Paired Portraits Exhibition

The children of Dooagh National School, Achill.

As part of our recent ‘The Children of Achill and Robert Henri’ festival with Achill Tourism, and supported by Mayo County Council, the children of Dooagh NS ( many of whom are descendants of the children who originally sat for artist Robert Henri ) took part in a Paired Portraits Art Workshop. Taking turns each pair of children experienced what it was like to be the artist and the sitter, developing empathy for, and gaining invaluable insight into the experiences of both Robert Henri and his sitters. A creative / empathy concept of the Museum of Childhood Ireland, the workshop was facilitated by local artist Kate Callaghan. The children’s art work was framed and displayed as a central element of the festival. It is now on display at Dooagh NS, after which the children will bring their original art work home to display. Congratulations to all the children on their tremendous work!

Artist, Libby., age 9. Sitter, Molly age 12.

Artist, Molly, age 12. Sitter, Libby, age 9.

Artist, Lily, age 11. Sitter, Bláthín, age 10.

Artist, Bláithín, age 10. Sitter Lily, age 10

Artist, Paddy, age 11. Sitter, Oisín MC, age 12.

Artist, Oisín MC, age 12. Sitter, Paddy, age 11.

Artist, Lauren, age 9. Sitter, Margaret, age 9.

Artist, Margaret, age 9. Sitter, Lauren, age 9.

Artist, Ciara, age 9. Sitter, Emily, age 9.

Artist, Emily, age 9. Sitter, Ciara, age 9.

Artist, Padraig, age 8. Sitter, James, age 8.

Artist, James, age 8. Sitter, Padraig, age 8.

Artist, Tiernan, age 12. Sitter, Teddy, age 12.

Artist, Teddy, age 12. Sitter, Tiernan, age 12.

Artist, Michael, age 9. Sitter, Caolan, age 9.

Artist, Caolan, age 9. Sitter, Michael, age 9.

Artist, Stevie, age 5 1/2. Sitter, Alex, age 6.

Artist, Alex, age 6. Sitter, Stevie, age 5 1/2.

Artist, Ava, age 8. Sitter, Cushla, age 10.

Artist, Cushla, age 8. Sitter, Ava, age 8.

Artist, Beatrice, age 6. Sitter, Jude, age 6.

Artist, Jude 6. Sitter, Beatrice, age 6.

Artist, Bernie, age 10. Sitter, Aoibhinn age 10.

Artist, Aoibhinn, age 10. Sitter, Bernie, age 10.

Artist, Aisling, age 12. Sitter Zoey, age 11.

Artist, Zoey, age 11. Sitter, Aisling, age 12.

Artist, Will, age 6. Sitter, Fia, age 6.

Artist, Fia, age 6. Sitter, Will, age 6.

Artist, Oisín, age 12. Sitter, Mikey, age 12.

Artist, Mikey, age 12. Sitter, Oisin, age 12.

Artist, Senan, age 8. Sitter, Oisin, age 8.

Artist, Oisin, age 8. Sitter, Senan, age, 8.

Artist, Finn, age 7. Sitter, Faye, age 5.

Artist, Faye, age 5. Sitter, Finn, age 7.

“Despite the artist’s young age, each of the children’s portraits portray a unique understanding of the individuality of their peers. Clear of the influence of visual culture tropes, the children were free to explore personal presentation in a manner based on their personal experience of their friends. Each made deliberate choices as to pose, facial expression and background.

It is clear that while each face had a basis in the traditional teaching method of portraiture, beginning with an egg shaped oval and making dividing lines based on ratios, it is in moving beyond that where the children created the true portraits. Some chose to express personality through exaggerated facial expressions such as bared teeth, open mouthed smiles or angled eyebrows. Others chose features to identify the sitter, with freckles, eye and hair colour and hairstyle. They chose features they felt best represented their peer, and used these to form their identity in lieu of their ability to reproduce a perfect copy of the face. This resulted in some unique, thought provoking and even amusing portraits that have plenty of character.

While all were given the same brief, the unique stylistic nature of each of these portraits show the untethered imagination and creativity of the children in moving beyond the basic idea of a portrait, a flexibility many adults could learn a lesson from! “

Jessica Burton Restrick, Art History and Curation, the Museum of Childhood Ireland.

With thanks to Megan Brien from the Museum of Childhood Ireland for her wonderful work on the Certificate of Participation.

Concept and management: Majella McAllister