinking artistically in Ireland. This exhibition happened every four years until 1988 and had a huge impact introducing and showcasing Modern International and American Art to Irish audiences.

Kate elaborates ‘I attended the openings of two ROSC (the Poetry of Vision) exhibitions held in the RDS in 1967 and 1972. The ROSC exhibitions were very exciting and introduced Ireland to the best of International including American Contemporary Art.  There I saw for the first time the work of Ellsworth Kelly, Francis Bacon, Robert Indiana and I especially loved the work of Abstract Expressionists  Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The huge scale of the canvasses, also impressed me’.

The Independent Artists

The Independent Artists founded in the 1960s by Michael Kane, John Kelly, James McKenna and John Behan was another important Movement reflecting these changes in Ireland.

Teaching Career

So here I am, sitting in the library in Nenagh, with Kate Hennessy, on Thursday morning August 22nd  2019. My son Don Devine is helping with the recording of the interview . I know Kate for nearly fifteen years now – we met the year Don was born.  We have two beautiful paintings by Kate at Greenville: one which Joseph bought when she held her exhibition at the Source Art Centre, Thurles in 2008.

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“Lady Drinking Wine” (2007)

The other is a recent acquisition – a gift from Kate which is in part inspired by Armenian culture and in particular a movie she saw a few years ago at Kilkenny during the Art’s Festival  called  ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’ . The movie won numerous awards and is considered a masterpiece in cinematography. The piece is also inspired by images from the Book of Kells.

IMG_20190902_183219 (2)

“Armenia”

We continue to discuss events and cultural Movements that chart 180 years of history and have shaped our artistic world today.  It strikes me Kate has had a ‘ring side seat’ on many key events in Ireland since the 1950s. I am interested to talk more about her teaching career.

She tells me her first job was in Clontarf at the Holy Faith Convent school. She explains the teaching conditions were really dreadful – no art room, no sink to wash brushes or storage space. Yet she managed to teach 569 pupils each year and had no less than four winners in the Texco Art competition from the school, in her very first year.  From here she moved to Kilkenny when a vacancy arose.

Kilkenny

She was excited about the move to Kilkenny in 1969/70 – ‘Kilkenny sounded like Paris to me, full of designers and artists’ she tells me. Kilkenny Design Centre had opened and this was considered very ‘avant garde’ at the time.

conservation_kilkenny

Kilkenny Design Center Workshop (courtesy RIAI )

‘I was employed by the Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee’ Kate tells me. She soon realized however, on moving to Kilkenny, that the designers associated with the Centre were a group who kept very much to themselves and did not mix with the art teachers or local people from Kilkenny at that time. Kate explains ‘There was no vibe or culture of art appreciation in Kilkenny like you would have in Montmartre in Paris for example’. It was more like ‘the valley of squinting windows’ she laughs. Kate says it was difficult to have a social life or have your own friends if you had a teaching position. So while Kilkenny may have appeared cosmopolitan in the 70s and 80s – Ireland was still Ireland in many respects. None the less Kate stayed for four years and made some lifelong friends, before returning to teach in Limerick, her native city.

Meeting Tom Muldowney

Her time in Kilkenny impacted her life in one other very important way – she met her future husband Tom Muldowney there. On a return visit 12 years after leaving her teaching post there, for an exhibition she was involved in organising, Tom introduced himself to Kate. It was a type of re-introduction actually.  Kate had met Tom some years earlier when she was asked to teach art to a group from St. Kieran’s College who were sitting their Leaving Certificate. Kate laughs that she did not recognise Tom, all those years later, when he ‘gate crashed’ the opening she was having in Kilkenny in 1982 (the event was being opened by Jim Kemmy) and proceeded to chat his former teacher up!  I suppose you could say the rest is history. She and Tom still live in their beautiful home in the centre of Limerick city . The house has stained glass work by Kate, a lovely tiled floor she designed and made and other installations by her.

 

 

 

Kate continued to teach in Limerick for 20 more years after that – in a school where conditions for teaching were far from ideal with several pupils coming from troubled and disturbed homes. She was happy to be able to leave the teaching phase of her life behind her, when, in her 50s, she focused full time on her own work and professional artistic career – and what a career it has been.

She has exhibited widely in numerous group shows such as the R.H.A, Sligo Small Works, the Oireachtas, Claremorris Open, Limerick Printmakers and Limerick City Gallery. She has also held over 30 solo shows including the Belltable, Davis Gallery Dublin, the Source Art Center Thurles, Lavitt Gallery Cork , the Air Gallery London.

In 2016 she held a solo exhibition in the Hunt Museum in Limerick. This was a particular honor as Kate had been asked by the museum in 2016 to draw some depictions from the book Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture 1200-1600 (1974) by John Hunt Sr , the legendary medievalist, and collector /dealer in artworks .  John Sr was the Father of the Founder Director of the Hunt Museum in Limerick, John Jr, who died in 2004 aged 47.

Hunt Family

The Hunt family (Courtesy: themarketquarter.ie)

Travel

‘My hobby is travel’ Kate tells me.  Her travel experiences are very evident in her work.

