By Stephen Walker
For years I thought it would be a great thing if Celtic artists working in the present could come together and meet to exchange ideas and inspiration. Now with the help of my friends, this is going to happen, very soon and right here in Andover, NY! Walker Metalsmiths is proud to be sponsoring an international conference for Celtic artists. We are honored to have some of the best artists and experts on this ancient art form joining us in Andover 7 – 9 June 2019
“There has never been a better time to be a Celtic artist”, says Michael Carroll. Carroll is a Chicago based calligrapher and master of illumination in the traditional Irish Celtic style most often associated with the 8th century Book of Kells. Carroll explains that “The methods have been rediscovered and the road is clear.” Resources, training and public appreciation has never been greater in his lifetime.
This gathering will bring together many artists who have never met face to face. An online community of Celtic artists has flourished for two decades. A news group was founded on June 9, 2000, Saint Columba’s Day. As this 6th century Irish monk is well associated with Celtic art, the group decided to designate his feast day as The International Day of Celtic Art in 2017. Events and exhibits have been held worldwide.
The art form, with its characteristic abstract designs of knots, spirals, interlaced animals and geometric step and key patterns has become emblematic of the heritage of the various Celtic ethnic groups. These include the Irish, Scots, Welch, Manx, Cornish, Breton and even some regions of the Iberian Peninsula such as Asturias and Galicia. The artform reached its Golden Age from the 7th to 10th centuries AD and then has undergone numerous revivals. In the 1850s the style reemerged in a way that was strongly associated with Irish and Scottish national identity. Since the 1990s a renaissance in Celtic art has blossomed, fueled in part by several high-profile museum exhibitions and the publication of a plethora of books on the subject.
With presenters coming from as far as Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, one may well ask, ‘why such an unlikely place as Andover, NY? ‘ In Andover Celtic art is a tradition! In 1958 a young artist, William “Scotty” MacCrea, was hired as the art teacher at Andover Central School. MacCrea was from a Gaelic speaking Scottish Canadian family. His art included Celtic elements and his enthusiasm infected many of the hundreds of students he mentored over the thirty-one years he taught at Andover. He way my teacher from 6th grade until I graduated in 1975. MacCrea, now aged 86, will be one of the presenters at the conference. Gregory Hardy, a former student of MacCrea’s will present a lecture about the local tradition of Celtic art, involving dozens of artists and spanning over fifty years, that began with MacCrea’s art classes.
Dr. Donncha MacGabhann, from Ireland, will also address the conference with a presentation title, A Magnificent Obsession; An Artist’s Response to the Book of Kells. Like MacCrea, MacGabhann was an art teacher in a rural high school. After retiring from his teaching job in County Limerick, MacGabhann went on to get his PhD in art history and has emerged as an expert on Celtic manuscript art, having spent time as a research associate at Trinity College Dublin studying medieval illuminated manuscripts. MacGabhann’s presentation is sponsored by the Hornell, NY Ancient Order of Hibernians and Lady Hibernians.
Also from Ireland, Mike King, will give a presentation on the conservation of Saint Patrick’s Cross and the Downpatrick Market Cross. These two medieval stone monuments were also copied in stone to replace the originals in their traditional locations so that the older monuments could be protected from further weathering and deterioration. King is the former curator of Downpatrick Museum. King’s lecture is sponsored by a local monument company, Hart Brothers and Sons Memorials of Wellsville, NY.
Other presentations will include artists doing show-and-tell presentations of their own art like Scottish fiber artist Ruth Black. Her presentation is titled Embroidering the Past - using textiles to explore the Pictish Stones of Northern Scotland. Ed Rooney of Philadelphia will expound on the computer graphics he creates in the Celtic style. Michael Carroll will give a presentation on his own work as well as teaching a workshop titled Maze and key Patterns: The Diamond method.
I will give a presentation on medieval metal casting techniques that will be a digest of several lectures I have given in Ireland and the UK over the past twelve years. Canadian enamel artist Catherine Crowe will also be addressing jewelry as she delves into the history of Celtic enamels.
Lectures, presentations and discussions on Friday June 7 and Saturday June 8 will alternate with an exhibition, open to the public, of the artwork of the visiting artists and Friday evening from 6 to 8 PM at 1 Main Street in Andover. On Saturday evening there will be a banquet with traditional Celtic Music provided by The Jameson Sisters of Philadelphia. On Sunday afternoon Michael Carroll will offer a three-hour class titled Key and maze patterns; the diamond method.
More information on the conference and registration details can be found at https://www.celticartday.com/2019-conference or phone Walker Metalsmiths at 607-478-8567.
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