Sunday 21 January 2018

Bondings: Artistic pair who survived the storm

Waterford architect Martin Tritschler and his artist wife Mary have come through the downturn together

Mary and Martin Tritschler at the Origin Gallery in front of her canvas 'Annaghmakerrig'. Photo: David Conachy.
Mary and Martin Tritschler at the Origin Gallery in front of her canvas 'Annaghmakerrig'. Photo: David Conachy.
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Martin Tritschler vividly recalls driving through Waterford city in the early 1970s, and noticing Mary Kavanagh, the girl who would become his wife. Or more precisely, noticing that she was wearing hot pants while painting a gate - and had great legs. Although three years older, Martin knew Mary as she was in his sister Cathy's class, so he stopped and invited her to his 21st.

Martin and Mary had similar backgrounds. Both lived over their families' businesses in the city. Mary's parents, Margaret and Pierce, owned Kavanagh's pub and wine shop, while Martin's dad Paul was a jeweller. The Tritschler family are German, but had been in Waterford since 1859, and his dad had married his mum, a local girl called Kitty.

Neither followed their late parents into their respective businesses: Martin, now 65, studied architecture at DIT, Bolton Street, and worked in London for a few years. Mary, 62, was very artistic, and studied art at what is now Waterford Institute of Technology, followed by a teaching diploma at the National College of Art and Design. In between, she went to Bonn in Germany for a year.

While Martin was in London, he wrote to her and invited her to the Waterpark Rugby Ball. They both came home for Christmas, attended the ball, and three weeks later, Martin asked Mary, then 21, to marry him. "I didn't expect to fall in love and wasn't looking for it, so it took me totally by surprise," says Mary, who admits there were a couple of other "interested parties" on the scene. "I admired Martin because he was a great sportsman and had a wonderful way with people."

Martin fell for the woman he affectionately calls 'Lady Mary,' because he felt a "spark" every time they met. She was "a beauty" - and he was also impressed that she was learning German in Germany. "I found her fascinating and was awed by her exuberance," he says.

As they lived abroad that year, they didn't see much of each other until they were married in 1975, and moved to Cork - where Martin had got a job as an architect with Cork Corporation. Mary developed her pottery skills at Aherla Pottery, and had their two sons, Neil and Luke. The boys became great sailors, and the family had great fun travelling all around the world for competitions.

When they moved back to Waterford, Mary taught art at her alma mater, the Ursuline Convent, while also teaching pottery night classes to adults. She then taught at Mooncoin Vocational School for 15 years, and started watercolour classes with Jack O'Hare. Martin established a very successful architectural practice, which employed 25 people and worked on a mixture of commercial, government and private projects. It oversaw the restoration of Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford, as well as designing USIT's Kinlay House network of hostels, the Newbridge Silverware showrooms in Kildare and the building that houses the Laughter Lounge and the Polish embassy on Eden Quay. While the company enjoyed great success for years, the recession sadly caused a huge downturn in its fortunes.

It was a very difficult time and their lives "changed utterly," but Mary and Martin took advantage of the size of their beautiful former home, Alt Belmont House, and ran a B&B from it for a time.

During this period, Mary's art was developing, so she cashed in a small pension and went to Germany to do a two-year diploma course with Professor Markus Lupertz. She and her fellow graduates then formed the artist group, Breitengrad, and have exhibited in Austria and Poland.

Ultimately, as the recession worsened, Mary and Martin were forced to downsize and now live in what was their holiday home in Dunmore East. They miss the stunning home they lived in for 24 years with its walled garden and pool - his office and her studio were located there too - but have made good friends in their new community, where Martin is the chairman of the Tidy Towns committee. Happily, the architectural business is taking off again, and Neil is now working in it alongside his father. Luke is a project manager and is married to Michelle, making Mary and Martin grandparents to Ava (2) and five-month-old Beth.

Mary's large and gorgeously colourful artworks have been very well-received, and one of her recent pieces has been acquired by the OPW. She loved spending time at the Cill Rialaig Artists' Retreat in Kerry, as painting helped to take her mind off the worry of the difficult years. She has a wonderful exhibition running at present at the Origin Gallery, which she called A Chink of Light because Martin has always encouraged her to look to the light. "We're complete opposites," she says, smiling. "I am impatient and have to get things done immediately, while Martin is non-confrontational and his patience is elastic."

The difficult times have tried Mary and Martin - but ultimately made them stronger. He remains her biggest fan. "What I love about Mary's paintings is the scale, her selection of colours and her ability to bring the outdoors inside," he says. "That chink of light really comes though her work and I see her developing in confidence all the time and perfecting her craft." A Chink of Light at the Origin Gallery, 37 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, runs until April 2

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