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What's the real story behind this famous statue?

Ever wondered about those white statues?

Source: DarklightFestival/YouTube

SHE’S WHITE AND half dressed, reclining on a rock, and you can see her in many windows across Dublin.

She’s the Lady on the Rock, a familiar sight in homes around the capital. Art teacher Linda Keegan from St Michael’s Holy Faith School in Finglas was fascinated with the statue, but knew next to nothing about her.

So with her fifth year art class, she set about to discover her history, and re-imagine the statue at the same time.

Where it all began

“I was looking at these things in the windows and thinking’ what’s the attraction, I don’t really get it’,” she said. “I’ve a really good bunch of fifth years and I was thinking if I could get hold of some of these, maybe I could get the girls to do something with them.”

She contacted axis: Ballymun and secured exhibition space, and then set about researching the Lady on the Rock with her students.

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Once they had permission from the principal of the school to buy some of the statues, they could really get stuck in.

They delved into the history of the Lady on the Rock, to find out were the rumours true.

“I thought these were imported from China, mass-produced stuff you could get for a few quid in a Eurostores,” said Keegan. “It’s quite a unique little thing. It’s very Dublin.”

A documentary by Jessie Ward O’Sullivan was one of the first places they went to, which is how Linda realised that the clay to make them came from RPM, which supplies the school with clay.

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Keegan learned from Vincent Doran, who makes the statues, that 25 years ago, a man called Harold Gardiner made the first Lady on the Rock out of clay. He was an artist and a number of visitors to his studio said they liked the look of the statue, so he began making more.

He didn’t know how to make a mould, so he contacted Edward Loughman of RPM, who showed him how to make a split mould.

After Gardiner passed away, his widow contacted Loughman to have a look at the workshop, said Keegan, and he took the mould back. Vincent Doran saw the mould, bought it from him, and began making the Lady on the Rock into the phenomenon she is today.

They’re for sale these days at Dublin Mouldings on Parnell St. 

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The class spent about four weeks on and off working on the project.

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The statues are meant to be put in every front facing window, and though there are many myths out there about them, Keegan and her students discovered the real story.

But they didn’t stop there – the pupils gave their statues their own back stories.

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One of the ladies was re-imagined as Icarus’s sister, who learned from her brother and father’s failings and crafted her own wings.

Another saw the lady transformed into a mermaid, who was captured by a ‘mermologist’ who used her as an exhibit.

“They loved doing it – some of them really went to town on it,” said Keegan of her students’ work. “They are a particularly talented bunch.”

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How has the project changed how she sees the Lady on the Rock?

“I no longer think of her as this bland white statue – I now see her as a woman with tremendous potential and possibility, just like the girls.”

The exhibition will open at axis: Ballymun on 11 March. The students are still searching for Harold Gardiner’s family members – if anyone has information, contact aoife@thejournal.ie.

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