One of her first trips abroad was in the 1960s when she went on a cattle boat to London. Today we take for granted luxury ferries crossing the Irish sea! ‘My first trips abroad were to London, Florence, and Barcelona’ Kate recounts. ‘It took two days to travel to the continent via Dunlaoghaire,  Holyhead,  London, Dover, Calais, Paris, Florence , now it takes two hours thanks to Ryanair’.

She loved these trips, all made by land and sea, for several decades, seeing the different cultures, tasting the food, viewing the art and designs of the cities and places she visited.  I comment she is a type of anthropologist at heart too. Her first trip on an aeroplane was to Russia. Another story for another time!

The country that has arguably made the most impression on Kate was her visit in 2006 to Iran. She had an interest in Persian culture for years because when she was a student at Limerick School of Art she met a wonderful English gentleman, Stanley Barclay Russell. ‘ He was an art expert’ Kate explains ‘ and had worked in the middle East for the British Council. He bought my work and hung it in his home alongside his collection of Coptic Christian Ethiopian paintings. He said that I should visit Isfahan to enjoy the beautiful tiles and I did, after 40 years’.

Courtesy Amazon.com

Kate never forgot his advice. A few years later she spotted a book on display in the window of O Mahony’s bookshop in Limerick near where she lives. ‘It was a book called A King’s Book of Kings (1972) otherwise known as the ‘Shah Nama’, the National Epic of Iran.  It was housed in a glass case in O’Mahony’s bookshop and cost £40.  I paid for it in installments, but it was worth it for the beautiful Persian miniatures it contained’. Kate explains.

The second book she bought on this subject was called Persia Bridge of Turquoise (1975) by photographer Roloff Beny. This too was full of beautiful photography about Iran.  Kate tells me both books were published by Thames & Hudson London and Kate later visited many of the places in these books.

Meeting the Asylum Seekers in Limerick

Times were changing once again in Ireland and the Noughties saw many people of different ethnic origin enter Ireland seeking asylum. We are all the better for that.

Kate decided to offer her skills as an art teacher to some of these people in Limerick and as she was a member of  Doras Luimní, an independent non-profit organisation, working to support and promote the human rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the Limerick region through personal advocacy, integration development and advocacy campaigns at local and national level. Kate was given the green light.  She managed to secure, from the Augustinians, a basement space, for 5 days a week, to open an Art studio where people trying to assimilate into Limerick, could come and do art, listen to music (they played all different nationalities – Afghanistan, Iranian, Irish,  and many more there); exchange ideas about food, lifestyles music and art.  This ran for 5 years from 2000 to 2005 and was a wonderful experience for Kate and all involved. She acknowledges the help and support she got from Fr. Liam Ryan with the endeavour.

Kate became good friends with people from Iran living in Limerick one of whom, Said, agreed to take her for an hour, one night a week, so she could learn Persian (Farsi) one of the predominant Iranian languages. Kate has almost 800 words and can converse in basic Farsi. Needless to say, this was all leading to a trip of a lifetime, when, in 2006 she embarked on a long tour of Iran visiting all the key sites and cities. ‘Venice is the most beautiful city in Europe’ Kate tells me ‘but Isfahan – the domes, the tiles, acres of tiles- has to be the most beautiful city in Iran’. She continues to talk to me about the geometric and flora designs that predominate here as Muslim law prohibits depicting human beings, fish or animals in artwork (other than miniatures).

Working in Different Media

Kate’s early life experiences, her student years during the turbulent changes of the 60s in Ireland, her career as teacher, and her extensive travels, have impacted profoundly on her life and artwork.

Multi skilled, she works in many different media – pen and ink, appliqué, acrylic, oils, patchwork and tiles. ‘I was always attracted by pattern and by colour’ she explains. ‘I have to say I have gone against the grain of Modernism – I love rich decoration and pattern because it is like the beats of music. It is good for the soul. Good for mine anyway. There are patterns everywhere in life’ Kate says.

I ask her to elaborate once again, as I am so engaged in this fascinating journey.

‘I believe artists must always have the freedom to create and explore new ideas.  Fashions in art as well as everything else, come and go.  The results are not always to my liking if they include boring videos, shock for its own sake, or conceptual art in which it seems, just having the idea is enough. Art can be political or not. We need to accept and encourage new ideas but personally I need plenty of colour design and interest to be happy.  After all, I did grow up in a grey Ireland in the Fifties and Sixties, where my abiding memory as a child is  of  being driven home in the rain passing grey concrete unpainted  houses, never even seeing a flower or flowerbed in public spaces’.

Kate Hennessy is a Pre-Raphaelite at heart – and a highly skilled artist and observer of culture.

Contact: katehessessygallery@hotmail.com

Opening of 3

At the Opening: Mairtín O’Brien, Denise  and Kate

A Thousand Feet Up on a North Facing Slope: Lynn Kirkham Shares her World

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Lynn with ‘Ghost Horses’ in County Kildare ( Photo Credit : Lorna Fitzsimmons)

It is the Tuesday after the June Bank Holiday weekend 2019. I am sitting at my desk at Greenville with an old scrapbook beside me, full of paper cuttings. I am looking at one particular feature, from the Irish Examiner, dated Tuesday September 12th, 2000. It is a photograph of myself, Maura Collins and Kate Dwyer. We are sitting in a huge willow sculpture, one of the art pieces exhibited as part of the weekend celebrations Céiliúradh Thiobriad Árann, at the then named ‘Tipperary Rural & Business Development Institute’.  I was one of the main organisers and the art exhibition that was part of the event was of much importance to me. The piece we are sitting in was made by Greenmantle. This was when I first met Lynn Kirkham.

