WEST Cork sculptor Alison Ducker has come a long way to celebrate her first big exhibition which recently opened in London.
‘It’s been an incredible journey,’ she says, speaking from her Ballydehob studio, the Livingstone Sculpture Gallery.
First, she chose to skip art school, which is a bit surprising given her extensive collection of delicate porcelain figures and graceful bronze statues.
‘I was supposed to go and research it, but you had to take this course and that course.’
She ended up taking a panel beating and spray painting course and serving an apprenticeship painting cars in Cork where she gained excellent work ethic and attention to detail. ‘That was great training for me,’ she recalls.
She returned to her home town of Bantry to open a craft shop in the enterprise centre there, and quickly moved on to set up a shop/ceramics studio/home in a bigger space in the town.
Alison then moved on to do the same in Killarney. And this is the model she uses now in Ballydehob. ‘I love working here. It can be very lonely being an artist. But the passing traffic can be enough company and then there’s always someone who pops in or waves as they pass.’
Getting back to this creative place did not come easy or swiftly, though. In the late 90s she was living and working in Crookhaven when she received her first big commission – a five foot bronze depicting the spirits of the sea – that should have been a signal that her career was on the rise. As timing would have it, though, she was also starting a family. Her sculpting took a back seat to her new passion – her daughters – for the next 14 years.
One day when the girls were still quite young she went to her GP as she had found ‘something that didn’t feel right.’ The clinic was busy and she debated coming back on another day. ‘I got up to leave the waiting room and it felt like my dad (who had died a couple years earlier) came out of the heavens and pushed me back down!’ Within three weeks her entire right breast was removed.
Fast forward to 2012, she is in top health and her creative juices are flowing. Alison began sculpting again. She found the space in Ballydehob so she could set up shop and re-dedicate herself to her old flame. Within months of this fresh start, and seven years after her mastectomy, Alison got more bad news.
This time the cancer was in her lymph glands which meant gruelling rounds of chemo and radiotherapies. Under the influence of these lifesaving ‘poisons’ she struggled to concentrate, to speak, to read. ‘But I did focus on my work – it was the one thing that kept me sane.’
She says that staying in a positive place, even when she didn’t feel like it, helped her get through the toughest times and that she did so by continuing to work. ‘I just carried on and thank God I had it.’
Today, Alison feels fabulous. Her energy is back. Her hair has grown. She has been given the all-clear. She feels the ‘tide has turned’ as her collection of work continues to grow and her new ceramics classes gain popularity.
The glaze icing on the clay cake? A few months ago the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery in the heart of central London approached her to exhibit in their upcoming Sculpture and Ceramics Exhibition. Again, all her hard work and talent were being noticed and she was back on track.
Two of the big bronze pieces which formed part of the London exhibition were made during her treatment. ‘You can see the scrambling of the brain in the work. What was inside was coming out,’ she explains.
The Livingstone Gallery located on Main Street in Ballydehob is open Wednesday to Saturday. To enquire about commissions or classes contact Alison at 086 3530210 or see her Facebook page.