I must tell you about an exhibition that we went to at the weekend in the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan, Co. Meath. It was entitled: The Golden Fleece Award: 21 years, and it was a group show curated by Aisling Prior and featuring the work of over forty award winners from 2002 to 2022. I was delighted to attend as the winner for 2008. It was also the Golden Fleece Award Ceremony for 2022.
The Golden Fleece Award is an artistic prize fund established by the late Helen Lillias Mitchell (1915-2000) who was an artist, craftsperson and educator, an Honorary Member of the RHA and a true patron of the arts.
The exhibition showcases the best of art, craft and design in Ireland – with paintings, sculpture, video, jewellery, tapestry, glass, embroidery, furniture design, ceramics, basket-weaving, silversmithing, woodworking etc – and it demonstrates the importance of the Golden Fleece Award as a support for creative workers over the past two decades.
I always like the speeches and, as usual, an award winner from the previous year gives a presentation. We were all deeply moved by Lorna Donlon’s speech about how much winning the award had helped her during the year. She is a tapestry weaver (see above) and an installation artist, and she is interested in the scientific practices of collecting, categorising, labelling and displaying objects.
And the members of the Board of Trustees were there, Geraldine Mitchell and Rosamond Mitchell, nieces of Helen Lillias Mitchell; Lucie Campos Mitchell, her great-niece; independent consultants Barbara Cotter and Deirdre Dunne and Belinda Quirke, Artistic Director of Solstice Arts Centre. I was reminded of a quote from Helen Lillias Mitchell’s Letter of Wishes to the Trustees:
“I am very conscious of the fact that many artists cannot develop their talents because their art does not bring in a steady income and yet, they need to support themselves financially … My wish is to give artists a ‘boost’ in times of particular need … I have set up this trust for artists in need who are interested in pursuing their careers as artists.”
In this strange, sometimes scary world where art and artists are often ignored, I will always remember the ‘boost’ that I got from winning the award, back in 2008. And when I look around at the amazing work on show in the current exhibition, I marvel at the number of artists and makers that she has helped since then.
What a wonderful legacy!