Audience. You do influence arts because it was said to me that it looked very severe that their arms were chopped off, and I hadn’t looked at it that way. And so, I softened that element, so it didn’t look like somebody had got at them with a chainsaw.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we had the most wonderful opportunity to get into the mind of a very talented, unique artist, Helen Merrigan Colfer, on The Coffee at Eleven Show recently.

Touching on everything from clinical depression to eating disorders, Queen and big f**king, f**k off red boots, the chat meandered through a half-century of life, love, loss, hope, beauty and … prize-winning art.

I invite you stick on the kettle, grab a coffee, and enjoy Episode 99 of The Coffee at Eleven Show in your preferred way.

Enjoy. We did.

Yours Truly: All right, ladies and gentlemen, you are more than welcome to this, another episode, episode 99 of The Coffee at 11 Show brought to you by WIG-WAM, and it’s wonderful to have you here. And in particular, it’s wonderful to have our special guest here this morning, all the way from County Wexford, it is Helen Colfer. Helen, please pop in, say hello, cheers us with your coffee mug.

Helen Merrigan Colfer: Cheers guys. Great to be here. Thanks a million for inviting me. I’m excited to share my work and background story to you. I have my mug that I got from Paul for Christmas, two of them. This one in particular I love. It says, happy today and always. My early influences when it comes to art, and that little lifeline that you’d hang to when you’re at your lowest was, “My God, she’s good at art.” Mr. O’Hare, when I was in National School, he had me up on the blackboard. I used to be the girl to go for drawing white chalk on the blackboard. And the best thing ever was that you were not segregated, or picked on, or messed with because you were good at art. There was that kind of… People were in awe of you. So even though you didn’t earn your place through having a brilliant personality say, you were respected enough because you were the one that went up to draw on the board, and you have that kind of… all the eyes were on you for a good reason.

Yours Truly: Wow, isn’t that lovely?

Helen Merrigan Colfer: In secondary school then, I had Sister Paulina, I was a boarder, and she was the art teacher when I went there first. Luckily for me, she ended up the principal as well at the end of the day, because I was her pet, so I got away with murder. But yeah, she used to allow me into her own private art studio. And actually, I remember as… was it third year, or something like that? There wasn’t clay modeling allowed in the art room. We didn’t do clay modeling back, then – not 3D work. But she was a potter herself so she let me mess around with the clay. I made figures and she put them into a competition. And I remember my mother and father and me going up to Dublin to receive an award for it. And it’s such a hazy memory that I don’t even know what it was for. I didn’t even realize I was doing it because Sister Paulina submitted in on her own bat.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had an eating disorder from my early 20s until I was 50. The clinical depression was in my mid to late 20s. And it reached the crescendo where literally I was falling apart. And I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. And Paul, the wind beneath my wings, organized counseling for me when I was 49. So that was in 2014. And this work came hot off the presses following. Well, actually before I finished the counseling. She had advised me, and my husband had as well, to renew my endeavors with art.

This is a 2017 one, it’s called Noughts & Crosses. When I made this dress I had gone through another bout of personal history, and it was health problems, and this is a celebration of that. It’s more like a celebration to survival and empowerment.

Yours Truly: Paul, I think if I’m not mistaken, I’m going to hang Paul out to dry here. He was your first boyfriend.

Helen Merrigan Colfer: Oh, he was my first boyfriend. Five brothers who used to spend their summer holidays in Slate because Bailey Colfer, the daddy, was born and reared in Slate. So, I saw them from afar because they’d come in and out of Fethard with the cousins. And I thought, Jesus Christ. Paul coffer was bee’s knees and the ants ankles. He was so gorgeous that I couldn’t even talk. Do you know that kind of way? And I asked Paul, or my brother Tony, would you ask Paul to get me to dance? And lo and behold, Paul did it. I stuck myself like a limpet to him for the rest of the night. Not knowing how to say goodbye, or not accepting that it could be just one dance. He had no choice in the matter.

And it just happened that we used to write letters to each other in boarding school. He wasn’t in boarding school but I was, and we were mad into Queen. Well, he was so then I was, obviously. And this relationship was a summer time thing with letters. And then, Paul was a year ahead of me in school. So when he went off to college we drifted apart. And we ended up getting back together again in 1998.

Yours Truly: First question is, what are you taking with you from COVID that you’re not letting go of?

Helen Merrigan Colfer: Self-love, self-respect, self care. Be kind to myself, be kind to others. Don’t project negativity into any situation.

Yours Truly: Perfect. Beautiful. Yeah. Thanks Cathy Merra for leading the charge there. And the second question then is, you become aware of somebody close to you who is struggling because of the pandemic, because of lockdown, what would you recommend to them that they would… What step could they take?

Helen Merrigan Colfer: The lockdown for me… I’ve always been a loner and didn’t go to social situations, so I flourished. I was delighted. Good excuse. For others, embrace yourself. The world of art is so vast. Music, poetry, writing, calligraphy, sculpture, drawing, weaving, knitting, whatever it is. Put your hand to it. Put yourself into it. This helped me as I was working for hours on end, your thoughts are diluted. You’re thinking about what it is that you’re making. You’re living in the present, and then you have something. Moments where you feel like, Jesus Christ, look what I’m doing. And you feel literally that somebody else is doing what you’re seeing your hands doing, and it’s for those moments that you actually live for, that’s the drug. In COVID embrace yourself, embrace an activity that you feel happy doing and just lose yourself in it. Be kind to yourself. I mean, COVID has been a brilliant time for me.


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