Art, Art Foundation and Portfolio.
Development of Art Education in Vocational School Newcastle West
By Eileen O’Sullivan
The establishment of the Portfolio Year in the Vocational School was the culmination of a process that started in 1979.
The restrictive Group Cert and Inter Cert Art courses were abolished and replaced by a totally new curriculum for Junior Cert Art, thanks to the inspired anti-bureaucratic struggles of Chief Inspector Michael O’Nuallain.
At long last Art in its widest sense became the focus of a study that was comprehensive investigative and craft driven.
Now as an Art teacher, I could pursue not only drawing and painting but photography, ceramics, graphics, printmaking, textiles, sculpture, puppetry, in fact Art in its widest interpretation. This revolution gradually changed the direction of Art in the Newcastle West Vocational School.
Leaving Cert achievement was still our primary aim, but these comprehensive skills which had enriched our lives – mine and theirs – over the five years now forced us to look at Post Leaving Cert possibilities.
The initiatives shown by Joe Mc Cann, our first Art teacher, were now bearing fruit, as the tentacles of creative Art were now reaching out into the Newcastle West community.
Art no longer just a subject, but used in the town was now an expression of a new creativity expressed e.g. in
(1) Street Art
(2) Street Theatre
(3) A vibrant Art Society
(4) Art & Photography Exhibitions
(5) Art as an essential part of local festivals
(6) Visiting established artists e.g. John Behan Dublin Sculptor, a founder member of the Projects Art Centre, he helped create the Dublin Art Foundry and was a member of the Arts Council. All of these areas resulted in public awareness of the Vocational School Art course contribution to the life of the town.
Martin Mc Namara an inspired and inspiring headmaster had the insight to perceive the potential of a new type of Post Leaving Art course. In collaboration with Limerick College of Art which came in the form of lecturers from different disciplines in Art and Design, I designed a one year Portfolio Course that filled the vacuum between Leaving Cert and First Year Art College.
Mr Charles Harper, Lecturer in Painting in Limerick College of Art and Design, who opened Portfolio Exhibition 89 in Newcastle West Library, told the audience one of the major cuts in Art education was the removal of the pre–diploma course known as the One Year Foundation Course, which was diagnostic in nature and informed and prepared the young school leavers for the many courses of Art and Design open to them.
There are great differences between these courses, and the students applying to them need to be well informed as to their suitability to whatever course will bring out their greatest attribute. A void was created by this and the need for preparation courses became clear.
Newcastle West has recognised this need and has stepped into the breach to give our talented young people, when they leave school, some chance to pursue their vocations in Art and Design. These young students are at the door of a very exciting career, one that will challenge their vision, creativity and image making skills.
They will contribute much to the quality of life through their fresh perceptions and expressions. However all this would not happen without provision of facilities and resources of this forward-looking school, nor will success be achieved without hard work, research and some risk taking. I am sure you will all join with me in wishing these young pupils every success in their future careers. Judging by this showing that future has commenced.
The students developed their own personal skills in the following areas ; Drawing, Painting, Design, Ceramics, Photography, Appreciation of Art/Craft/Design, Communications, Graphic Design, Printmaking and Photography.
These 10 modules comprised an approved FETAC Post Leaving Course. Our catchment area extended as far as Galway to the north, Tipperary to the east and West Cork and Kerry to the south. To reach potential students, I travelled throughout the country presenting the course outline, and specifying the potential.
The resulting student enrolment from these far-flung areas meant that Newcastle West Vocational School was a focal point for excellence in Art creativity and achievement. These students resided in accommodation in the town and further strengthened the link between the school and the local community.
Art could now be perceived as a career and many of our graduates both local and not so local, went on to achieve greatness in their chosen fields. Many of them now are well known Art teachers and practising artists.
Much was achieved through the co-operation and unstinting help from (a) the local County Library with its inspired Librarian Aileen Dillane and her staff (b)the local Arts Committee (c)Co Limerick Vocational Education Committee and (d)the local commercial businesses who exhibited the art works of our students.
Specifically it is very pleasing to see two of our Art graduates, Sean Shiels and Damien Culhane as permanent staff members of Desmond College as they perpetuate the tradition of Art and creativity in the school.
Eileen O Sullivan, Marie Tobin, Sean Shiels, Damian Cullhane and Keith O’Rahilly and Andrew Nuland.
Art Class 1989
A portfolio class was set up in 1989 to accommodate post Leaving Certificate students who wished to gain entry to Art College or who had a special interest in Art.
This venture was the brain child of Eileen O’Sullivan, Marie Tobin and Seán Shiels. Art colleges were difficult to gain entry to straight after the Leaving Certificate and were demanding students to complete a full time one year concentrated Art portfolio course in order to be eligible for entry.
Students studied many aspects of Art but compiling a portfolio of one͛s work over the year was the principal component of the course. Students came from Co. Limerick and neighbouring counties to complete this course, entry was by interview and school portfolio, competition was keen and students had to meet certain deadlines in order to have a chance to gain entry to the Art College. The success rate was extremely high.
Students held an exhibition late in the year and the public were invited to view the students work and portfolios. Art Colleges within the last few years no longer demanded portfolios from students and were prepared to accept them straight from the Leaving Certificate. This procedure lead to the end of the portfolio classes unfortunately.
R.B. Marie Tobin writes
When I began teaching in Newcastle West in 1982, Eileen took me under her wing! Her enthusiasm, her love of teaching and of all things artistic was contagious. Eileen brought with her a vibrancy and energy that positively affected both colleagues and students alike.
With spirit and sheer determination, she established a portfolio preparation course in order to enable those with the desire for a career in art to follow their dream. Over the years that course has changed the lives of so many people. Some have travelled the world with their art, studied M.A.s in Belfast, London and America.
