A CHANCE encounter with Kilkenny limestone brought a young talented sculptor, Anna Sikorska, from London to Kilkenny to work on her latest commission.
It was while attending a sculpture workshop at the summer studio of the highly-regarded Peter Randall-Page that Anna became convinced this black Kilkenny stone would be the perfect material for a baptismal font she had been commissioned to sculpt for St. Andrew's Church in Fulham Fields in West London.
Although born and bred in England, Anna can also boast of strong Irish and Polish connections with a grandmother from Roscommon and a grandfather from Krakow. Anna who left the Slade School of Art in 2008 with a first class degree in Fine Art, subsequently received a bursary to complete an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art which she finished last summer.
Having set her heart on using Kilkenny limestone for the font, Anna contacted the parents of an Irish friend from Kilkenny and living in London who invited her to come over and stay with them for the duration of the project. After she arrived she was put in touch with Jim Kirby of Leinster Stone in the Hebron Industrial Estate. Jim was able to give Anna some invaluable advice on where to source the type of stone she was looking for – a particularly dark form of Kilkenny limestone with a high fossil content. This brought her to visit the quarry in Old Leighlin, managed by Brendan Costolloe of Stone Developments. After discussing the details of her project with Brendan, she was given free rein to choose a suitable piece of stone and equally importantly her own space in the quarry in which to carry out the work.
Two weeks of hard and very skilful work, using a mixture of power chisels and traditional hand tools, have turned a large piece of rough stone weighing over 150 kilograms into a beautifully crafted and polished font. Anna decided to keep the outside of the font in the original rough stone to provide a stark contrast against the polished blackness of the inner bowl. She also explained how she was struck by the way the greyish/blue hue of the freshly cut stone took on its black colour as a result of the polishing, whilst at the same time bringing out the whiteness of the tiny fossils. She also liked the way the colour of the black stone seemed to darken when it was wet and felt this was an attractive feature in its use as a baptismal font.
Anna said she was completely overwhelmed by the kindness and helpfulness of everyone she met during her stay in Kilkenny. The staff in the quarry, whilst being a little bemused at first by having a sculptor in their midst, became very enthusiastic about her "big lump of stone" and gave her lots of advice on using some of the power tools – and, just as importantly, plenty of physical help with all the heavy lifting!
Now that the sculpture itself is complete, Anna plans to mount it on four large pieces of yew wood that she has sourced in the south of England. Finally, the dedication and blessing of the font will take place at a special service conducted by the Bishop of Kensington at the church in London in early February.
Although she was working fulltime on the font, Anna did get some time to explore the city at the weekends. She confessed to being particularly struck by many of the older stone buildings, the Castle and walks by the River Nore.
Despite her Irish roots, this was Anna's first visit to Ireland but already she is planning to come back next summer to embark on a cycling tour with Kilkenny as her base.