When I was on sabbatical in 2011 and working as a Visiting Researcher in the Blasket Centre, I met Maria Simonds-Gooding, an amazing artist and a wonderful person with a fabulously interesting life story. I asked Maria months ago, if I could bring students to her studio in Dunquin to get a glimpse of her work and hear her stories about how she came to this part of the world and how the beautiful land- and seascapes inform her work. She was so lovely – yes, she said, come ahead!
Students in my semester-long honors course during spring 2014 learned about the work of two Dunquin artists – Carol Cronin and Maria Simonds-Gooding. Their work is very different, but both artists are informed and inspired by the way the light looks here and the way the air feels, the people, the landscapes, the colors, the pace of life – and the sea. We had tentatively scheduled a gallery visit to Carol Cronin’s gallery in Dingle and I was excited for my students to experience the marvelous work and lovely, warm personalities of both of these amazing artists.
After we finished up in the Blasket Centre, we walked up the hill to the townland of Ceathrú, where Maria lives. Her cottage is fabulous – reconstructed by its original owner from the island, Maidhc Shea Faight, who brought his wooden roof over to the mainland when he cam off the island. It is a marvelous cottage – every authentic detail preserved, including the open hearth and the pot-oven with its iron swing arm design, painted bright green. We walked through the arched entrance into a small courtyard, and I could hear Maria talking softly. The wooden half door was open at the top and latched at the bottom. I called to her, and she came to the door and welcomed us in – greeting each student with a firm handshake, a lovely smile and an inquiry about the students’ name. After we were all seated around the peat fire in the hearth, Maria introduced us to another guest who had arrived a few minutes before us – an artist from Germany.
We had a delightful conversation – Maria told students about her home and how she had acquired it many years ago (with the help of the Christian Brothers and her Aunt, who purchased the cottage for her at an auction, for £800), and about the primitive drawings and paintings on the walls of her cottage, most done by Peig Sayers’ son. She then asked each of the students where they were from and what they were studying, and had a fabulous, engaged discussion with each of them – this made a huge, wonderful impression. Maria asked them questions that made them laugh, made them think, made them open up and reflect a bit deeper about their lives. It was an extraordinary hour!
We moved into her studio for a bit, and although most of her works had been removed for a retrospective exhibit opening in Dublin at the end of June, she was able to share a few of her older works (print plates and prints from her printmaking days, sketches and drawings of Fungie the Dolphin, photographs of tapestry work, and aluminium etchings from her most recent work) and describe her process, a bit. Students loved this part of our class – the two artists in the class as well as the science students who rarely get to engage at this level in discussions about or exposure to creative artistic thinking and practice. It was marvelous! We said our goodbyes and walked back down to the Centre for the next part of our planned activities for the day, a trip to see the amazing Gallarus Oratory.