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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Sculpting a vision of Connor?s life

Published 26/12/2007 | 00:11

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As I told you last week there is a strong Castleisland connection with this year?s publication as locals, Maggie Prendiville and Mike Kenny co-wrote an article on the county?s connecting with bronze. The editor of the magazine is Farranfore native, Marie O?Sullivan and it is published by The Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society. The magazine is on sale throughout the cou

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As I told you last week there is a strong Castleisland connection with this year?s publication as locals, Maggie Prendiville and Mike Kenny co-wrote an article on the county?s connecting with bronze. The editor of the magazine is Farranfore native, Marie O?Sullivan and it is published by The Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society. The magazine is on sale throughout the county at ?6 per copy.

The following is the remainder of the article by Ms. Prendiville and Mr. Kenny:

The Bronze Age metallurgists of County Kerry were incredibly skilled and the techniques that developed through out the period are similar in ways to the modern techniques at use today. The county?s traditions of such fine bronze metal work began in the Bronze Age yet these traditions have been carried down to modern times.

One of the first modern artists to continue this tradition was Jerome Connor. He was born in Annascaul in 1874. In around 1888 his father Patrick sold the tenancy of his farm to a neighbour and took his family to Holyoke Massachusetts, where his eldest son Timothy was already domiciled. Patrick died after two years in Holyoke and young Jerome headed for New York, where he worked as a sign painter at a dollar a day. He also worked as a machinist and as a stonecutter- his father?s trade. Jerome was a powerful youth and he even earned money as a prizefighter under the name Patrick J. O?Connor.

A good deal of mystery remains about his early years in America. He worked with a monument company in Springfield Massachusetts. Tradition has it that the Civil War Memorial at South Hadley, Massachusetts, was the first public piece on which he worked. His career in bronze was underway and the following year he assisted in the casting of the ?Fountain of Neptune? in the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

In 1899 he moved to the Roycroft Institution for Arts and Crafts in East Aurora near Buffalo New York; the brainchild of a wealthy writer and culture promoter Elbert Hubbard, whose monument Connor would later complete from Ireland.

He also met his wife Anne Donohue of Memphis Tennessee here. In 1903 he and Anne moved to Syracuse New York where he had been commissioned by the executor?s of William Kirkpatrick to design two memorial fountains in honour of the local Onondaga people.

By this time he was becoming a national figure and was included in Tafts ?History of American Sculpture?. He exhibited many times at the annual show of the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and before his return to Ireland in 1925 he had completed a significant body of monumental sculpture, including the Archbishop John Carroll Memorial at Georgetown University, the General James Sheils Memorial at Carrolton, Missouri, the life size Robert Emmet in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington and the ?Supreme Sacrifice? in the District Building, Washington D. C., to name but four.

In the Capuchin Annual of 1963 Mairi wrote: ?When Jerome Connor came home?. He was already not merely a competent sculptor with training unequalled by any Irish contemporary; he was, in fact, a great sculptor, truly an artist of genius. The tragedy of his coming is this: his own people were not, at that moment, equipped to appreciate the quality of his art? (Allen. 1963).

In his new studio at No. 2 North Circular Road, Dublin he began work on two American financed projects, the Elbert Hubbard memorial unveiled in 1930 and the Lusitania memorial for Cobh.

About this time also he made the first scale model for ?The Pikeman? ñ intended to replace the monument destroyed in Denny Street, Tralee during the War of Independence. The Lusitania Memorial is the major work of his time in Ireland taking 18 years to complete.

The two full-scale figures of the mourning fisherman had been cast in bronze by 1936 and later exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy where they caused great excitement.

The memorial to the Kerry Poets, intended for Killarney, which today can be seen in Merrion Square, Dublin is also the work of Jerome Connor. It is a seated figure of Eire, the warrior queen, and her harp, sad but strangely defiant.

In October 1931 Connor presented a scale model of the figure to a committee meeting in Killarney where one faction accused him of not including any religious symbol in the work. Despite this and in the absence of a written contract he continued with the work apparently agreeing to forego artist?s fees and accept payment for materials and costs only.

By the following year the full size Eire was ready for casting in bronze, the first such large scale lost wax casting to be attempted in Dublin, but this is where the project stopped, until finally it was cast and unveiled in 1974. Inevitably perhaps, a dispute arose over payments and in 1936 the Kerry Poets? memorial committee took him to court because of the delay in the completion of Eire. Jerome lost and was obliged to return all advance payments. It was a crushing blow.

In 1938 on the advice of his solicitors he opted for bankruptcy and the following year the sheriff took procession of his studio. World War Two was looming, materials were scarce but he continued to produce some wonderful small-scale work until his death in 1943. He is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin

Jerome Connor was the first Irish artist of modern times to cast, chase and patinate his own work. Unfortunately, there is no public bronze sculpture by Jerome Connor in Kerry today. See The Kerry Magazine for sources and complete text.







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