Inishbofin Community Art Project

Photo of textile art showing a currach and mountains embroidered on cloth.
Photo © Helen MonaghanCredit

Taking Shaping Ireland: Landscapes in Irish Art as a jumping-off point, the Gallery's Education team organised a community art project on the island of Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland.

Led by artists Helen Monaghan and Helen Garvey, a group of women from the island came together for a weekend to create textile art inspired by the landscape around them.

Here, Helen Monaghan shares more ...

Photo of boats coming into harbour on Inishbofin
Photo of a group of women watching a seated woman use a sewing machine

What is the backstory to the project?
The project was a collaboration between the Gallery's Education Department, GRETB (Galway Roscommon Education and Training Board) and the Inishbofin Development Company. Myself and Helen Garvey—a sewing and upcycling tutor from Sew Last Season—travelled to Inishbofin island for a two-day workshop exploring the landscape through textile arts. The course was open to anyone living on the island, and we were very lucky to spend the weekend working with an amazing group of women, some of whom were island-born and bred, and some who had chosen to make their lives there.

Woman embroidering a tree on fabric

How did the project connect to the Gallery's Shaping Ireland exhibition?
We took the exhibition and its themes as a starting point. Island life is a pure example of human intervention in the landscape, on the western edge of Europe where the land meets the ocean, where human activity strives to find a balance with nature. Every aspect of the island shows evidence of human activity, from ancient sites through agriculture and fishing, to actual branding of the landscape for tourism with the Wild Atlantic Way. As so many artists have taken inspiration from the west coast, and so many of the works in the exhibition feature Connemara and Mayo, it was fitting to work with the local community living in those landscapes to produce responses to the exhibition. The participants very much welcomed the opportunity to look at the works from the exhibition, as many could not travel to see them in person in the Gallery. 

Photo of a table covered in craft materials and textiles.

How did the weekend unfold?
We looked at works from the exhibition and discussed the relevance of the exhibition themes to daily life on Inishbofin. The participants chose different aspects of the landscape of the island and sketched them, and then used these images to create textile wall hangings. The textile pieces were worked on over two days, using a mix of machine and hand sewing, and using all recycled materials from old clothes and household textiles from the island. 

What was a highlight of the project, for you?
While many of the participants would be used to working with wool and fleece, for most of them it was the first time they had sewn since leaving school. The growth in confidence in their sewing skills and creativity was a highlight for me. Reuse, repair and recycle has always been an intrinsic part of island life, and the upcycling aspect of the project really appealed to the participants. The local community centre provides space for craft activities during the long winter months, and there are now plans to make a community sewing space there too.

What surprised you?
The deeply personal relationship that the participants have with the landscape of the island. Some chose to portray the view they see on their walk to work, others a detail from their garden, and others focused on symbols of human activity—the ferry to the mainland, a fishing boat, the harbour. One of my favourite pieces depicts Bonfire Night on the island—St John's Eve on June 23rd—a key event in the island's calendar.

Stylised painting of a patchwork of fields, bordered by stone walls, and containing vignettes of people, animals and buildings.
Gerard Dillon (1916-1971), The Little Green Fields, c.1946-1950. © The Estate of Gerard DillonCredit

Do you have a favourite work of art in Shaping Ireland?
I have two! Gerard Dillon's Little Green Fields has long been a favourite of mine, and working on this project I appreciated its patchwork quilt feel. And Ruth Lyons' Salarium—ethereal and solid in equal measure.

Three brown-hued bowls carved out of rock salt
Ruth Lyons, Salarium, 2014. © National Gallery of Ireland.Credit

Thank you Helen!

If you'd like to know more about the Gallery's community projects, Brina Casey, the Gallery's Community & Access Officer, can be reached on 01 6633509 or [email protected].

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