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Irish Examiner Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Push the clock forward and nineteen years later, myself, my husband and our three sons, make the short journey up to Bohernaruda, Killea, on the June bank holiday Sunday, to meet Lynn at her home, to interview her for my blog. It is a cliché to say ‘where does time go’ but I am lost for alternative words here.

Lancashire

‘So where do we begin Lynn?’ I ask. ‘I don’t know much about your early years so maybe we start there’.

Lynn was born in Manchester England in 1965 and moved, at an early age, with her family, to a suburb in Lancashire. Her Mother was a school teacher and her Father worked in the UK police force. She tells me she was always ‘totally artistic’ and that her Mother still has a basket she made when she was 12 years old in Primary School. Her parents were keen their children pursue an education, but Lynn tells me she did not like school. In fact, she was suspended at the age of 16 for having dyed her hair purple!

She did manage to get an A level in Art though and she was able to do two extra subjects at O levels which she really loved and was good at – needle work and Classical Studies. These subjects were an option for those who did not want to study pure language – Latin, German and French. Incredible really, how difficult it was, and still remains, to access ‘creative’ subjects at Secondary school level.

Lynn at art college (1982)

Lynn in Art College

After Secondary school Lynn went to a local Art College to do a Foundation course. She wanted to be a painter. ‘I thought I would be the next Picasso’ she says. ‘I was determined I was going to be this great painter’.

Her teachers told Lynn her 3-d work was stronger than her 2-d work – but she remained determined to study painting. So instead of applying for a Multimedia degree, as she was advised, she applied instead to study painting in two of the best art colleges in England at the time – Canterbury in Kent and Falmouth in Cornwall. ‘But I didn’t get a place’ she explains. ‘My folio was rubbish – I just wasn’t a painter’. I comment I like her drawings and sketches like the one below:

 

Acrylic paintings Devil's Bit from Killea

Devil’s Bit ( Acrylic  painting)

Her application was then put into a pool for offers and she got allocated a place for Solihull Art College, outside of Birmingham. She vividly recalls the day she arrived there, ‘lugging my portfolio up a rundown industrial back street. The college was in a derelict building, typical of art colleges in those days. I looked around and lugged my portfolio back to the train. I knew I did not want to live there for the next three years’.

Working with Horses

When she did not get into Art college, she applied for a job doing pony trekking for that summer and spent the next seven years working with horses, moving from job to job.  ‘I loved horses, loved animals’ Lynn tells me.  But she never stopped being creative. ‘I was always still making stuff, painting, making presents and doing art here and there. Even with the horses, I was best at platting their hair, or making special brow bands in special colours and matching this and that…it was all an art form in its own way’.

Moving to London

Lynn had an accident that cataclysmically ended her career with horses when she fell from a lorry and badly broke her shoulder. Around this time she met Paul Finch, a Londoner, who was working in the city for a pre-cast stone company, casting stone for restoration. Paul had a degree in furniture making.  Lynn moved to London and Paul encouraged her to find courses to take. ‘I was eligible for Adult Education classes that only cost £6 a term if you were unemployed’ she tells me,’ which I was at the time’.

She was fortunate she took this route because she found really good teachers. ‘I started doing basket making classes. I did four basket making classes a week and a full day and a half of sculpture classes’.  It was her basket-making teacher who encouraged her to apply to the London School of Furniture to study basketry.

Her sculpture teacher, equally supportive and recognising her skills, organised an outdoor exhibition and invited Lynn to make a piece for it.  Lynn made a full-size stag out of willow, growing in a grow bag.

First ever Willow sculpture titled The Greenmantle

The Greenmantle (Stag sculpture in living willow)

‘It went into the exhibition and sold and from there I started to get commissions’ she explains. ‘So even while I was at college doing basketry at London CF, I was getting the odd commission and had started some work demonstrating and teaching’. ‘I loved basket-making and willows from the start. Willow is a fully sustainable material that can be grown easily or harvested from the hedgerows. When I combined my newfound basketry skills with my sculptural ability, it opened a whole new world for me and enabled me to connect with nature and plants even when living in the city’.

‘I think I was a changeling, swapped in the cot’

A key decision had to be made when Lynn was offered an artist residency at Ness Gardens on the Wirral in Lancashire. She turned it down because she and Paul had decided they wanted to move to Ireland. ‘I think I was a changeling swapped in the cot’ she tells me, ‘because I always had this massive romantic love of Ireland’.

Many of Lynn’s friends in England would have been first generation, born in England of Irish parents, and while this generation were shunning Irish culture and were more ‘into’ electronic music and pop, they would still listen to rebel songs and go to Irish pubs, and then back to sessions at houses and Lynn just loved this world, this culture and felt part of it and it’s music from a very early age. She always had a dream to come to Ireland and had read old Irish mythology that influences her work.

