Collected Works at Castle Coole

Spring showcase at the Fermanagh estate's unique new basement exhibition space highlights the area's breadth of artistic talent

The idea for an occasional exhibition space below stairs at Castle Coole is attributed to Emma Moore, a grandniece of the poet Louis MacNeice and a former National Trust employee. Having originally opened a gallery in the basement of her home, Dunbar House, she began organising shows at one of Fermanagh's other most elegant buildings.

Thereafter the National Trust assigned a team of eminently qualified experts to organise exhibitions in the space. They include Lord Belmore, whose family built this magnificent neo-classical mansion, group chair Joanna McVey, Helen Lanigan Wood who for many years was curator of the Fermanagh County Museum and retired architect, painter and photographer, Richard Pierce.

Many of the pieces in this show are inspired by the landscapes of Fermanagh and the West of Ireland. Collectively, they confirm the range of talent that exists in the area and highlight friendships which have flourished over the years within the broader artistic community.

Amanda Brooke, who lives on the Colebrooke estate, has made a delightfully innovative and perfectly executed work entitled 'Rise'. Suspended on stainless steel spikes and attached to a seven foot block of Australian sequoia wood are delicate curls of translucent porcelain painted with fine, feathery brushstrokes. Their colours range from pale white to darker grey, just like birds flying into the distance.

Amanda Brooke

Rise by Amanda Brooke

At the opposite end of the room hang two of Ann McNulty’s framed raku tile panels. These depict familiar lakeside scenes; blue tinged moonlit images of a kingfisher, a swift, a cormorant or a reeded foreshore. Below them stand four of McNulty’s remarkable raku pots.

Hand thrown on the potters wheel or extruded and hand built, they have been fired in a hot kiln then smouldered in a bin of ignited wood shavings, emerging burnished in bronze and gold, glazed in black and white, yellow or red.

In her Irvinestown studio, art teacher Jane Fallis fashions hand coiled vessels which she finishes with hand-painted underglaze. The six pieces presented here are more muted in colour and less dramatic in design than those she has shown previously.

Rachael Johnson, sister of the novelist Jason Johnson, lives in Derry~Londonderry but paints in the Enniskillen studio of her late father; artist, model maker and teacher, Gordon Johnson. Her mixed media collage paintings on canvas are made from oil gouache and acrylic paints, pastels, textured papers, fabric and natural fibre, metal, stone, wood and bone.

Rachael Johnson - Stones

Stones by Rachael Johnson

Wrought in hues of red, orange, green or purple, and defined by the artist as 'inscapes', the works entitled 'Mallow', 'Stones', 'Crossing' and 'Shore', are imaginative depictions of the landscape. Between pebbled sea shores and starry skies are layers of sedimented soil filled with the buried traces of by-gone times. Amid bogs and drumlins, moody marshes and meadows one can make out the odd landmark, a church spire or a mountain ridge.

Louise Hardman has built up a reputation as a hand loom weaver of designs for apparel and interiors but here she offers artful and delicately coloured wall hangings made from natural fibres and yarns.

Jeremy Henderson and Patricia Martinelli met in 1993 in a wine bar in London where some of Patricia’s figurative works were displayed for sale. Henderson had trained at Chelsea College of Art and in his work Martinelli recognised the assurance towards which she had been striving for years, particularly his mastery of paint.

The couple married and moved to the house in Lisbellaw where Jeremy grew up. Then in 2009, aged 56, Henderson died leaving a huge collection of large scale paintings.

Patricia continues to paint in her studio at Boho and examples of her work hang here alongside some of Jeremy’s smaller canvasses, abstract landscapes filled with energy and colour. And then there is his delicately defined 'Tulipa, narcissus' from 1988.

Riccartonii 2009 - Patricia Martinelli

Riccartonii 2009 by Patricia Martinelli

In a small alcove, a solitary seascape by Lois Eadie, depicts stormy white horse waves at St. John’s Point in Donegal. Next door, in the long gallery, Rosemary Wilkinson’s dark and moody depiction of Finn Lough in County Mayo is reminiscent of a 19th century romantic landscape and in the distance at the centre of the picture is a Turneresque light.

Omagh-born Susan Mannion, a printmaker and copper enamalist who also specialises in wood engraving, charms the viewer with the precision, delicacy and detail of her small scale works. Among the four little bowls on display, 'Vessel II' (55cm x 6.5cm), is made from vitreous enamel on copper and is lined with lapis lazuli blue; it’s a perfect treasure.

A series of wood engravings are presented in pleasing, ultra smooth walnut frames. The one called 'Vocal Sadness' depicts three figures who, even in their miniature form, call to mind Anthony Gormley’s cast iron figures at Crosby beach near Liverpool. Reflected in a blue, dappled pool is the female silhouette that is 'Water Goddess 1'. Made from enamelled copper, it graces the cover of the exhibition catalogue.

In the mid 1970s, Lord Belmore commissioned the Fermanagh artist TP Flanagan to produce a series of watercolours of Castle Coole and its grounds. Their impact was immediate and long lasting. Largely self-taught, Mavis Thomson cites Flanagan as well as William Scott, Derek Hill and Tony O’Malley among those artists who influenced her most. Certainly her delicate watercolour paintings of Lower Lough Erne seem to owe much to Flanagan.

Mavis Thomson - Lower Lough Erne, Shalloney

Lower Lough Erne, Shalloney by Mavis Thomson

Over the years, Thomson has worked in other media and here there are two collages of handmade paper ('Forest Passage' and 'Night Forest'). 'Sonatina', the latest in a series of witty constructions made from objets trouvés was first shown at the RUA Annual Exhibition in 2015.

A tribute to her friend Joan Trimble, musician, composer, and mother of Joanna McVey, the tiny piano is made from a piece of driftwood painted pale blue; it incorporates black and white keys and touching details such as a music score for two pianos which Joan could have performed with her sister Valerie.

The late TP Flanagan’s son Philip is now a noted artist who trained at Camberwell Art College. Six of the twenty-two life size bronze heads which he made for the exhibition Bronze Voices in the 1990s are included in this show - portraits of his father and of Michael D Higgins, Seamus Heaney, Aideen Gore Booth and Joan Trimble.

Also on display are two of Flanagan’s most recent paintings on canvas. In contrast to the more rigid vertical lines of his past work, the bold geometric patterns and bright colours of 'Early Morning Walk' and 'Looking Towards the Garden in Ta Cenc, Gozo' make such a huge impact and are so impressive that they merit a room all to themselves.

For the range and quality of the works on display this exhibition is worth not one but several visits.

The exhibition at Castle Coole Gallery runs until Sunday, May 1, opening from 11am - 4pm daily. Normal admission charges to Castle Coole apply with National Trust members enjoying free entry.