Dropbox Link to images and videos of the symposium
For its 20 years' anniversary, Umha Aois contributed to the visual art strand of the Skibbereen Arts Festival 2015 by hosting a ten-day archaeology and sculpture symposium at Liss Ard Estate, Skibbereen, Co. Cork from Sat. 25th July - Sun. 2nd August 2015. A core group of twelve sculptors and makers from Ireland was joined by invited artists, archaeologists and researchers from the Netherlands, USA, UK and Ireland. This year’s concept ofthe symposium was to produce bronze objects inspired by local archaeology and in response to the Cor-ten steel architecture of the new West Cork Art Centre. The work explored ancient and new materials - bronze and Cor-ten steel -, leading to the fabrication of artwork and exploration of fabrication methods BA, Iron Age and Medieval artefacts. The aims of the Umha Aois projects are to gain a better understanding of ancient metal working methods and to enable contemporary sculptors to fabricate work with inexpensive and sustainable methods.
After setting up the work camp consisting of a 20ft yurt, casting canopy and storage tent in Liss Ard’s walled garden, the core group prepared mould material, modelled first wax objects and set up the first pit furnaces on Sunday. Also on Sunday, we started the first experiments in surface-brazing of steel, an early medieval finishing technique used for iron bells. Throughout the project we continued to explore a variety of brazing techniques informed by recent archaeological finds, recipes by Agricola and Theophilus. The aim of this exploration was to understand this metal working process with the aim of applying it as a low-tech plating technique to contemporary sculpture as well as to replicate the authentic methods used in the 8th-10th centuries. A series of initial test samples proved very successful and we moved on to plating small and medium size bells with these techniques with mixed results. While fusing of metals was achieved, uneven coating and removal of excess copper scale were some of the problems encountered.
Throughout the event, two participants - Theo Dalke from Allihies Mining Museum and Simon Timberlake (University Cambridge) - undertook a series of smelting experiments using chalcopyrite collected from mines in Allihies. The team managed to extract small amounts of copper from the ore which were sent for analysis together with the waste products.
At the same time, other participants and new members of the group continued to cast bells, sculptures and archaeological replicas with authentic Bronze Age methods that Umha Aois has established over recent years. Pours of up to 4kg in wight and trials of simultaneous casting from two pit furnaces all proved highly successful. A total of fifty moulds were made and cast during this year’s event, including c. 20 decorated bells, several figurative sculpture pieces and some abstract work. Jonny Fyffe, Belfast, explored alternative mould making techniques using roasted sand and egg white in combination with stone moulds to produce a series socketed spear heads. These successful trials demonstrated that other moulding methods might have existed throughout the Bronze Age, offering an alternative to casting directly into stone moulds without any residue or evidence.
On the Wednesday night, mining archaeologist Simon Timberlake, led a field trip to Mount Gabriel to visit the thirty two mid Bronze Age mines on its southern slope. This outing gave all participants a clearer understanding of the processes preceding the smelting and casting of bronze in the Bronze Age.
Three of the casting sessions were held at the last three nights to offer visitors a unique experience in how metal working was carried out four thousand years ago. Accompanied by Alan’s bodhrán and Bronze Age horn playing, each night, the group cast for four hours continuously in the yurt and every night up to twenty members of the public watched the spectacle of glowing crucibles, plumes of sparks and the pouring of liquid bronze.
The unique combination of expertise in many fields and disciplines of all participants together with the ideal location at Liss Ard Estate made the event a great success in terms of outcomes and visitor experience. Promoted by Skibbereen Arts Festival, an average of 120 visitors per day travelled out to the estate through the week. This encouraged us to consider Liss Ard as the venue for Umha Aois 2016 again next year with the aim to re-visit the subject of Bronze Age horns, many of which were found in Co. Cork. This music theme would fit in with the Arts Festival’s remit. The continued interest in medieval bells and the need to explore brazing in more depth, we aim to hold a specific bell making symposium in the following year.
Niall O’Neill, Tinaheely, sculptor; Holger Lonze, Schull, sculptor; Alan Milligan, Enniskillen, sculptor; James Hayes, Bray, artist/sculptor; Fiona Coffey, Newtownmountkennedy, potter/sculptor; Karen Hendy, Schull, painter;Moss Gaynor, Clonakilty, sculptor; Danny Osborne, Allihies, sculptor;Oisín Osborne, Allihies, sculptor;Róisín Foley, Cork, sculptor;Al Zaruba, USA, sculptor;Theo Dalke, Allihies, mining researcher;James Walshe, Coalisland, metal worker;Jeroen Zuiderwijk, Netherlands, archaeologist;Giovanna Fregni, Sheffield, archaeologist;Padraig McGowan, Gorey, sculptor;Jonny Fyffe, Rathlin Island, jeweller;Simon Timberlake, Cambridge, archaeologist;Cormac Griffith, Cregganowan, storyteller;Helen Stringer, Ballydehob, artist;Mick, Cork, sculptor;