Artist’s work made an impression on all of us, writes Dara O Conaola
JAMES Power dedicated his life to art. A painter and a sculptor, he completed many important public sculptures, such as the 1916 Memorial on Sarsfield Bridge in Limerick, the statue of Fr Eugene O Growney in Rathboy, Co Meath, and the statue of Matt Talbot on the Matt Talbot Bridge, Dublin. James did the death mask of Brendan Behan and modelled many fine portraits, among them Peadar Kearney, author of the Irish national anthem, a portrait of Erskine Childers, President of Ireland, and a portrait bust of Irish language writer, Mairtin O Cadhain.
He began to learn sculpture at a very young age. His father, the master sculptor Albert Power RHA, was his first teacher. As a child, he was constantly by his father's side, helping and learning. In his teens he attended the National College of Art and studied sculpture under Oliver Sheppard and painting under Sean Keating. At the college he won a Taylor Art Scholarship. He was a regular exhibitor at the annual RHA exhibition and at the Oireachtas Art Exhibition down through the years.
Power's latest exhibit is an impressive portrait bust in bronze of the late US President JF Kennedy, currently on view at Galway City Museum. This very fine piece of sculpture constitutes a focal point of an exhibition to commemorate JFK's visit to Galway City in 1963. It also consolidates Power's connection with Galway city, as his father was the sculptor responsible for the famous statue of the writer Padraic O Conaire, which is now on permanent display at the Galway City Museum.
Although the Kennedy portrait was modelled by Power in 1963, the year of the president’s visit to Ireland, it has never been on display in bronze form until now.
James Power was born in Dublin, in 1918. After his academic training at the National College of Art, he joined his father and brothers in their famous sculpture yard, which was located across the street from St Joseph’s Church, Berkeley Road, Dublin.
From the Thirties to the Seventies, countless chunks of granite, limestone and marble were seen arriving at the railings of the Powers’ sculpture yard and were in due course loaded on lorries as beautiful statues and other works of art.
As a painter he exhibited some great portraits of Dublin life, among them a study of Vinnie Byrne, one of Michael Collins' closest associates during the War of Independence.
He donated his work to people and societies who in his opinion appreciated it.
When I heard of his death, I was reminded of an occasion in the early Nineties when I had the honour of meeting him at his old family home in Dublin.
He invited me
in and showed me around the house, bringing me out to the back of it, passing the back garden to the former sculptor's studio and then on to a stone-carving area.
I met him many times since and, like all of us, his life changed as the years went by and I always found him cordial and entertaining.
He was in his 90th year at the time of his death and was still the devoted artist, the true Dubliner, and the lively conversationalist that he always was.
JAMES POWER: A life dedicated to art