Handicrafts by sculptor Derry pay homage to Ireland’s ancient history
Some of Ireland’s true hidden gems and lesser-known heritage sites around Derry, Donegal and Inishowen are presented by a local man through the creation of his intricate miniature figurines which have been sold around the world.
iaran Anderson (46) created ‘Mini Inish’ just five months ago, inspired by the history of the area after learning how to make molds while watching some YouTube videos about the different techniques used.
The man from Derry was then put in touch with an FX expert from Belfast who taught him the art of silicone sculpting, which he said was “a game changer” for his work.
To this day he has reinvented the tastes of Burt Castle and Beltany Stone Circle in Donegal as well as Bishop’s Gate in Derry, Newgrange in Co Meath and St Mura’s Cross, Inishowen, in his unique plastering technique, each piece giving the impression and the weight of cut stone.
His replica of Grianan d’Aileach in Inishowen weighs almost a kilo and a half.
Ciaran told Sunday Life that he was uncomfortable with the term “artist” because, despite his obvious talent, he feels like he “didn’t deserve it”.
“I’m not afraid of hard work and challenges, so maybe one day I will feel like this is what I have become,” he said.
“I liked art in school, but I have no formal training. “
Ciaran’s “day job” is in a printing house and he enjoys participating in triathlons in his spare time, but he said his real passion lies in scale modeling, and dioramic terrain sculpture in particular.
He pointed out that his idea to scale heritage sites in Ireland actually stemmed from a long-standing fascination with the world’s tallest mountain nearly 5,000 miles from the island of Ireland.
“It has always fascinated me to see how people could take large-scale environments and accurately reproduce them at a micro level,” he said.
“I had been making model airplanes for quite some time and was asked to do some custom builds, which really gave me confidence, that someone would trust me to bring their ideas to life, but it was a long fascination with Mount Everest that took me from airplane to heritage, believe it or not.
“I loved building models, but I really wanted to try and create something from scratch and decided to learn to work with XPS clay and foam to create a scale model of Mount Everest. “, He explained.
“I created some foam test tubes; Cooley high Cross and the Skullhouse in Moville and found that I was able to recreate the smallest details with precision on a small scale.
These early test pieces from some of the lesser-known tourist spots quickly led to much more ambitious aftershocks when he began to recreate Grianan of Aileach in Inishowen and Burt Castle in Donegal.
Ciaran said a friend of his suggested he try to reproduce the parts using plaster and silicone molding – entirely new processes for him – and so was put in touch with an FX expert to teach him .
“Nuala Campbell, owner of the Titanic FX in Belfast, helped me learn every detail of plasterwork,” he said.
“I started sending Nuala conceptual sketches of the works I wanted to reproduce and she would help me create the molds, it was a game changer.
“I am working exclusively with Nuala on a small collaboration now and she is a real leader in the field, especially in the North. If I hadn’t met her, I couldn’t have done this. She was the driving force.
The father-of-one said people “seemed to like them” and he shipped his products all over the world, from Germany and Austria to the United States.
He added, however, that the process is not that simple and each one is individually prepared in a bucket in their kitchen sink.
“The process is very old-school, no machinery or gimmicks are involved,” Ciaran explained.
“To create a part, I first mix the correct plaster / water ratio in a bucket by hand, then pour it into the mold, trying at all times to minimize the entry of air into the mix.
“Once the mold is set, the part is extracted and left to harden for several days before starting the painting process.
“You can’t dry the plaster, you have to heal it. Because of the way I paint these things, it’s very, very specific.
“There are some coats of paint that need to be allowed to dry completely, and there are some that need to be layered on while they’re wet. This is the only way to achieve this effect.
Ciaran explained that his favorite part of each creation is choosing the paint scheme and “seeing the room come to life through the wet and dry layers of paint.”
“It’s a long technical process, but the results speak for themselves,” he said.
When asked what he could recreate next, he replied that his list of heritage sites on the island of Ireland was “endless”.
The talented sculptor recently accepted a commission to recreate Lough Gurr Stone Circle in Limerick for a heritage center, but looks forward to replicating a few local spots around his Derry home in the coming months.
“My driving ambition is to showcase Ireland’s less famous heritage, the places you don’t see in the brochures,” Ciaran said. “I have a deep passion for Irish history and in particular the history of my own region of Derry and Inishowen.
“If my articles cause people to walk away and google or ask questions about a site, I consider my job done. This is what makes these pieces truly unique; they will not be found in gift shops because they are not the “big hitters” like the Causeway or Dunluce.
Continuing his tendency to support the locals, he will also sell his pieces in independent stores only, currently exclusively at Little Acorns Bookstore in Derry.
“This is one of the most original stores in town and I can’t think of a retailer that is more independent than owner Jenni Dohery,” he said.
- If you would like to discover more of Ciaran’s work and purchase a Mini Inish miniature, please visit his social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.