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Tradition meets tech as Armagh Rhymers launch first fine art print collection

Dara Vallely, wearing a handcrafted mummers mask beside three of his original paintings which are on display at Aonach Mhacha, Armagh

An Armagh-based arts organisation that celebrates the age-old tradition of ‘mumming’ is making a forward-thinking move into ecommerce in an effort to achieve sustainability.

The Armagh Rhymers – who have been engaged in education and community arts projects across the country for 45 years – launched their first collection of fine art prints based on original artwork by acclaimed artist, Creative Director and founder of The Armagh Rhymers, Dara Vallely.

Born into a family graced with many a talent, Dara is the brother of noted Irish artists J. B. and Lorcan Vallely. A talented painter and musician, Dara’s work is heavily influenced by the historical city he has long called home.

Speaking to Armagh I, Dara explained what prompted the move: “It came out of discussions a few years ago around sustainability. When covid came, the Arts Council talked about sustainability and then we couldn’t get government funding and found it hard to survive. We had built up reserves in the bank to last about two years, three years but when Covid came, we took a big hit but we ‘zoomed out’.

“We fed the educational needs and after Covid we were discussing sustainability again and training people up to ensure the continuation of the organisation. It coincided with meeting Dawn Richardson of the independent gallery Framewerk on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. She was running a mental health week in Belfast and I was Mental Health Artist of the Year. There was an exhibition and she was very encouraging with getting the prints going. The idea was, sell the prints and we can offer our shows cheaper.”

Three artworks from the critically acclaimed exhibition and publication ‘Laoch na Laochra’ by Dara Vallely and Réamonn Ó’Ciaráin.

The idea to sell prints – or indeed the original paintings – was one that had been bandied about between the Rhymers for quiet some time. However, Dara was never keen on the idea of letting the originals go.

A serial exhibitionist, Dara has showcased his inspirational works across the island of Ireland and overseas in New York, Chicago and Milwaukee. These pieces are exhibited as a collection and, if one were to sell, the exhibition would cease to be complete.

According to Dara, that’s where Dawn came in. He said: “Dawn said I didn’t have to sell them if I didn’t want to. People are looking for prints these days.”

The artworks which have been chosen for print production include three acrylic paintings from the critically acclaimed exhibition and publication ‘Laoch na Laochra’ by Dara Vallely and Réamonn Ó’Ciaráin. The fourth, and final, is a festive choice named, ‘The Christmas Rhymers’ featuring the colourful and energetic characters that appear at Christmastime, when the nights are long, and people need some festive cheer to lift their spirits.

The move into ecommerce is part of a broader, ongoing diversification project for the Rhymers.

Armagh Rhymers Program Manager, Clare Jennings commented: “Covid forced us as an organisation to look at how we do things. The Rhymers have been around for 45 years and what they do today is similar to what it was 45 years ago. So, the process and performance and tradition has stayed the same but as an organisation we have to look at how we can keep going.

“When we upgraded the website we added a shop to sell the new album but when we realised we had that ecommerce facility, we thought we might as well branch out and add to it.”

The high-quality, limited edition, Giclée prints are now hot off the press and available to purchase via the Armagh Rhymer’s website, the gift store at Aonach Mhacha and from Framewerk in Belfast.

All of the revenue generated from print sales will go back into the Armagh Rhymers’ school and community projects.

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