HOME COMFORTS Sheelyn Browne is pictured inside her gallery and shop at the Quay in Westport. She says one clear advantage that she really appreciates during lockdown is her location and home town. Pic: Paul Mealey
THE scenic Clew Bay backdrop may be a constant inspiration for Sheelyn Browne’s print and linocuts, but her artistic journey has been a whirlwind one over the last number of years.
After the sale in 2017 of her family’s historic home, Westport House, she became a full-time artist and opened her gallery and shop at Westport Quay in 2018.
So it was a relatively new enterprise with only one full year under its belt when the first closure imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic occurred last March.
“Obviously as with any new venture, 2020 was an important year and nobody could ever have foreseen what was coming down the road. Initially when the first lockdown and closure of businesses happened in March, I was frantic. Luckily I already had my website up and running, and so I started pushing that a bit more. Also I used the time to produce lots more prints and expanded on my greeting card collection – in other words used the time to build on stock in anticipation for a busy summer,” Sheelyn Browne tells The Mayo News.
She explains her website was designed locally by ‘the incredibly patient Barry Murphy’ and, moreover, that she also ‘hugely appreciated’ having received the Mayo County Council start-up grant last year which was ‘vital’ for the business.
“During the November lockdown I think people were doing their Christmas shopping early and definitely there was a huge local support and presence there – clicking and collecting. Online kicked in as well. December was quiet. And now obviously businesses are closed for the third time and we are heading into a year of unknowns,” Browne continues.
Asked if the experience of the pandemic had influenced her work, she observes:
“On an emotional level my art is definitely the tool I use to work through experiences. Over the last three years I have produced more work than I had in my lifetime previously. My style and indeed subject matter has changed completely. I use a lot of birds and animals in my work but quite often they are representing something that is going on at a human level.”
Images of birds – particularly herons – appear to dominate her images, but an image that defines the microscopic detail of her art is a rather dramatic image of her forebear Grace O’Malley’s famous meeting with Queen Elizabeth I.
However, contemporary life is now influencing her work.
“For the first time in a while I have moved to the present and to figurative images. I am introducing people and keeping it local – for example, images of people swimming at the Point.
“These images definitely hit a chord with local people and I think it’s probably because they’re a reminder of not only the beautiful place we live in, but to those brave enough to actually get in, they see themselves in the picture – and they remember that happy moment.”
Despite being ahead of the posse with her website, online trade is ‘up and down’.
One clear advantage that Sheelyn Browne really appreciates is her location and home town.
“It is definitely a bonus living and having a gallery in Westport, and that has been made especially clear through these crazy times, where I believe we have all had time to realise properly what there actually is in Westport. Instead of rushing round wondering when the next tourist is coming to town, we have all had the time to see clearly just how supportive the community is when crunch comes to crunch. I know I am so grateful for all the local support and encouragement.”