fine arts

Celia’s Studio



© Copyright Celia Liberace 2023

June 2021

My sister and I used to fall asleep to images of a long-limbed young girl climbing about moss-covered rocks, scavenging among decaying castle walls, burying her hands in a sea of engraved gold coins. Her name was Nelly, she was my Great-Grandmother. Around that time, 10 years ago or so, she had conquered more than 100 years on this earth. My dad would sit by our beds and unfold embellished recollections of Nellie's younger self, tales of which had morphed and inflated throughout their passing along through generations. Great-Grandma Nelly had shared encounters with many compelling souls throughout her younger years: her best friend Kathleen, my Grandma Maire, the heroic Maud Gonne MacBride, illustrious Irish playwrights and revolutionaries, and,
as legend has it, mermaids.

My dad thoughtfully articulated stories of her sneaking around Ballycastle, blanketing the green and blue town with her gentle touch and wondrous mind. She snuck into museums after hours, dug through Ireland’s supple soil in hopes of finding chests of long-lost treasure, and she frequented Mermaid Cave, a massive cavity laying under Dunluce Castle, bridging Ballycastle’s green and blue: land and sea. There, enclosed by moistened rocks and shallow waters, she befriended the fish people. In her later years, as a civil rights activist during the Irish War of Independence, she would walk around town with a knife tucked in her stockings, with the same glaze of wonder and unwavering resilience veiling her eyes as was present in the cave,
surrounded by the mer-people.

In Irish folklore, Selkies are considered a cross between seals and humans. The Selkie is an adaptable creature exposed to two distinct worlds, both the sea and the land. The shedding of their leather skin signifies the transition between these parallel worlds, the transfer of their bodies through mystical environmental conditions. These creatures have enthralled me since my youth. From my 11-year old self kneeling over my filled bathtub with my hands clasped together, praying to the universe to be transformed into a fish-person once I touched water, to making their way as inspirations for this clothing line, these creatures have stuck with me in mystifying ways. Perhaps, because I believe they tether me to my family and the distant past.

As instruments of expression, clothing has come to mean a lot to me. Clothes transform and transport. Like many items of clothing, I have found that a corset serves as a sort of second skin, a transformational device that bridges the gap between day-to-day realities and fantasy. It being a historical piece of clothing drenched in centuries of controversy and simultaneous female oppression and sexual empowerment, it is indeed heavy with meaning and brimming with the potential of transporting one between two worlds. Most of us desire a taste for the underworld, where magic exists and disintegrates the obstructions of logic. For me, these items not only serve as commemorations of my Irish heritage and the memorialization of my Great-Grandmother, but throughout time, have become emblems of the make-believe and theatrical.

   I want to thank my grandma Nellie for passing down her wonder, instilling within us the awe for magic, and casting upon our young minds what it means to be curious, naive, and to embrace the fathomless oceans which define the unknown.

Great-Grandma Nellie and I, 2003