A lot of our members won’t know me at all, but my name is Colette Roberts, and since our inaugural meeting in March I have been the Secretary of our newly formed society, The Irish Society of Botanical Artists. I travel down to the committee meetings and events either by car or train – it’s a treat going to Dublin, even though there is no time for shopping.
I live in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast on the outskirts of a lovely little town called Holywood, now known all over the world as Rory McIlroy’s home town. The Golf Club where he played, as did my husband David, is on the slopes of the Holywood hills overlooking Belfast Lough, with it’s famous shipyard and enormous yellow cranes ‘ Samson’ and ‘Goliath’. Amongst other great ships built there, was the Titanic, which sadly sank on her maiden voyage to America. The lough then sweeps in a curve over to the lovely coastline of Antrim on the other side.
I have always had a love of plants since my beloved grandfather Michael (from Ballyboye in County Leitrim) used to take me for daily walks (weather permitting) through the fields and small farm attached to the old Dominican Convent. He would make me daisy chains, and tickle my chin with the buttercup and I just loved those times. He was also popular with other children in the neighbourhood as he always carried a supply of dolly mixtures and dulse in his pockets, but ‘he’s my grandfather’ I used to tell them.
My love of gardening grew from these humble beginnings and much later in life I discovered painting, and it was always flowers. I just love botanical art – it’s a very challenging subject that needs concentration and observation, and I am just a learner. ‘Paint what you see’, as Susan Sex would say,’ and not what you think you see’. So I am learning, but I love my subject so that goes a long way.
Our very successful ‘Aibitir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art’ exhibition has travelled to Derry and was on show for two weeks in ‘The Playhouse’. Just a short time before the exhibition I discovered that the day of hanging also coincided with the Apprentice Boys march, so whilst Liz and Megan measured and hammered, and the grey smoke of the previous night’s bonfire drifted over the ancient city walls, the Apprentice Boys assembled outside The Playhouse windows, banging their drums with the relentless tunes of the marching season. They were quite good fun and appreciated, as did the Police, the fact that there was a Dublin registered vehicle parked in the ‘no parking’ zone of their assembly area.
However, all involve appreciated the irony and we have a photograph to prove it.
It took Liz and Megan from 9.30am to 4pm to hang the exhibition, with Oonagh, Mary and myself doing the odd jobs in between, before heading into town for sustenance. Difficult…there was a huge Police presence and all of the restaurants in Derry were closed…except one, the Mandarin Chinese on the quays. What a night we had, enjoying our meal, until a Chinese Elvis lookalike – yes it’s true – jumped onto the scene singing Elvis’s famous number ‘It’s Now or Never’, swaggering around in his white outfit with his scarlet lined cape…he ran and jumped from table to specific table, wishing those who were celebrating a birthday or anniversary good wishes.then it was my turn. Why????? Oonagh had indicated to him that I was celebrating ‘something’, but I wasn’t aware this was happening. He sang to me and wished me a happy birthday as did everyone in the restaurant, then he happily moved on…and no it wasn’t my birthday. All four of us couldn’t stop laughing, it was just such fun, and we needed that at the end of a tiring but successful day. Liz’s poor daughter Megan couldn’t join us as she wasn’t feeling well having eaten a dodgy sandwich earlier in the day.
Our preview in Derry went without a hitch, the exhibition was well received and ‘The Playhouse’ staff were wonderful, it is the biggest Arts Centre in Ireland, and they have a theatre, art room, exhibition and conference rooms, dance rooms, rehearsal areas, it was once an old convent which had been restored and extended, keeping the original building and glassing over the back area, which still contains the statues and original windows of the convent. In fact the Mayor of Derry, Councillor Brenda Stevenson had been to school there, and it brought back some happy memories for her.
The exhibition is now at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and will be on show from 2 – 25th September, when I will take it back home to the National Botanic Gardens. Mr. Daniel Clarke, well known in the art world in Belfast will open ‘Aibitir’ on Wednesday evening 3rd September at 6pm, and we look forward to a successful evening.
At our next event at the gardens, I will wear a name badge, so please do come over and say hello, it’s a great way for me to get to know the membership, and it makes everything more personal.