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Posted: 10 April 2008

UCD installs one of Ireland’s largest freestanding stone sculptures

Figurehead, a massive abstract stone sculpture, representative of the prow of a ship, and believed by its creator to be the largest freestanding stone sculpture in Ireland, has been installed at UCD, Belfield.

Using a fifty tonne crane and an eight metre high scaffold, it took more than two weeks to fully install the piece which weighs over 20 tonnes and stands at 7.3 metres.

“The largest block of stone used in the Figurehead sculpture is 2.7 metres high because this was the largest single block of stone that could be quarried from the ‘O bed’ at Threecastles Quarry, County Kilkenny,” says Jason Ellis, the creator of the stone sculpture. “A team of stonecutters at Bagenalstown, County Carlow, had to work the block of stone by hand because it was too large to fit under the stone saws at the yard.”

Pictured at the unveiling of the sculpture (l-r): Ruth Ferguson, UCD Curator; Eamonn Ceannt, Vice President for Corporate and Commercial Developement, UCD; artist Jason Ellis and XXXXX
Pictured at the unveiling of the sculpture (l-r): Ruth Ferguson, UCD Curator; Eamonn Ceannt, Vice-President for Capital and Commercial Development, UCD; artist Jason Ellis and Brian Kavanagh, Kavanagh Tuite Architects

It took the team more than ten months to saw and sculpt the main block of stone and the other three smaller blocks that make up the Figurehead sculpture. The honed finish, visible on the completed sculpture, was all applied by hand.

“The ‘O bed’ from which the stone was quarried is valued by sculptors for its dark colour and presence of attractive fossils,” explains Ellis, who also works in conservation and was project manager on the restoration of the Daniel O’Connell monument in O’Connell Street in Dublin.

‘Figurehead’ is the largest stone work that has been undertaken by the sculptor and Ellis clearly acknowledges that it was the biggest artistic challenge that he has ever faced.

“This stone artwork has tested both my artistic and project management skills. My largest public commission to date was for Bantry House in Cork, which stands at 2 metres in height. So Figurehead was a completely different ballgame,” he explains.

“Artistically, scaling up the sculpture from a 70cm model proved a challenge, because the finished artwork has slightly changed shape from the original concept,” says Ellis. “But the slight changes ultimately led to improvements in the form of the sculpture.”

Born in Cornwall, Ellis has lived and worked in Ireland since 1994. He has trained as a sculptor and mason. He is also a well-respected sculpture conservator and has worked on behalf of the National Museum and the National Gallery. He is currently short-listed for a major public art project in La Touch House, IFSC.

“Figurehead forms part of UCD's ongoing visual arts policy of commissioning art works for the Belfield campus,” says Eamonn Ceannt, Vice-President for Capital and Commercial Development at University College Dublin. “It reflects UCD's commitment to the visual arts and the overall enhancement of the built environment.”

The stone sculpture, Figurehead, is the result of a competition for a public art work that was initiated in 2006. The selection panel included Vice-President for Capital and Commercial Development, UCD; Sean Brennan, UCD Buildings Office; Brian Kavanagh, Kavanagh Tuite Architects; and Ruth Ferguson, UCD Curator.

‘Figurehead’ is a product of a close collaboration with the architects Kavanagh Tuite and the UCD Buildings Office. It is part of an ongoing policy of commissioning art for the Belfield campus. The stonecutters of McKeon Stone, Technical Stonework and the installation team from Creggstone were also essential to the production and installation of the sculpture.

'Figurehead' is located at the Owenstown entrance (off Fosters Avenue) to Belfield, UCD.

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UCD installs one of Ireland’s largest freestanding stone sculptures