Summer 1994

 

So in the summer of 1994 Lynn and Paul came to Ireland and spent four months travelling around in a camper van – volunteering on farms etc. ‘I had brought some willows with me so I could make a few things on the road’ Lynn says. ‘I was teaching Paul how to weave baskets that summer, but he had to practice using brambles, as my willow was too scarce and precious’ she laughs. They had a wonderful summer working, making baskets, hay saving, sea fishing and flying kites and they made important connections in the art and craft worlds.

They went back to England to save so they could return to Ireland and buy a place here to live. ‘I helped to save up to buy this place by repairing imported baskets in a warehouse that was a massive importer of baskets in London’ Lynn tells me. The owner paid a good hourly rate, so this helped contribute to their fund so they could relocate to Ireland.

11th May 1996

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Restoring the cottage in 1996

“We moved to Ireland with just a few thousand pounds to our names and spent nearly all of it buying the house” Lynn continues.  Originally they thought they might settle in Longford, Roscommon or Leitrim. ‘We had friends in Drum who told us about a house in Killea that was for sale and they introduced us to Mary Nolan (neé Shelly) who was selling it . Lynn recalls that she loved the house the minute she saw it: ‘It was totally derelict, cows in it…but we bought it and moved to Killea on the 11th May 1996’.

 Interior Design Projects

Lynn and Paul collaborated as Greenmantle for several years, mixing their materials, willow, wood, metal work, glass, mosaics. During the time they made some pieces for me, when I was designing the interior of The Business, my shop in Nenagh and completing the restoration at Greenville Killough. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted. The counter below is our kitchen coffee counter made of tile and mirror.

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Kitchen Counter at Greenville

And this next image below, taken by Tom Doherty,  was from a promotion feature in ‘Image Magazine’ in 2005 about my shop. This counter was made using glass and local wood and was exceptionally beautiful. My customers always commented on it.  After my shop closed I kept it in storage for years and we only reinstalled it into the reception room here at Greenville in 2018.

 

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The counter in ‘Ihe Business’  (Image Magazine )

Lynn explains about her collaborative work with Paul that ‘we were always diversifying and using fresh ideas and materials. We were always up-skilling, all the time’. ‘We could be arrogant about our strategy back then’ Lynn explains. ‘We used to joke that we only made nice things, for nice people’ she laughs.

Showcase, RDS Dublin

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Dragon

Lynn tells me Greenmantle were congratulated in 1998, when they took a stand at the prominent Arts & Crafts trade fair at the RDS in Dublin ‘Showcase’, for having the only unique product at the event that year. ‘I was making dragons and castles and horses and we had funky furniture with willow, and the Press came on board and the Crafts Council. We got some TV coverage – it was great’.

The Gallery World has never attracted Lynn because, she feels, the huge mark-up some Galleries take puts the work out of the range of the client. Lynn says she always tries to sell direct to the client or make work to order or take commissions, to avoid this.

Lynn’s own work has never been static. There were so few artists doing original work with willow when she moved to Ireland and only a few doing experimental work with basketry. There were phases in her career when she was doing big willow sculptures ; other times doing interior works and working for designers and architects – furniture and lighting projects – and other periods working on larger public sculptures. Her work has evolved to include bronze casting, working with scrap metal,  welding and bogwood sculpture.

Among some of her most famous pieces are ‘Ghost Horses’ – the opening image I use in this blog. And pictured below are

Fionn McCumhaille & his Hounds

fionn

McCumhaille & his Hounds

And for  Kildare Co Co ‘Bo Bainne’  created for Fermoy Teagasc.

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Bó Bainne

Community Art

Over the years Lynn has been involved in several community art projects . ‘I was really, at one time, a grassroots community artist. I would go in anywhere and do art projects with any community group, under any circumstances really – some of which were quite challenging’.

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Art in the  Park 2005

‘Art in the Park’ was funded by North Tipperary Arts Office and took place in Templemore Town Park between 1999 and 2005. It was a children’s project, where Greenmantle collaborated, each year, with an artist from a different discipline. The programme  included puppetry, drama, music, storytelling and dance. There were, on average, 40 participants each year and on the final day a performance would take place in the Park that attracted huge numbers.  Lynn elaborates – ‘if you work with one child you reach the extended family’.

Teaching to Make Ends Meet

It hasn’t all been easy of course. The Celtic Tiger and the crash that followed brought its own challenges, as it did for so many of us and for an artist like Lynn, her hands are her livelihood.

Fortunately she is also great teacher of her art. Lynn feels it is important to emphasise that: ‘teaching is and always was and will be the mainstay of many living artists. You can get a day rate for teaching, but you can’t always get that for your own art. Sometimes the day rate for your art is really poor’. So to make ends meet financially, Lynn has developed her skill as a teacher over the years -teaching arts and crafts classes, and continuing to work in the arena of community arts. She loves working with children, encouraging them to use their imagination and creativity.

I ask her to explain to me the essence of community arts: ‘It is about nurturing a group through the whole process from idea to fruition and all the stages with the people and that is just totally different from giving them a recipe and telling them how to do it’. Community arts take huge commitment and energy. ‘What I make with the community is not necessarily what I would make myself’ she explains.

At this stage in her career she has worked with schools for over 25 years now – working in a wide range of media. One of her most recent community projects, which she facilitated, had over 100 people involved in the painting of a giant mural in Thurles town park, working through Refresh Thurles.

