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Monday 22 January 2018

'Moory, boggy soil' inspired this farmer to turn his hand to sculpting

 

Harping back: ‘Farming and art have gone hand in hand in this country for centuries,’ says Brendan Collum, photographed with a piece of his bog oak in Keadue, Co Roscommon
Harping back: ‘Farming and art have gone hand in hand in this country for centuries,’ says Brendan Collum, photographed with a piece of his bog oak in Keadue, Co Roscommon

Celine Naughton

Like generations of poets, painters, writers and musicians inspired by the Irish landscape, today's farmers are finding fertile ground for imaginative pursuits on their own turf.

It could be said that farmers are, after all, agricultural artists, but Brendan Collum has taken his creativity a step further, combining a career as a sculptor with raising suckling cows on a small farm in Drumlish, north Longford.

The seed for the new venture was sown over 30 years ago when his land, which he describes as "moory, boggy soil", yielded a surprising alternative income stream by inspiring its owner to literally carve out a new career in bog oak art.

Now the father of two earns more from his artistic enterprise than he does from the farm, though the two are intertwined and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I've always enjoyed making things, and bog oak is plentiful where I live," he says.

"When you pull a 4,000-year piece of oak from the bog, at first glance it appears to be just a dirty old root with wet clay stuck to it, but as I clean it, I see all kinds of shapes emerge - it could be a bird, an animal, a musical instrument, or a human form.

"You have to give it time to dry or it will crack. That can take years - I used to say a year to the inch, although I use a kiln for smaller pieces. At first I made mostly souvenirs that American tourists snapped up, but that market is gone. Now the majority of my commissions are for corporate gifts."

Collum's VIP client list includes President Michael D Higgins, Mary McAleese, John Hume, Alex Ferguson and Charley Pride among others.

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"Farming is in my blood, but bog oak is my love. It's slow, hard, dirty work. I usually spend the early part of the day making silage, putting out slurry and checking on the cows, and the later part on the bog oak.

"Farming and art have gone hand in hand in this country for centuries.

"Before mass production, traditional farming implements were wrought into beautiful shapes with lovely ironwork handles and other embellishments. They weren't just functional tools, they were ornamental as well, and that's a testament to the fact that art has long been celebrated in the farming community."


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