Working out of a garden shed in Glanmire, sculptor Ronan White’s wooden pieces are drawing worldwide attention. He tells COLETTE SHERIDAN how a passion has become a thriving industry
A YOUNG Cork man has literally carved out a niche for himself, thanks to his creativity, the inspiration of his grandfather and the guidance of his woodwork teachers.
Ronan White, 24, makes wooden sculptures in a shed at his Glanmire home.
One of his pieces, based on a human skull, received nearly half a million views on the website, Imgur. A Mexican art collector liked it so much that he commissioned Ronan to make a similar skull for him, which was then shipped out to Mexico.
Ronan is now making timber roses for Valentine’s Day, having first made one for his girlfriend as an anniversary present a year ago.
Ronan, who recently qualified as a woodwork teacher from the University of Limerick, has always been creative.
“As a child, my grandfather introduced me to woodwork. I used to be delighted if I fixed two short planks of wood together. I got great satisfaction from working with wood.
“It’s renewable, it’s a living material and there’s so much variety in wood. It’s beautiful, even the smell of it.”
Growing up, his parents encouraged his creativity. “Whenever my mom went shopping, the first thing I’d do when she came home was to take out the packet of cereal from the box. I’d use the cardboard to make a building of some sort.”
Ronan’s artistry was also encouraged at school. “I’m indebted to my teachers at Glanmire Community College. I was taught woodwork and later, construction studies, by Mr Kenefick and Mr O’Sullivan. They really motivated me to express my creativity. I studied woodwork from first year to Leaving Certificate.
“Construction studies were part of my course for the Leaving. Woodwork was my favourite subject at school.”
Ronan’s initial career plan was to teach woodwork. but he says he graduated “in adverse times”, adding: “There aren’t many teaching positions available. I’m from the class of 2012 but technically, I didn’t graduate until January 2013. That was because my grandfather passed away and I wasn’t able to do my exams until August 2012.
“I had a long-winded process to register with the Teachers’ Council. I had free time until that happened. You can’t actually look for a teaching job until you’re accepted by the Council. But I saw a silver lining. I was able to fully commit to sculpture while waiting to register.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the realism and the beauty that some artists can achieve just by using woodwork.”
Emigrating was never an option for Ronan. “Most of my classmates have emigrated to the UK, Australia and Japan. I wouldn’t like to leave. I really love Ireland; it’s a beautiful country. It’s home to me.”
Luckily for Ronan, he is resourceful.
“Being a sculptor evolved. It was something I was always interested in. When I started doing it, I got great satisfaction from it.
“I’m really challenged and driven by it. As I continue to get better and more passionate about it, more ideas come to me. I have a lot of ideas in the pipeline.”
Carving skulls was inspired by Ronan’s fascinating with anatomy.
“I can create accurate faces so I decided to start with a head. It went crazy on the internet and when I put the skull on the Reddit website, it made the front page.
“I guess I’m morbidly fascinated by the skull. I’m also fascinated by the structure of the skull. When people saw it and realised it was made from timber, it really grabbed their attention.”
Ronan said after the success of his skull, he was “in the mind frame of thinking big”. But he adds: “As my friend, Seamus Long, pointed out to me, I should think about really getting myself out there. Seamus suggested I make the roses for Valentine’s Day. It’s a way of capturing the beauty of a rose and it lasts forever. It’s a smaller scale project.”
Ronan works from a number of different types of timber. “I use lime wood timber, walnut and purple heart which comes from South America. I can source the material locally. You’d be surprised at what you can pick up from timber specialists in Cork.”
Sculpting is an intricate art form that requires skill, artistry and patience. Ronan says that a lot of people think he can make his sculptures in a few days.
“But that’s not the case. Each one of the petals on the roses I’m making takes hours. I don’t mind putting in the time. This is what I like to do. I have a few ideas that I’m anxious to start on. I want to do something quite big, based on a skull, but not a human skull.”
Ronan says working as a sculptor is really all down to his grandfather, Pat Casey. “He was a detective sergeant in the Garda. He really instilled the spark in me. Woodwork was his hobby.”
Ronan is making a modest living from his work but money isn’t a motivating factor right now. “It’s really more of passion at the moment. I think I owe it to myself to see where this goes. I’m getting so much enjoyment out of it.
“I am currently trying to establish myself as a sculptor.”
As well as the piece commissioned for Mexico, he is also working on a piece for a client in Canada, as well as pieces for various Irish clients.
Ronan adds with an air of mystery: “I have plans drawn for a bigger, arguably more head-turning piece which I am looking forward to beginning in the very near future.”
Ultimately, he would like to teach. “The dream would be to combine both the sculpture and teaching. I’d really love to give something back to the next generation, that would be something I would find incredibly rewarding.
“However, striking a balance between teaching and sculpting would be the dream. I feel that I owe it to myself to continue pursuing my passion and developing my carving skills.”
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or see Ronan’s Facebook page.