Helen and the artists works with bog oak, a material they discovered through Bord na Móna in the 1990s. The studio work ranges from large scale public art to small sculptures and wearable pieces. They established the studio in 1990; starting as a space for young local artists to train in woodcarving in the midlands of Ireland. The wood with which the studio works is sourced from Lough Boora Parklands, County Offaly.
The larger pieces are made to commission and include Metamorphosis (2011) a wall-mounted piece for Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, which relates the curved forms of bog oak to sound waves. The Great Oak (2012), a ten metre wall-mounted installation at Ballivor School, were achieved with the Percent for Arts Scheme.
The studio has made several notable liturgical pieces, including a tabernacle and baptismal font (2011) for Ballymachugh Church, County Cavan, made from bog yew, carved and polished, yet retaining the original form of the tree. Their work is found in public and private collections, including the headquarters of the EU Presidency in Brussels, and several smaller pieces have been presented to visiting dignitaries, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama (2012), and Xi Jin Ping, President of China (2012).
The image includes an early piece completed in Ballinahown village in association with Michael Casey, with whom the studio worked with for many years.
Five thousand years ago, all of Ireland was covered in trees. Then the climate changed and peat formed around them, an inch for every ten years until parts of the country were embedded in thirty feet of bog. Then the peat was farmed for fuel and the ancient forests were revealed beneath the bog. That timber was not seen as precious. It was used as firewood in famine times and carved into Victorian bric-a-brac. It was associated with decay. When I first saw the bog it was like a graveyard of trees – useless, distressed, and sad. In pre-Christian times those trees were sacred and valued. As I began to understand their history, I felt that I was connecting with something ancient. There is a five-thousand year old energy in the wood. When I am working with it, I have to respect that energy. Bog wood is a beautiful and difficult material – like stone – very dense to carve. Peel off the dead bark to reveal the flow of the magnificent roots and release the form that you see within them. Working with the wood, this ancient material, has been my journey. That’s where I am – in the roots.