Peter Jordan has done his adopted Waterford some service since he first arrived here 28 years ago.
By cataloguing Waterford’s Municipal Art Collection, Dr Jordan, who retired from WIT earlier this year, has ensured that the story behind the collection’s assembly will be preserved for future generations.
But Peter, who enjoyed a rewarding career as WIT’s Senior Lecturer in the History and Theory of Art, wasn’t always an expert on all things artistic.
“I’m what you could describe as a late applicant to the subject,” said Peter, who picked up the Q2 Munster Express/Dooley’s Hotel ‘Culture Individual’ award.
“I was about 31 when I first got interested in art. Before that, I’d never really had interest in it at all, having worked in engineering and geology for a time, so turning to art was most definitely a big change.
“But when I got into it, and as I started to read and learn more about art, I found it increasingly fascinating – and I took it from there!”
Peter’s interest in the city’s Municipal Art Collection stemmed from his viewing it in the original Garter Lane Arts Centre shortly after arriving in the city in 1981.
“I found cataloguing this collection a really interesting project,” he reflected. “I was surprised; first of all, that there were was a 250-piece collection here in Waterford that nobody seemed to know anything about, so I began to look into it, research it and try to locate people who had an interest.
“I soon discovered that there had been an advisory committee overseeing the collection but it had moreorless dissolved by the time I arrived in Waterford, yet there were one or two people from that committee still alive then, so I sought them out.”
And one of those surviving members, Mrs Liza Gallagher, then residing on The Mall with husband Roland (a well-known dentist), proved particularly helpful during Peter’s initial foray into cataloguing the collection.
“She had championed the collection’s cause for a long time and provided me with a lot of information and help with tracing the collection’s history,” he said.
“But it really was surprising to me how little there was in terms of an actual record of the collection when I went delving into it.
“So I used the local newspapers, including The Munster Express as a source of information because they tended to refer to anything that had been acquired for the collection over the years.”
The disbanded committee had laid down some excellent ground rules, rules which the collection in turn benefited from, Peter feels.
“They were most keen that local art should be highly represented in the collection,” he said.
“I think they were conscious of the fact that art can be quite an elite and difficult area for many people to associate with – it can be complex and difficult to understand so they were very conscious of that difficulty.
“They felt that it should have a strong local representation that would help to form a bridge between some of the more exotic and abstract pieces and more representational work that most people can associate with.”
While much of the collection is on view at the majestically revamped Theatre Royal, WIT and Waterford Regional Hospital, a great deal of the collection remains hidden from public view, much to Peter Jordan’s frustration.
“That’s sad to me and always has been, as it was to Liza long before me, who wrote many letters to many different City Managers, seeking a permanent home for the collection,” he added.
“We’ve got this great collection, which is a wonderful time capsule of the 30s, 40s and 50s, for example, a collection which stands tall against other city collections, but we’ve never really made too much of it – we just don’t bother with it in a way that I feel most befits it.
“It’s largely hidden away; it comes out on show in Greyfriars once or twice a year and there’s a great job done by the staff there when it is shown
“But I do find it sad that there isn’t a more permanent space for it. It would be wonderful to see something done about this sooner rather than later. I can only hope!”
While the collection as a whole is yet to find a permanent home, Peter Jordan’s “outstanding and unparalleled” work (to quote WIT Director Kieran Byrne) has ensured it has a detailed and permanent record. And that’s an award-winning fact to be proud of.