Adults have made great sacrifices to pursue art. Past students have returned to teach alongside us, we have Seán Shiels, Damien Culhane and Sandra Sheehan.
Eileen Hanlon, Castlemahon, and Bridget Flynn, Ardagh, pictured with their teacher Maria Tobin at the exhibition of work by Junior Cert. students in the Vocational School.
Keith O’Rahilly comments
Our art PLC students contribute greatly to the extra-curricular school activities calendar. They play a significant role in the way of the cross. In its 22nd year of providing service to the fraternity of Art and Design, sadly, Desmond College Foundation will see its final year.
May I pay tribute to Eileen O’Sullivan, its founder, Maria Tobin who developed the course, Seán Shiels who acted as its backbone, Ann O’Connell and Damien Culhane who both taught on the course.
We as educators believe our courses legacy lives on in our students and past students who now enjoy successful careers in Art and Design as they remember their formative training and guidance received in Desmond College’s Art Foundation.
Portfolio Class 98 at Newcastle West Vocational School
Jessica Brouder, Canada/Newcastle West, Ann Larkin, Reens Pike; Nina Lyons, Kerry; Clodagh O’Sullivan, Listowel; Sarah Steven, England; Olivia Hayden and Clionadh Long, NCW; Joanie Sheehy, Askeaton; Seán Shiels, Tutor; Damien Culhane, Glin; Marie O’Connor, Castlemahon; Eileen Flynn-O’Sullivan and Andrew Newland, tutors.
Of note Seán Shiels was a student of Eileen Flynn-O’Sullivan in 2nd level, and Damien Culhane who is back teaching in the school since 2002.
Past student and current art teacher, Damien Culhane, remembers
I can now safely say that the year I spent there was the most challenging and interesting of my entire education.
During the course of the year, I studied many subjects and the following are but a few; combined materials and work simulation with Seán Shiels, print making and graphic design with Maria Tobin and appreciation of art, sculpture and ceramics with Eileen O’Sullivan.
It was only when I went to Art College that I truly recognised how valuable this art foundation course was to me. Eileen and her crew during this year, instilled into me, knowledge and confidence needed for Art College life, but most of all they made me realise that a career in art was what I wanted.
Presenting the prizes in Desmond College Credit Union is Bridget Liston, Credit Union to Clodagh Egan, Sinead Meehan and Stephen Carey. Photo includes Richard Barry, Vice-Principal and Eileen O’Sullivan, art teacher.
Portfolio 99 Anniversary – Micheál Kelleher
Portfolio 1999 leaflet cover
1999 was the 10th anniversary (1989-1999) of the art portfolio class. It is very fitting for all of us, that we celebrate this unique occasion by reuniting and exhibiting our work. This exhibition consists of works in multimedia, ceramics, film-painting, sculpture, print-making and textiles.
It was confined to past pupils who graduated from Limerick College of Art and Design. This exhibition will be a first for Newcastle West because the venue is not just one place, but instead is dispersed around the town, in the windows of the shops thus ensuring maximum exposure to all the townspeople.
Great credit has to be paid to the 3 people who run the course on a daily basis, the eternal flame (Mr. Martin McNamara Principal and the two hard working course teachers, Eileen O’Sullivan (founder) and Marie Tobin).
The course has changed greatly over the years. The introduction of the Street Theatre Group FOILSÍU. Under the guidance of the ever dedicated Seán Shiels has further enhanced the reputation of the course. Go raibh maith agat.
Maura O’Connor, Portfolio Class of 2000, with her violin which was recycled from the school photocopier.
Eileen O’Sullivan, Denis O’Connor and Tony Barry pictured at the Junior Cert Art Exhibition in Newcastle West Vocational School.
Students and teachers of the Art Class circa 1990 at their Open Day. Eileen O’Sullivan is pictured to the right.
Mairead Hartnett, Jennifer Hurley, Mr. McNamara, Sandra McDonagh and Siobhan Corbett at the Junior Cert Art Exhibition.
A visit to the art room was like a trip to a museum – it combined so much of the past with the present – it was visually stimulating, interesting and inspiring. This collection knew no boundaries – like the cliché says, “everything from a needle to an anchor” could be found there.
There were rare collections of artefacts and exhibits from the fields of zoology and geology. These displays served as a visual stimulus and a motivating factor for many students in their preparation for school projects, sketching and painting.
Eileen believed that art had a vital role in the education of children. She wrote:
“the process of drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery or constructing is one in which the pupil brings together diverse elements of his experience to make a new and meaningful whole. In the process of selecting, interpreting and reforming these elements, he has given us more than a picture or a sculpture; he has given us a part of himself; how he thinks, how he feels and how he sees. For the child or young adult, art is a dynamic and unifying activity. Art education is an essential part of the education process.”
Eileen presented a colourful and decorative stained glass window pane which was the culmination of her years’ work in the night classes to Desmond College.
2004: Seán Shiels (art teacher and former pupil of Eileen O’Sullivan), presenting his metamorphised drawing of the Vocational School and Desmond College on the night of Eileen’s retirement.
Bernadette Feely, Amanda Sheehan, Anna Ahern and Paula Corbett pictured with Mr. McNamara, Principal, at the Junior Cert Art Exhibition in the Vocational School.
Desmond College Art Foundation Exhibition “A Splash of Colour” in 2011. Desmond College PLC Art Foundation, now running for twenty one years, held an Art Exhibition in the Newcastle West Library
Lucas Kolakowska, Fiona Conway, Monika Kolakowski, Kate McElligott, FIona Hanley, Kirsty Conway, Aileen Nix, Angela Keane, Lauren Wilmot, Danny Ahern, Kayla Sheehy, Marie Hartigan (absent from photo) Pat Keogh