By Bangor on the shores of Belfast Lough
Born in Co. Down, Northern Ireland, Eileen grew up by the town of Bangor on the shores of Belfast Lough, within sight and sound of the sea. She obtained her initial Joint Honours BA in Art and Italian from Aberystwyth University, attending the Academia di Belle Arti di Ravenna during her year abroad from September 1973 until early July 1974. At this time, she specialised in Etching, Lithography and History of Art.
Eileen returned to Ireland after her graduation and worked in Belfast at the height of the Troubles from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s. Her posts here included as Student Nurse in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Italian Translator and Interpreter for Mackies Textile Machinery Firm, Art Therapist in the Geriatric Unit, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast and a short period of work in the Fine Art Department of Belfast Central Library.
Her marriage in 1981 led to a move to England and she began working as a Freelance Artist working to commission and for exhibition while bringing up a daughter and son. At this time, she specialised in pen and ink drawing and pastel painting. The onset of a neurological illness affecting her muscles led her to explore embroidery as an art form and in 1993 she started on the path to stitch as principal form of creative activity.
Eileen explored both machine and hand stitch and with stitch as principal medium, she continued to pursue her work as a freelance artist. From the late 1990s, she began exhibiting her stitched pieces, concentrating initially on framed wall pieces, since when, with a concentration on hand stitch in particular, she has expanded her portfolio to include mixed media textile hangings, artist’s books and installations with sound.
At this time, besides her involvement in visual art, she also wrote poetry, and had poems published in volumes including two anthologies of poetry by women, The West in Her Eye and Her Mind’s Eye. She also had an illustration in Images for Africa published by Water Aid. She continues to write and to be published in both writing and artwork.
When she lived in Suffolk in the early 1990s, Eileen had the opportunity to do some radio work when she was invited to join the team on BBC Radio Suffolk’s ‘Sunday Morning’ programme. Her roles here included doing bible readings and presenting on-air analysis of the Sunday religious papers, as well as which she became one of the presenters on the Thought for the Day programme.
Life in Wales
With their children grown up, in 2006 Eileen and her husband, Arthur, moved to North Wales where they have made their home near the beautiful Mawddach Estuary. She returned to Aberystwyth University in 2009 and obtained a Masters Degree in Art and Art History and she now continues at the university to study part-time for a PhD in Fine Art. Within this, she is exploring the symbiotic relationship between stitch, sound and word through the prism of her experiences of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Music and Poetry
She continues to write poetry and this forms an important part of her work. The meditative rhythms of hand stitch give her work a cyclical nature in that stitch leads to words which lead back into further stitch and her work on the Troubles was first expressed as poetry before she began on the visual pieces that she is now producing. She enjoys giving readings and performances of her poetry on themes of conflict, nature and love and these readings have become an increasingly popular part of her creative activity.
Eileen has also been involved in music throughout her life. She has played guitar and piano, written songs and sung with various choirs and recently, she had the great pleasure of working with her son, Ed, on the musical element of a projected installation for which she was awarded funding from The Arts Council of Wales. Eileen wrote the initial melody and lyrics for the piece which is called ‘Come, Stay’, a little while after the death of her father in December 1991. It was prompted both by contemplating Christ’s vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the suffering of His crucifixion and how Christ’s suffering relates closely to all those who keep vigil in the world today in so many ways.
More recently, Ed harmonised the piece for male voices in the Russian Orthodox style with female soloist and Eileen added further to her original lyrics. This work was then recorded in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham and in the recording, Ed sings tenor solo. He also arranged the piece for mixed choir when it was sung in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham as part of the Cathedral’s 2016 Easter service. The music now forms part of Eileen’s work on conflict.
Eileen and Ed worked further with this music on their film ‘Continuum’ which accords with both a poem and artwork of the same name. The impetus for the film was the exhibition ‘Stitched Voices’, first shown in The Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Northern Ireland and afterwards in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Ed filmed Eileen stitching and edited this with shots of her artwork as the music ‘Come, Stay’, plays in the background and Eileen reads her poem in rhythms with the music’s phrases and cadences. They have now put this film on YouTube.
Eileen continues to take part regularly in group and solo exhibitions and has work held in many private collections internationally, including that of collectors Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, USA. She is a member of Prism Textile Exhibiting Group and, to date, her work has been seen in galleries including The Mall Galleries, London; Mid Wales Arts Centre, Caersws, Powys; The School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion; MOMA Machynlleth, Dyfed; Willow Gallery, Oswestry, Shropshire; The Cloisters Gallery, St Davids Cathedral, St Davids, Pembrokeshire; Newman University, Birmingham; Hoxton Arches Gallery, London; Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Northern Ireland; Linen Hall Library, Belfast; Détissages at the Festival of Linen, St Thélo, Brittany; Studio of Anne Guibert-Lassalle, Ploumanac’h, Brittany; Thoreau Gallery, Franklin Pierce University, New Hampshire, USA and The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.