In June 2021, the 'Wexford Whale & Shipwreck Pottery' Public Artworks were officially unveiled on Wexford Quays. Helen was delighted to be commissioned to create this artwork and play a small part in a fascinating story that began 150 years ago and is still evolving. The related RTE News feature by Philip Bromwell can be viewed by clicking on the link below.
In an exciting new development it is envisaged that a 'twin' artwork will be designed and created in the next two years for installation in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Indeed, some of the shipwreck pottery included in the 'Wexford Whale' artwork came from a ship carrying pottery from Stoke, England, bound for Savannah, Georgia that was wrecked off the shores of Wexford in the 1850's. Furthermore, many Irish immigrants to Savannah during the 19th century came from County Wexford and the relationship between both places continues to flourish to this day.
An extract from a post made by Helen prior to installation of the artwork:
'The creative journey of 'The Whale and the Chanies'.
Five years ago, Ann Borg walked into my studio with a small bucket of materials for a weekend mosaic workshop and so a journey of history, storytelling and art began.
The bucket was filled with treasure – Shipwreck pottery or ‘Chanies’ as they are known locally - the result of shipwrecks off Rosslare harbour over 150 years ago. I was hooked, an artists’ dream. Buckets of beautiful fragments, edges softened and lightened by the waves of time. Ann’s story of collecting from local beaches for seventy years unfolded gradually. The conversation then began of how do we honour her shipwreck pottery collection? How do we tell the story of the ‘Chanies’? Around the same time, I was talking to local historian Helen Corish and learnt about the Wexford blue Whale. A story of nature and humanity, of local community and legacy.
After five years of failed attempts to secure funding for our whale mosaic I approached Elizabeth Whyte director of the Wexford Arts Centre who listened to my proposal and saw the vision. An artwork that would celebrate the two legacies of the Wexford blue whale and the shipwreck pottery and honour the communities that kept those events alive. We were delighted to learn that our application to the Irish Arts Council sponsored ‘Brightening Air Festival’ was greeted with success.
Ann delivered her vast collection of pottery treasures to the studio. The studio began to look like an archaeological site as I sorted the fragments into colours, shapes and forms. Browns, pinks and blues, the palette of Stoke on Trent potteries from the 1850’s. Others from the local community brought their sea glass and pottery collections including Josephine Meyler and Kathy Davy-Wright. The pottery lay like white-washed bones on the studio tables and slowly I began to resurrect the whale and the story of the ‘Chanies’. I began laying out the fragments of history and reforming them, this time from plates and cups into images, a shipwreck, a figure collecting pottery and Tuskar Lighthouse. Almost complete, the whale sits grinning at me from across the studio with its pottery gills and teapot eye.
Beached in 1891 at Wexford Harbour and dispatched by Edward Wickham, the whale, weakened after giving birth 10 months previously, was a rare sight to behold. Her skeleton was sold for £111. Weighing 4.5 tonnes and 25metres in length, she was shipped to the Natural History Museum in London.
For decades she lay waiting for her moment of glory and in 2019 her 221 bones were resurrected and she became the main exhibit at the entrance to the museum. A symbol of mans’ ability to come together and save nature. The museum named her ‘Hope’. The blue whale was on the brink of extinction when the world came together in 1960 to stop whale killing and saved the species.
On my studio table the small version of Hope lies happily in her pottery form, her sea washed Chanies slot together to suggest in a small way her magnificent form. Dermot Cullen of DC Engineering created her coat of armour, the stainless-steel frame that supports her bones and the community far and wide came together in a virtual and interactive way to sign fragments of the pottery, hear the stories and in turn tell their stories'
-Helen McLean June 2021