Wednesday 28 August 2013

Kilmacurragh Trees

National Heritage Week is an event celebrated annually in Ireland, this year taking place August 17 - 25. We usually go to one of the events (which are listed online), and this year I saw that the Botanic Gardens had a satellite garden in Kilmacurragh, Wicklow which was having a family day. Looking at the map it seemed to be just a half hour drive south of us, so we planned a picnic if the day was fine. And a fine day it was! The park was beautiful, with a pond, picnic area surrounded by grazing hills and avenues of trees. Kilmacurragh was formerly a big house estate (with the hulk of the big house still on the property - awaiting redevelopment is my guess) bought by the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin a few years ago. I think "family day" consisted of a tour around the gardens, but we opted to do our own free nature walk. I think this gnarly old tree is a yew, but am not too sure...

Here is another view of the same tree.

Walking through an avenue of rhododendron, I came across this old tree whose trunk reminded me of an elephant's leg. There was another one nearby, so I half expected to see a prehistoric elephant among the foliage. Happily I didn't!

I particularly liked this tree with the ropey vines all over it. At the moment I think these gardens at Kilmacurragh are a hidden gem, but won't be for long since I keep telling people about how great they are! There is a dedicated meadow of wild flowers and the rhododendron avenues will look glorious in the spring - I am looking forward to a return visit when everything is blooming.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower

The annual astronomical event of the Perseid meteor shower took place last week. I had thought that having the brilliant summer we were having - clear skies and warmth - we were bound to have a good night sky so that my eleven year old daughter could finally see her first shooting star! Since I have been in Bray (I moved back here in 1996) I have not had a chance to see the Perseids as the sky always clouds over! I described to my daughter how I could see a pure starry sky when I lived in Kerry. The painting below, Knockeen Gate, is based on the view from the front of the house where I lived outside Portmagee. 
I had promised to wake my daughter if the sky cleared, and as it didn't on the Monday night she had a peaceful night sleep. When she went to bed on the Tuesday the same promise was made; amazingly there was about an hour window of opportunity between 11 and 12 pm. Though it was a struggle, I did manage to wake her. We had a little party outside, snuggling on loungers, eating crisps and looking at the stars. Though the stars are not visibly as plentiful this close to Dublin as they are in the country, there are still more stars to be seen than in Toronto. And yes, before the clouds rolled in we did see some shooting stars. Hurray, mission accomplished!
The next day, when asked about the difference between a comet and a shooting star, I was reminded that in fact I have seen two comets since coming to Ireland. The painting above, Knockeen Comet, is based on the actual view of comet Hale-Bopp that I saw from the back of my house (with an outbuilding ruin, Portmagee Channel and Valentia Island as a base for the night sky) when I lived in Kerry.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Illustration and Books

While in Dublin last week, I couldn't resist this book of Fairy Tales illustrated beautifully by Harry Clarke. It was only when I moved to Ireland 20 years ago that I realised Clarke was an Irish artist, although I was familiar with his illustrations since childhood and had seen the gorgeous stained glass windows at the Hugh Lane Gallery on previous visits to Dublin. 

Reading the introduction to this book, I found out it was a re-print publication with all new photos of the illustrations as one of the original books was now in the possession of the National Gallery of Ireland. The original book can be viewed in the prints & drawings section of the gallery by appointment only, and I plan to do it!

Another colour plate from the book:

Illustration from its Golden Age (i.e., 19th & early 20th century) has been a life-long interest of mine (and I think most of my sisters too). My favourite illustrator is usually Edmund Dulac and The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe illustrated by Dulac is still one of my prized possessions. Though the image below is not from that book, it gives a sense of Dulac's style. I used to have this picture hanging on my wall when I was growing up.

Speaking of sisters, my sister Yvonne Whelan, recently had an exhibition of her illustrations ("I Saw Wonderland") at Yumart in Toronto. The image  below is Sleeping Beauty.

Aubrey Beardsley was another favourite, though I bemoan the sale of several of his books when I left Canada, including a deluxe copy of Morte d'Arthur. Why oh why?

At least I kept my copy of the Romance of King Arthur illustrated by Arthur Rackham which I had bought on my second visit to New York in 1981. This Rackham illustration was another picture I had on my bedroom wall when I was younger.

Another book which I bemoan selling is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner illustrated by Gustave Doré. But I still remember the fabulous illustrations!

Thursday 8 August 2013

Dublin Visit

Yesterday I went to Dublin with my daughter, on both a cultural and fun visit! After a coffee shop stop once we got to the city, we started the day with a visit to the National Gallery. "Masterpieces of the Collection" was the main exhibition on and I wanted to revisit one of my favourite paintings in the collection - Frederick William Burton's "Hillela and Hildebrand - the Meeting on the Turret Stairs". Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of the painting, it can only be viewed on certain days and Wednesday wasn't one of them! But here is an image anyway. 

My daughter is familiar with American art history and loves the likes of Jackson Pollock for his action style and painterliness. She had, however, never heard of Jack B Yeats, and I wanted to rectify this! There were  a number of Yeats paintings in the Masterpiece exhibition, and she did like them for the same reasons she likes Pollock. She also enjoyed some 18th century Constable-like landscapes in the collection.

We also popped over to the nearby National Museum of Ireland, which is almost like a home away from home to us. On this visit we focused on the compact but superb Egyptian room. After lunch we went for a glorious stroll (blue sky and heat!) around St. Stephen's Green, before joining the Viking Splash tour of Dublin. The tour takes place in a DUKW vehicle, created for WW2 and we were told that our particular vehicle had been on the beaches of Normandy. Part of the tour takes place in the water of the Grand Canal Basin which makes this a very unique tour of Dublin. The tour includes the wearing of faux Viking hats and shouting at pedestrian "Celts" so it was lots of fun! (The DUKW we were in was the Thor, but they all look the same -- like a boat in the water, and like a truck on land.)