The Wakeman Drawings

Our heritage is a gift to be cherished, to be protected and to pass on intact to future generations so that they can better understand what it is that made them what they are.

County Sligo is fortunate to have a wealth of archaeological heritage, both prehistoric and ecclesiastical. It is more fortunate still to have had, in Edward Cooper, a man who could appreciate the historic value and precarious nature of this heritage. He was also aware of the artistic skills of W. F. Wakeman, whom he commissioned in 1876 to record and preserve it for prosterity.

The consequent drawings are not merely a unique and invaluable visual record of Sligo's rich archaeological heritage but are, in their own right, beautifully crafted examples of the illustrator's art at its finest and have now themselves become an intrinsic part of that heritage.

Often drawn from observation on the spot these watercolour drawings combine an accuracy of line derived from Wakeman's skills as a draughtsman with a sense of colour and perspective worthy of a great landscapist. The overall tawny tones of oatmeal and sepia can suddenly spring to life with the startling use of cobalt in a background sky. By using colour in this way he ensures that there is no danger of similarity of subject resulting in monotony of presentation, as might be the case in a mere academic portrayal of archaeological monuments.

These drawings form a precious jewel in the treasury of Sligo's archaeological and artistic past and deserve to be better known and appreciated as such. Hence this project, which Sligo County Library believes will bring these drawings and their subjects to the wider audience they deserve.

In juxtaposing the images of the antiquities as drawn in the 19th century with photographs of their current condition we hope to create an awareness of the importance of conservation. There are examples in Sligo of negligence, examples of exploitation and examples of total destruction but there are occasional happy endings where enlightened people have realised the value of the monuments under their authority and worked to repair and preserve them. If our project enlightens and encourages others to do the same we will have succeeded to advance the good work begun by Colonel Cooper nearly a century and a half ago.

Next - William Frederick Wakemannext