Mural thurles town park 2018

Thurles Mural

Ultimately she loves making the art pieces that express her own unique vision. Sometimes, like community arts, some of the bigger sculptures she has designed have had to involve others, sometimes even a team to bring to life, given the size and scale of the project brief.  ‘The second you involve another person in the creation of your art work, even if it is a welder or an engineer or someone, it can feel like community art because you have to let go of your total attachment, your total control and vision – because someone else has got their hands on it. That is really hard’ .

The GreenMantle – A lifestyle, not a way of making a living

Lynn is multi skilled – her ability to invent and experiment and create something new by way of basketry or sculpture; her teaching and working with community; her love of animals and  music.

She is also a talented gardener and has established, at her home in Killea, now called ‘The GreenMantle’ a facility with food gardening, animals and the workshops that she wants to continue to develop and share with people. ‘You can’t separate any of it’ Lynn tells me. I fully agree.

Our chat at her kitchen table comes to a close and we walk outside the house to get a quick photo together. You can see, in the image below,  how beautiful the garden is and how the house has evolved since the earlier photograph above that was taken in 1996.

 

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Lynn asks me how I am doing since my brother Tim’s death last summer. She tells me she thinks of him every time she sees a black jeep with a trailer behind it on the Killea roads. With the anniversary of his death looming, I have to admit to her it is still very raw and very painful as we think back on this time last year, his last weeks on earth. But we smile as we recall a few good nights (when I was younger and wilder!) when we would all meet up at O Sullivan’s pub in Killea village, and the craic, as they say, was mighty.

The Garden  

Greenmantle 1 (5)

Lynn’s garden captures much of who she is as a person. Her interest in basketmaking is present because she is growing things connected to her work and creating natural fences and structures with her willow. She grows her own food which she says is so  important to her. ‘Fresh food from the garden is fundamental to my entire lifestyle’ she explains.

Her home, her art, her vision – are all inspired by the people, the animals, the garden, the world around her …’1000 feet up on a North facing slope’. In Bohernaruda, Killea.

‘It is a lifestyle, not a way of making a living…….’. We should all take a leaf out of that particular holistic book.

Story of Life mosaic with Twomileborris NS

‘Story of Life’ mosaic – made by Lynn with Twomileborris NS

To Make Something out of Nothing, to see something in that Nothing: Tom Doherty Photographer

Sweet Afton

“How to grow Shallots”. From the IPPVA Fellowship Series

It is a sunny, blustery Easter Monday evening and I sit with Tom Doherty at the back of the house he and his wife Frances are restoring in Borrisoleigh. I have known Tom and his work for several years now, and this renovation project is very fitting, I feel, for someone who has spent the last thirty years as a social observer – documenting stories through images; capturing events; observing life in all its permutations. The house is a listed building, steeped in material culture and this project clearly is a labour of love. No one could be better equipped to document and participate in the work, using his artistic eye and his photographic skills, than Tom Doherty.

IPPVA

Tom is member of the IPPVA – Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers Association. This is the governing body of professional photographers in Ireland and all those who are members are qualified registered and insured.

Tom explains to become a member you have to submit a panel of your work to be assessed – the photographer’s control of light and ability to focus the lens etc, among many other details, would have to be deemed of an acceptable high quality to be admitted as a member. This puts you on the first rung of the ladder, as it were, within the Association which is called your Licentiateship. Next then is the Associateship where a photographer would have proven him or herself to have achieved a higher level of professionalism. Finally then is the Fellowship which is the highest level you can go in the Association in Ireland.

Tom achieved his Fellowship from the Association in 2011. He did a series of photographs documenting the interiors on derelict houses in Tipperary primarily but also some in Italy where he regularly visits. These images were not staged in any way. Tom photographed what he found in the houses. The opening image above of the Sweet Afton cigarette box with a note hand written on it, is an excellent example from this series, as is the image below, taken from a house Tom lived in as a child after his Mother died. The rawness of life is captured on a dusty derelict floor – work, symbolized by the jeans; romance by the Mills and Boon novel, and the violence that sometimes sadly exists around us, by a child’s toy red gun.

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From the Fellowship series

Tom’s level of skill has also gained him Fellowship with the MPA (Master Photographers Association) in Britain and he is also a member of the Federation of European Photographers (FEP) and qualified for their European photographer award in 2011. Recently he was made one of their International Jury, a tremendous acknowledgement and recognition of the quality of Tom’s work over the years.

Early Years

Tom grew up in Knockeen, one of seven children, he was the second oldest. Tragedy struck early in his life when his Mother died when he was only seven years old. Tom and his siblings were sent to live with different Aunts and Uncles so the family were split up at this difficult time. A few years later Tom’s Father remarried and Tom and 3 of his brothers eventually returned to live with their Father and step mother at Moykarkey, Thurles.

Paul Reilly

He attended the Vocational School in Thurles and was fortunate to have one very inspirational teacher there – Paul Reilly, who taught Tom art. Paul later went on to work in curatorship in Limerick. It never occurred to Tom to pursue an artistic career though he did well in honours art for his Leaving Certificate. He tells me ‘back in Ireland, in those days, a career in arts wasn’t a viable option’.

