THE CRAWFORD ART SCHOOL
Throughout the nineteenth century many talented people were associated with the Cork School of Art, or, as it later became, the Crawford School of Art; but it was James Brenan, headmaster of the school for 29 years, up to his departure for Dublin in 1889, who established the school firmly in the pre-eminent position that it has always held in art education in Ireland. Strickland commends his 'commonsense, shrewdness and tact', and it must have been largely through his effforts that William Horatio Crawford was induced to support a magnificent extension to the school in 1884.
The extension of the Cork School of Art included several magnificent new purpose-built galleries and entailed the renovation of practically the entire building. As a consequence of this generosity, the new building was to hear his family name, as it still does to the present day. The extension was designed by Arthur Hill, of the architects firm of Hill & Co. is responsible for much of the better quality Victorian building work in Cork, and their characteristic use of red-brick with white limestone trim is sympathetic and attractive in an urban context. Judging from architectural drawings submitted by the firm Hill & Co., it had originally been intended that the extensions and additions to the Old Custom House in 1884 would include a School of Art and Science, and indeed the wrought-iron gates at the entrance to the entrance to the present Crawford Gallery do bear the inscriptions 'Art' and 'Science', but in the event, these proposals were scaled down, and the building which now stands on Emmet Place was formally titled the Crawford School of Art.
The architect's scale model of the original proposed building survives in a private collection in Cork, and is considerably more ambitious in scale and treatment than the extension actually completed. This model, and the ground plans associated with it, show that the original intention was to have had an art and technology taught under the one roof, with both an art museum and a science museum lending further lustre to the building.
The Crawford School of Science and art was to be replete with several turrets, not just the one octagonal turret which graces the building today, and if it had been constructed, the proposed school would have put a good number of major metropolitan buildings to shame. As with many such ambitious architectural proposals, the building which was actually constructed reflects a keener awareness of financial constraints, although even in its abbreviated form, the new Crawford School of Art was a magnificent building by any standards. Arthur Hill successfully blended in the new extension with the old 1724 custom house building. It seems that he went to the trouble of refacing the entire existing building with the same new brick, in order that the two parts would harmonise. The octagonal tower on the present building (a feature characteristic of Hill's architecture), marks the joining of the old Custom House / School of Design witht he new School of Art and Gallery extension.
The new extension more than doubled the size of the buildling, providing two enormous sculpture galleries, a life-drawing room, and workshops on the ground floor, while on the first floor were five large studios for the teaching of painting and other activities. A magnificent mahogany staircase, appropriately embellished with carved wooden sheaves of barley, leads to the panelled main landing and to three handsome exhibtion galleries, in which are currently displayed the more important nineteenth and twentieth paintings in the gallery's collection. On this floor is also a magnificent library, entirely panelled in wood, with brass light fittings and galzed bookcases. Many of the books from this library were transferred to the new College of Art library in 1979, but those that remain bear mute testament to the history of the building, many of them bearing the imprint of the Royal Cork Institution or the Goverment School of Design.
The extension doubled the size of the school and provided for the first time purpose-built galleries for the exhibition of sculptures and paintings, as well as studios for teaching art. It gave Cork what must have been the finest art school in Ireland at that time. The wrought-iron gates at the entrance to the new School of Art and gallery building bear the date 1884, the year the extension and renovation of the building was completed. The official opening ceremony was held in April of the following year when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) formally opened the building.
Today, the Crawford School of Art continues to flourish although it is no longer located in the Old Custom House, having been tranferred to the former Technical School on Sharman Crawford Street in 1979. Now titled the Crawford College of Art and Design, it remains after the National College of Art and Design the most important third-level art college in the Republic of Ireland. Its former home, the Old Custom House, is now almost entirely given over to housing the Crawford Gallery and the head offices of the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee, which has ably administered the Gallery and the School of Art for the greater part of the twentieth century. While the relocation of the School of Art has diminshed somewhat the intimate contact which long existed between it and the city's art collection, the Gallery has beniffited from the increase exhibition space provided by the former studios of the School of Art. Most importantly thte tradition of acquiring works and students and teachers at the Cork School of Art for the collection, still continues today.