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DCU staff gather in the Bea Orpen Building, which named after the artist, to hear about her life and work

24 March 2010

'Brian Trench, School of Communications, with a painting by his mother, the late Bea Orpen, which is located in the building, on the DCU campus, which is named in her honour'.

DCU staff based in the Bea Orpen Building on the DCU campus gathered recently to mark the building's refurbishment and to hear about the artist, Bea Orpen, after whom the building is named.  The building is currently occupied by the Office of the Vice- President for Learning Innovation, Oscail (the distance education centre), the Learning Innovation Unit, the Quality Promotion Unit, NDCC, NorDubCo, DCU in the Community and the Training and Development unit.  Brian Trench, son of Bea Orpen, spoke about her life and work. 

 Bea Orpen was a member of the first Governing Body of the National Institute for Higher Education (Dublin) appointed in 1975. She remained a member up to her death in 1980, which followed a long illness. She had been involved in various aspects of art education for several decades as a teacher of art in a national school, a secondary school and a vocational school in Drogheda, where she lived from 1942. She was also chair of the board of An Grianan, an adult education centre near Drogheda that she helped establish in the 1950s and was very involved  with the Irish Countrywomen's Association  and was elected President in the 1970s.

Bea Orpen was born in Dublin in 1913 and studied art in Dublin and London in the 1930s. She worked as a designer after leaving college but also began exhibiting in major national exhibitions while still a student. She presented her work in the annual Watercolour Society of Ireland and Royal Hibernian Academy exhibitions almost every year for forty years and had several solo exhibitions. Samples of her work were also collected for retrospective exhibitions in 1981 and 1995.

Bea Orpen was a niece of Sir William Orpen but worked in a very different style, choosing gouache rather than oils as her medium and concentrating almost exclusively on landscapes or outdoor scenes from the 1950s onwards. She worked quickly, choosing toned papers and light, sometimes minimal brushstrokes to represent the light conditions of the moment. Much of her work was done in rural and coastal settings around Drogheda and in western counties of Ireland.

The painting, ‘Terenure Garden’ (1942) which hangs in the foyer of the Bea Orpen House was presented to DCU in her memory by Terry Trench, her late husband. It was painted at the house in which they lived  after their marriage in 1940, and before they moved to Drogheda. Examples of Bea Orpen's work are included in the Drogheda Municipal Collection, founded by Bea Orpen and Terry Trench. This now constitutes the permanent collection of the Highlanes Gallery opened in Drogheda in 2007.