So after leaving school Tom got an apprenticeship as a refrigeration engineer in Thurles. Hard times were looming economically in the 1980s and people were losing jobs, so when Tom was made redundant he found another job in the same line of work, in Bailieborough Co. Cavan – servicing and installing agricultural refrigeration equipment for farmers.

He started to do photography as a hobby for his own enjoyment at this time.

Time in Co. Cavan

A job was advertised in the Cavan Leader for a press photographer and the owner of the paper, Captain Jim Kelly, hired Tom. For Tom the change of career allowed him to develop his creative skills and to document the turbulent society that was then around him, living in a border county. There was also the fact that, to use his own words, ‘in those days being a press photographer was a good earner. Press photography was valued then’, Tom explains. ‘I was never motivated by money but it was important to me to have my work respected’.

The Job was varied. For example he covered a visit to Cavan, by a descendant of the Sioux War Chief  Sitting Bull (1831-1890) at the reputed birthplace of  one of his greatest opponents  – US General  Philip Sheridan  (1830-1888).

 

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At the General Sheridan Memorial, Kilinkere, Co. Cavan

 

These were difficult and different times in the North, Tom explains. It was a very divided and divisive society to live and work in. The image below is of a Celtic reenactment event from those years. I comment it is not easy for us to understand the emotions of that time from this vantage point – though Brexit has reawakened some of the anxieties and tensions that existed in extreme then.

Celtic Warriors

Celtic Warriors. 

The paper closed after a few years so Tom then worked as a free lance press photographer, teaming up with local journalists when stories arose. He covered several amazing stories of the conflict in the border areas and had a few hair raising experiences. I comment he must have been terrified? But Tom says he always wanted to capture real life, to document events as they happen.

He often goes to Italy to festivals or demonstration and loves to be in the middle of these events. He traveled to Paris immediately in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks in 2015 to take photographs such as the one below. His interests have always been in this side of photographic work, as well as creating images that are akin to fine art pieces they are so visually beautiful.

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Paris 2015, after the attacks

Moving Back to Tipperary

Tom was back in Tipperary in the mid nineties and met Frances again, whom he had been dating before he left for Cavan years earlier. He was looking to develop other aspects of his photographic work because, he explains, press photography had become devalued. Tom was a member of the National Union of Journalist but journalists began taking photographs themselves so photographers rights were falling by the wayside. ‘The good days for press photography were over and the profession was devalued’ Tom explains.

This was the lead up to the next big economic crash of the Naughties.  Provincial papers were letting go of photographers so it was a race between free lance photographers to have their images selected for publication and the one who charged the least usually got selected. Certainly a time to move to some other area of his photographic work.

He opened a shop in Nenagh framing and printing photographs. He explains he wanted to establish himself in Tipperary as a photographer and felt this was a way to do so. He found this phase of his life challenging – it was hard to make ends meet paying rent for the shop and all the other bills that arise with rental premises.  The shop was open for about six years before he decided to close it.

Suicide Awareness

Tom never stopped engaging with the world around him – the image below, taken in Nenagh on December 21st 2018, the shortest day of the year, depicts a vigil held by people affected by suicide locally. The image is called ‘Light up the Darkest Day’ and is another wonderful example of how Tom’s work captures both the joys and the sorrows of real life.

Light up the darkest day

“ Light up the darkest day”.

Meeting Tom

Tom called into my shop one day in Nenagh and introduced himself and left his business card.  So I hired Tom to take the images for an upcoming piece for Image Magazine.

That was the first of many photo shoots we did together during ‘The Business’ years and in the years afterwards. I always knew he would do a superb job.

The image below is of a model wearing one of my designs – a red organza dress, and the image was used as a post card in the shop.

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‘Running for a Train’, Photo used in Advertising for ‘The Business’

Tom photographed our wedding on December 22nd 2007.  He tells me he enjoys wedding photography where he can bring his skilled eye for documenting a story to bear.  He explains there is a perception of wedding photography as staid and boring but with the years of experience Tom has in press photography, he can really bring his imagination to capturing ‘behind the scenes’ moments, of a couple’s special day.

The image below is one he took the morning of our wedding here at Greenville, while Valerie Patterson was doing my hair and makeup .

Wedding Makeup

‘Wedding Makeup’ with Valerie Patterson

One of the images Tom took in 2009, when we did the Kilmainham installation at the Hilton Hotel, won an award for him at the IPPVA . ‘Stormy Sky’ was an image taken at the St. Jude’s Spire in Kilmainham.

STORMY SKY

‘Stormy Sky.’ Taken at the ruins of St Jude’s Church, KIlmainham, Dublin.

Photography as Art

We chat then, sitting in the evening sun, about the perception of a photograph as an art image. It is unfair, I suggest, that some brilliant pieces of photographic art are dismissed, as ‘mere photographs’. ‘Think of Andy Warhol for example’, I mention and how he used photography to create art pieces which sold for millions of dollars. Tom suggests different cultures have different understanding and appreciation of what is art or not and the Eastern States in America , Australia – newer western countries were ahead of others in respecting photography as an art genre.

Take for example the two images below – one taken at ‘The Business’ where I am wearing a mask for a Halloween event we were advertising. The photograph has many features of a painting.

