Wednesday, October 28, 2020

By Conor Forrest

A VIDEO on graveyards in south Kildare with prominent carvings, made for Culture Night 2020 by artist and printmaker Angelina Foster (of Angelina’s Artventures), generated interest not just here but further afield.

Her original proposal for Culture Night was a workshop in the old St Michael’s cemetery in Athy but, with Covid restrictions, Angelina had to move her finished work online. She explained that it gave her the chance to include other sites in Kildare, such as Lackagh, Monasterevin, and Castledermot Friary, and opened her work to a larger audience.

The short film features grave rubbing workshop footage and you can still check it out on YouTube – search for ‘Grave Rubbing Experience by Angelina Foster for Kildare Culture Night, Ireland’.

Angelina explained that she was even contacted by a man in American who contacted her after seeing the footage that she shot in Monasterevin which included his family’s grave.

Given the situation in which we’ve found ourselves this year, Angelina has developed a series of physically distanced experiences. Like many artists and businesses, her income was hugely dependent on festivals and events last year and, with all events cancelled this year, she had to come up with new ways to host workshops outdoors or with physical distancing. Just before lockdown she had started working with the Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny and was part of a shared artists’ studio in Kilkenny which closed due to Covid.

Angelina explained that she was lucky to receive a Business Continuity Voucher from Kildare Local Enterprise Office in May, which she used to work with a tourism consultant to combine her art and heritage interests into experiences for the public. She has been running ecoprinting on paper and grave rubbing workshops, both of which grew from medieval research. Ecoprinting uses natural dyeing techniques, how ancestors made dyes and inks from local plants and flowers. The grave rubbing project involved months of research into how to make her own waxes and pastes and to find the best papers.

Angelina approached Kilkea Castle in July to collaborate on her outdoor activities and tap into the history of Kilkea and the Fitzgerald family. She said that Kilkea has been hugely supportive and she’s also attracted a lot more American followers as a result. Kilkea, she said, suggested she take a look at the Fitzgerald family cemetery to see if it was suitable for workshops.

When I looked into it further it was perfect, with some dramatic stories to accompany the tombstones!” she explained. “I know several counties started to survey graveyards with the intention of accessing the growing genealogy market and this is something I would like to tap into. It can offer a wonderful way to explore and record family history and create unique genealogical records. I had planned to re-launch my business during Heritage Week but due to the lockdown in Laois and Kildare I had to cancel or postpone a lot of workshops. I am now trying to take advantage of the last few weeks before winter and encourage people outdoors. Graveyards are like outdoor museums, with so much history, stories and beautiful carvings and symbols.

“The grave rubbing project is just the beginning of exploring outdoor heritage, and I hope people will continue the process with me, by making their grave rubbing prints into family history books or prints they can hang in their homes.”

When we spoke, Angelina was moving into the Tanyard in Ballitore where she hopes to continue physically distanced workshops in screen printing, natural dyeing, grave rubbing and book binding. She is also researching Shackleton’s printmaking practice, how he printed and bound the first book in Antarctica.

“It’s fabulous, it’s amazing,” she said of the Tanyard, which is a great resource in the local community. Angelina got in touch with the committee and explained that they were “well up for me moving in for six months’ trial initially…. I’m hoping now I can get my classes running here”.

She also remarked that “lockdown taught me, like many people, to appreciate my local area, some of the best carvings and stories I have found are near my home.

“I also found the new South Kildare heritage map a great source”.

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