Celtic Cross sculpture on display at TACS to mark St. Patrick’s Day

Published 12:24 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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TRYON—A Celtic Cross sculpture created by Bernard Dotts is currently on display at Tryon Arts and Crafts School to mark the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The sculpture serves as a commentary on the Magdalene Laundries victims in Ireland. 

Dotts, a sculptor who operates Wolf-Bird Studios, began the project in 2017 using cherry wood to create a four-foot Celtic Cross. 

“My family has Irish roots, and I visited Ireland in 2014,” said Dotts. After looking at pictures of our trip, I saw the Celtic Cross at several cemeteries and decided that would be my project.” 

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While working on the cross, Dotts learned of a St. Patrick’s Day Mass held at St. Joseph’s Catholic, the fourth oldest Catholic church in North Carolina, near Mt. Holly. This gave Dotts a deadline for completing the cross, and when it was finished, he carried the nearly four-foot sculpture to Mt. Holly where he encountered the priest outside before services and asked him to bless the cross.

“I think the priest was surprised by the size when he saw the cross,” said Dotts. “So I set it against a tombstone, and he gave it a full blessing. It was pretty cool and worked out well.”

The cross then became yard art and a popular conversation starter with friends. However, the bottom eventually separated from the concrete base Dotts had made for it. 

This is when he read Claire Keegan’s novella, “Small Things Like These.” The novella deals with the dark legacy of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, institutions that often imprisoned unmarried women until 1996. The novella has recently been adapted into a film starring Oscar-winner Cillian Murphy. 

The story inspired Dotts to redo the base and to dedicate the Celtic Cross to the women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries by adding skulls and copper crows to the sculpture. The crows represent the suffering of the imprisoned women at the hands of the nuns. 

Dotts contacted the executive director of TACS, Will Barclift, about displaying the Celtic Cross sculpture for St. Patrick’s Day, which is now on display. 

“Bernard started with a beautifully crafted cross that alone invoked themes of Irish cultural identity,” said Barclift. “By later situating the cross with the crows and skulls, he brought focus to a part of Irish history that was hidden from the public – he made a visual representation of that which was invisible. It is a powerful tribute and a conduit for mourning and remembrance of the victims of the Magdalene Laundries. We welcome the public to visit TACS to have a quiet and reflective moment with Bernard’s work.’ 

The sculpture will be on display through Saturday, April 13. For more information on TACS, visit tryonartsandcraftsschool.org.