 

The Halloween Mask

The Halloween Mask

 

The other, below, was taken here at Greenville of a chair reupholstered using the rose motif which often featured in my designs.

The Chair with the Rose Motif

The Chair with the Rose Motif

Photography and Art History

I mention that I was fascinated to read, in Donald Preziosi’s book on Art History, about the link between photography and the discipline of anthropology – and the role photography played in the emergence of Art History as an academic discipline.

Preziosi writes:  ‘...art history is in a very real sense the child of photography, which has been equally enabling of the discipline’s fraternal nineteenth century siblings, anthropology and ethnography. It was photography which made it possible not only for professional art historians but for whole populations to – think art historically- in a sustained and systematic fashion…. thereby setting in motion the stage machinery of an orderly and systematic university discipline’. (Preziosi, 2009 pp 500).

Technological progress, and the emergence of photography therefore, has facilitated the growth of the press; emergence of museums and galleries; even the study of art as a professional discipline within the Academy. One could say that photography and the development of these institutions – made it possible to imagine the concept of the Nation-State. But that is taking my blog off in another direction and it is not my interest to engage in political analysis here. Yet in a sense, to go back to my opening title for this blog, a quote from Tom, the emergence of photography really did make it possible ‘to make something out of nothing, to see something in that nothing’.

There may be ‘no such thing as a rich photographer in Ireland’ as Tom tells me, but there is a much richer artistic culture, because of photographers such as Tom Doherty.  I look forward to continuing our creative collaboration in the year’s to come.

IMG_20190422_171859 (2)

Interview Easter Monday 2019 ( Pic by Seosamh)

 

_______________________________________________________________________

Tom Doherty F.I.P.P.A.Cr./F.M.P.A./Q.E.P.
Qualified European Photographer Award 2011
Awarded Fellowship from the Irish Professional Photographers Association
2011
Awarded Fellowship from the Master Photographers Association (U.K.)

I.P.P.A. Open Art and Creativity Category Winner 2011
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2010
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2010
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2009
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2009
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2008
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Landscape/Travel 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Avant Garde Wedding 2007
I.P.P.A. Craftsman Award 2007
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde wedding Image of the Year 2007
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Pictorial / Illustrative 2006
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2006
I.P.P.A. Reportage Category Winner 2006
MEMBER OF THE IRISH PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION & MASTER
PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION (U.K.)
QUALIFIED, REGISTERED AND INSURED

email: tomdohertyphotography@gmail.com

mobile: 00-353-87-7518601

 

World Class Music on Our Doorstep: Talking with Róisín Maher, Curator, ‘Finding a Voice’ Festival

Rosin and Cliona

L to R: Róisín,  Alexina Louie,  Clíona

It is hard to believe that it is almost two years now since I launched my blog here at Greenville. Even harder to believe that in those two short years, I lost two people from our family, that were so loved.

I was delighted in May 2017 when the newly appointed Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre, Clíona Maher, agreed to do the launch. Clíona had returned home from France with her husband and their son, to Clonmel, where she grew up, to take up the position in 2017. I had not met Clíona before, so it was wonderful to have someone launch my blog who was so energetic, enthusiastic and committed to the Arts and in particular their development in Tipperary.

Shortly after meeting Clíona I had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of her sister Róisín who is the Curator of ‘Finding a Voice’ – the Clonmel festival which just celebrated its second successful year in Clonmel.

Maher Pharmacy Clonmel

Róisín and Clíona (and their sister Derbhile) are the three daughters of the late Seamus Maher and Kathleen Maher. Their father owned a pharmacy in Clonmel on O‘Connell Street, and while the Mahers no longer manage the business, the new owners have retained the Maher name over the door, which Róisín tells me, the family have really appreciated.

Their mother was a Montessori school teacher and she established a pre-school in Clonmel in the 1980s with a Gael Scoil element – a very innovative educational concept at the time. Róisín tells me her mother was ahead of her time, in many respects.

Following your Dreams 

Not surprisingly then the Maher girls were encouraged to follow their dreams and their educational passions. Their home was one where the arts were supported and appreciated, and their late father was a founding member of the Clonmel Theatre Guild. The late Brendan Long was the first Artistic Director and the Guild is currently celebrating their 50th anniversary.  Their father regularly was involved in different roles, sometimes growing a beard for a part he might be performing.

In light of their upbringing then, it is understandable that all three girls pursued careers in the arts – Róisín is  a lecturer in CIT Cork School of Music – though she has a ‘portfolio career’ having worked in different roles in music: arts administration, concert organizing and course development and lecturing; Clíona’s background is predominantly in theatre but she is also very knowledgeable about all aspects of the arts and as mentioned is currently Artistic Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre and is soon taking up a new position as Festival Director at Clonmel Junction Arts Festival. Derbhile, the youngest of the family, is married to an American – she is a keyboard player and vocalist and her husband is a drummer and they moved back to Chicago about eight years ago from Ireland.

The Inspiration for the Festival ‘Finding a Voice’

For this blog I wanted to chat to Róisín in her capacity as Curator of the festival – a title that always interests me. It comes from the Latin word ‘cura’ meaning ‘to take care’ – it also involves interpretation and selection, a ‘keeper’ of cultural heritage. I ask Róisín how the idea of ‘Finding a Voice’ festival arose.

