BY NIAMH HAYES
A MUSEUM which is devoted to honouring West Cork’s contribution to the arts movement of the 20th and 21st centuries, is celebrating a year since it first opened to the public.
Located at the Bank House on the main street of the village, Ballydehob Arts Museum (BAM) assembles, catalogues and displays collections of works from that era, as well as building up information on all the participants in the West Cork arts movement.
It all started during the 1960s, when two women, Christa Reichel from Germany and Nora Golden from England, moved to Ireland and bought the village’s former hardware shop on the main street.
They painted huge flowers on the façade and named it The Flower House.
This brightly coloured building stood alongside ones which appeared to have experienced no visual or economic change since the early 1900s.
Christa, a sculptor, and Nora, a batik artist, set up the building as a communal space for artists and it soon became a hub of creativity and alternative lifestyles. Inside, a range of art and crafts were being produced by the creative group that shared the space.
The hugely diverse artistic community in Ballydehob, as well as the surrounding areas during that time, encompassed arts and crafts activities including basketmaking, batik, bronze casting, calligraphy, candle making, ceramics, collage, drawing, enamelling, embroidery, etchings, felting, glass work, illustrating, knitting, metal work, painting, photography, printing, stained glass, textiles, wood-turning and writing.
In addition to the artists and craftworkers, the community attracted dancers, filmmakers and musicians.
This new movement fascinated art students from all over, including Brian Lalor, an artist, printmaker, scholar and writer, who moved to the area in 1973. As well as experiencing the local arts movement himself, Brian, before moving to the area, also had an international career in archaeology, working with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the French Institute of Scientific Research in Paris.
‘This work gave me a great love and respect for objects created by the human hand,’ said Brian.
He came up with the idea of BAM and made a proposal to the community council who had already bought the Bank House. They accepted his proposal and so BAM moved into the building in 2018, which was already serving as a tourist office.
Brian is now the curator of BAM and along with Robert Harris, Alison Ospina, Stephen Canty and other local community council representatives, developed the concept of the museum and they have been busy collecting exhibits ever since.
‘BAM occupies an honourable place in Ireland’s decade of centenaries in that it charts truly remarkable creative activity in West Cork since 1955’, said Brian.
The idea is to curate annual exhibitions of the work made available to the museum, which ran its first event, Bohemians in Ballydehob, in August 2018. This exhibition opened as part of the Ballydehob Summer Festival and National Heritage Week. It comprised a collection of 70 exhibits from the 1960s and 1980s periods, with work from local artists Nora Golden, Christa Reichel, Leda May, Shirley Day, and John and Noelle Verling, as well as other West Cork artists, Cormac Boydell, Jim Turner and Etain Hickey.
Now, a year on, the museum has acquired over 200 exhibits by donation, including work from David Chechovich, Pat Connor, Gurteenakilla/Brushfire Pottery, Carol James, Cóilín Murray, Kevin O’Farrell, Terry Searle, Ian and Lynne Wright, and from writers Marc Brandel, Erik Christian Haugaard, John Montague and Lyall Watson.
This year’s exhibition is running in two parts. The first, Ballydehob on Bahnhofstrasse, tells the story of 12 artists from the local community who travelled to Zurich in 1987 to exhibit their work to a wider audience.
Photographs, posters, catalogues and examples of the work of some of these artists has been assembled by Brian. The second, The Irish Tea Ceremony, looks at local domestic ceramics.
The museum is open every Monday to Friday, from noon to 5pm, until mid-September.
Over time, it is hoped that the museum will be able to source representative examples from all areas of the West Cork arts and crafts movement.
The team is always on the lookout for further donations, so if you think that you might have something suitable for them, contact Brian Lalor, at [email protected]