School community collaborates on unique sculpture

People passing Yellow Furze NS in recent weeks will have noticed an addition to the school infrastructure that is both unique and imaginative.

It hasn't been given an name just yet but it's known, unofficially at least, as the "totem sculpture".

The distinctive piece is the end product of a project that started around two years ago and included imaginative and practical contributions from a large number of people - including students, parents, teachers and the person who helped turn the concept into something tangible - sculptor Penelope 'Penny' Lacey.

"A new extension was added to the school and to celebrate that fact it was decided to provide a piece of artwork, " explained Penelope who has three children who attend the school, Mia, Oisin and Theo. "I was asked if I would like to make a piece for the school and I said I would love to but I wondered about involving the children in designing the piece and how we could go about doing that.

"We asked them to make something that reminded them of school and from the 200 different ideas and objects, which they made out of clay, I grouped them together in categories and did some designs. We then showed them to the children and they chose their favourite which was a totem."

Work on the project got underway, then Covid hit but progress still steadily continued. "We had a clay camp last summer where we had small groups of socially distanced children where we carried on the creative process. We had groups of mammies as well come to my studio and help with the work as well. A lot of people were involved in the making of the piece," added Penelope who works out of a studio at the family home in Staffordstown close to both Kentstown and Walterstown.

Penelope Lacey is originally from near Stonehenge in Wiltshire. She was employed in the NHS in England while working as a sculptor in her spare time. "I always wanted to be a sculptor, it's my passion. When I was in London, I worked full-time for the NHS but I always had a studio I shared with other artists in an artists retreat in Eel Pie Island, an island on the Thames at Twickenham. "That was my sanctuary, where I de-stressed and did what sculpture work I could at the time."

Among her commissioned works was the 'Duchess of Cornwall' bust to celebrate the centenary of The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. The Duchess of Cornwall, or Camilla Parker Bowles as she is more widely known, is a patron of the society.

Penelope Lacey is currently the creative associate for the Creative Schools Initiative led by the Arts Council of Ireland and also supports the Teacher Artist Partnership Programme led by the Department of Skills and Education.

"I run workshops for adults and children and am passionate about supporting others to explore their own creative potential through clay and sculpture," added Penelope who has now worked as a professional sculptor for 20 years doing portrait and figurative pieces. She has exhibited internationally and has also displayed her work in the prestigious 'Sculpture in Context' event at the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin and also in the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan.

"The sculpture was hand built from clay using a coil and blending technique, used through the ages since prehistory," outlined Penelope in her explanation of how the piece was constructed. "The decorative imprints were created by the children and adhered to the cylinders by volunteers and the artist. "Each element was left to dry then fired in a kiln to 1,260 degrees centigrade to enable to to withstand weather. A steel pole was concreted into the ground before each ‘bead’ was threaded onto the pole."

Liz Halpenny, vice-principal of Yellow Furze NS emphasised how the sculpture was very much a combined effort.

"It was an idea Penny came to us with two years ago, I pitched it to the staff and they said absolutely, then we pitched it to the kids. Once we showed them what was wanted they ran with it. The students provided the inspiration but an awful lot of the work was also done by the parents.

"To the kids it means there's a result to all their work, that their view of the school and the area is appreciated and noted. They are actually very proud of it and their contribution towards making it all happen, and rightfully so."