This is a lovely fine-woodworking project that I undertook in 2019. Wonderfully, it combined several different strands in my life and it was a considerable honour to be asked to do it.
The commission was for an award board for the 'Furniture College' in Letterfrack, Co Galway. More properly known as The National Centre of Excellence in Furniture Design and Wood Technology, it's Ireland's specialist woodwork and furniture design college.
My task was to create a board on which the award winner's name could be recorded each year. This is Ireland's top woodworking institution so I wanted the design to reflect the ethos of the college and inspire students to excel. It also had to be made superbly well.
I designed a board with individual wooden blocks for each winner of the award. The winner's name is inscribed into the appropriate year's block, and they can substitute a favourite timber if they wish. I used my lettercarving skills for the main inscription and laser-cut lettering for the smaller inscriptions and GMIT logo. The vertical timbers are sycamore, the horizontal cedar, and I used bog oak for the hinge pin and closing wedge.
James and Mary Ellis were a wealthy middle-aged couple from Yorkshire who moved to Letterfrack towards the end of the famine. They were Quakers, aware of the particular devastation in Connemara, and they wanted to do what they could to help ease suffering. By devising socially beneficial projects and employing as many people as they could, they pumped their wealth into the local economy and left a legacy of buildings, road infrastructure and forestry. I'm a Quaker, my mother was an Ellis, and James and Mary were my three-greats-grand-uncle and aunt, and this made the commission all the more special both for me and for the college.
The project was sponsored by the Irish Quakers' historical committee, through Roger and Joan Johnson. The story of James and Mary Ellis's work is recorded in detail in Joan's book: James and Mary Ellis: Background and Quaker Famine Relief in Letterfrack, which is available from the college.
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