I was at the National College of Art and Design between 1973 and 1977. The college was on Kildare Street, tucked away behind the National Library. Back then there was a Pre-Diploma year followed by three years in one of the Schools: Design, Painting, or Sculpture. The Pre-Diploma year was excellent in that students rotated twice or three times during the year between the three Schools gaining all sorts of essential knowledge and skills and discovering which to choose, or perhaps more importantly which not to choose, should one be skilled enough to graduate out of Pre-Diploma (it was not automatic), and then lucky enough to gain a place in the chosen School. Pre-Diploma gave a grounding in painting, printmaking, photography, metalwork, mechanical drawing, life drawing, stained glass, typography using real type, wood carving, ceramics, basic design and other subjects which I cannot remember - and once a week, on the last half hour of Thursday if my memory serves me right, we had History of Architecture with Máirín Allen who, blinded and deafened by her old projector, was unaware that a warm dark room with dizzying images was the perfect place to get on with life … There was no library; a locked cupboard held a few books and even more gourds and shells for drawing. The antique casts were everywhere but no longer used for drawing - anyway years of paint had obliterated their subtleties.
I chose the School of Sculpture and in retrospect know I did the right thing. My brain wanted to be a real sculptor and I worked hard at clay modelling, casting, stone carving etc but my fingers had other ideas and my Diploma Show was almost like the work of two people. I showed carvings, castings, drawings as well as works made of hessian and jute - sewn, crocheted, constructed using bits of glass and scraps of sea-worn pottery. Looking back it is this work which was the real thing, it is this which fits with the other things I have done.
But I am rushing ahead because the happiness of Pre-Diploma and until Christmas of First Year in Sculpture came to an abrupt end in January. The college was completely rearranged and new lecturers were brought over from England. Instead of Sculpture I was in Fine Art, instead of carving or drawing I was doing conceptual projects, instead of friendly staff there were the same staff but now angry and young English chaps just out of college to teach us and I regret to say that many times the chat between the older staff turned from English to Irish when the new lecturers entered a room. You can read all about this in John Turpin’s excellent 1995 “A School of Art in Dublin since the Eighteenth Century - A History of the National College of Art and Design“.
But it wasn’t all bad - we got a real library and real art historians to teach us. We could choose other subjects too and my choice of History From The Women’s Point Of View because I liked the look of the lecturer turned out to be a real eye-opener as until then history had been little more than kings and dates of battles. There were still cosy bits of the college, the resin room stiff with spilled resin covered fibreglass and fumes and lit cigarettes was one such place where my pal worked with resin and I drank in the fumes and knitted my jute; to add a little more danger it was pointed out that we were directly below the very heavy metal printing press and - health and safety advice - we should run if the ceiling started to come down.