The festival is a celebration of female composers both living and dead, but also a celebration of women involved in different aspects of the classical music world, as musicians, conductors, patrons etc. Róisín tells me she was always ‘aware of the lack of inclusivity, in terms of classical music programming, in relation to women composers’.

Róisín continues to explain to me that about ten years ago she introduced a new module at Cork School of Music on women composers. This was not something being taught in other third level educational institutions, in Ireland, at the time.

 

poster

Illustration by artist Shona Shirley Macdonald for Festival Publicity

Róisín tells me that it is her belief from experience that ‘the way to change things is to be really practical about it’ and for this module her students were asked to either write an essay or perform a recital of works by female composers. This really left a positive and lasting impression on many students, who, by performing a piece by a female composer or studying it in detail, would grasp its importance and perhaps build on the experience after leaving third level education.

When Clíona returned in 2017 to take up the position as Director at South Tipperary Arts Centre, she and Róisín would sometimes brainstorm about ideas that might work or be developed and, among the many possibilities they discussed, was the idea for a festival for Clonmel around female composers, something Róisín, after her years of teaching in the area, was highly knowledgeable about.

Clíona decided to apply to the Arts Council for a Music Project award to fund the event. You could say the rest is history! I comment that both Róisín and Clíona have a unique skill set – they are highly creative; supremely competent at arts administration given their success to date – and have another key skill so necessary to get things off the ground – diplomacy.

‘Finding a Voice’ Festival takes place in conjunction with International Women’s Day and the quality of the performances is nothing short of world class.

Main Guard Clonmel and the Irish Baroque Orchestra

Main guard clonmel

Main Guard Clonmel, photo Courtesy Office of Public Works

The Irish Baroque Orchestra were a key component this year and they performed on March 8th in the stunning location of the ‘Main Guard’ and played an entire programme of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century female composers. The performance was breath-taking, complemented by the amazing acoustics of this old and deeply historic building in the centre of Clonmel town, which was built about 1675 by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde for County Courts and Officials of the then Palatine County of Tipperary.

baroque orchestra

Irish Baroque Orchestra performing in the Main Guard

Róisín explains the festival committee hope to work with the Irish Baroque Orchestra for the next three years in performing the works of female composers, so for those who may not have heard them perform this year, put a note in your diary for March 2020.

Alexina Louie Composer

alexina louie

Alexina Louie                                  Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

In this year’s festival the Canadian composer Alexina Louie, who will celebrate her 70th birthday later this year, attended the festival and her works were performed on the opening day. She was  very impressed at the quality of the performances she experienced in Clonmel over the course of the weekend. It is wonderful, I comment, to see living composers like Alexina Louie meet the musicians playing her work and meet those attending the event, in particular for younger generations – the experience of talking to a living composer is so important in instilling the idea that such career paths are open to all those with musical ability.

Composers with Mary Dullea

Female Composers with Mary Dullea
L-R: Jane O’Leary, Rhona Clarke, Marian Ingoldsby, pianist Mary Dullea, Amanda Feery, Carol Hayes, Anna Murray
Photographer: John D Kelly photography

I can’t help thinking often of the late Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, born in Clonmel, whom we lost only last year. He would be delighted to see an event like this in his former home town. Róisín tells me he lectured her in UCC in the 1980s before he left for his position at the University of Limerick.

Clara Schumann Bicentenary

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

Among the wonderful performances at this year’s event was a day dedicated to the work of Clara Schumann (1819-1896), composer, concert pianist and wife of fellow composer Robert Schumann, including a panel discussion about the process of composing by four of the seven women who had been commissioned to write Reflections on a Scherzo by Clara Schumann, one of two world premieres inspired by Clara Schumann (the second being Jane O’Leary’s Clara) for her 200th anniversary.

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

This year Joseph and I brought the boys to the Sunday afternoon event, also at the Main Guard, to hear ‘The Quiet Music Ensemble’ – a Cork based experimental music group, performing a piece which they had commissioned from the late Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) called ‘The Mystery Beyond Matter’. The boys loved it – the sound was just amazing in this old building. Some of the audience choose to sit on the window sills (as I did); some lay on mats on the floor; some sat quietly in their chairs, some walked peacefully around – as this haunting music echoed through the building. Róisín’s two daughters Aisling and Orlaith were there, as was Clíona’s son Killian and we both agree it is so important to see the younger generations partaking in and experiencing live performances such as this, giving them an understanding, not just  in the works of traditional classical composers, but of more recent compositions that challenge us to think about music and how we play it and hear it, differently.

Denise

Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

sunday afternoon

Image Credit:   D Kelly photography

I look forward to attending next year’s event scheduled for 6th to 8th March 2020 and to interviewing Clíona, at a later stage, to look retrospectively at her achievements as Artistic Director of South Tipperary Arts Centre and when she takes up her new position as Festival Director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival.

In the meantime, I once again commend both Róisín Maher and Clíona Maher for what they have achieved with ‘Finding a Voice’. It is an event now firmly on the Irish cultural calendar – a first of its kind certainly in Ireland. It is world class music on our doorstep here in Tipperary. Support it.

For more information on Finding a Voice see:

www.southtippartscentre.ie

tel: 353-52-6127877