Artificial Sunshine

Long Term Archive Volunteer, The Argory

Sally Sheridan - Long Term Archive Volunteer

The new light installation is located in the West Hall of the house and can be admired by visitors on a guided house tour. Read on to hear more about the story behind the light and how it is linked to the family.

Mr Bond’s exhibition catalogue at The Argory

Artificial Sunshine

After months of cold weather the sun has finally broken through and a special brand of sunshine has been shone into The Argory. It has been a busy month here as the ongoing conservation of the acetylene light fittings in the house reached a climax when we welcomed back metal conservator Rupert Harris to remove the double height chandelier from the West Hall. While the chandelier is undergoing conservation in its place there now hangs a neon light installation titled ‘Artificial Sunshine’ by contemporary Northern Irish artist Kevin Killen.

Neon light installation at The Argory


The Sunbeam Acetylene Gas Company Ltd

In 1906 The Argory was converted to run on acetylene gas. The second owner, Captain Shelton, commissioned the Sunbeam Acetylene Gas Company to install a manufacturing plant in the laundry yard and to lay a network of pipes that would carry the gas into the house. At the same time, the house was furnished with a plethora of new light fittings and some original fittings were converted.

In the archive we have found receipts for the entire lighting project, including the list of ‘new’ fittings installed in 1906. We also have receipts for subsequent routine maintenance and for the regular deliveries of calcium carbide which was required for the production of acetylene.

Acetylene gas enjoyed only a brief period of popularity as a country house technology before being superseded by electricity. However, the McGeough Bond family never installed electricity in the main part of the house and so the system at The Argory was still in full working order when the house came to the Trust in 1979.

The McGeough Bond Collection

The decision to commission a piece of contemporary art to hang in place of our West Hall chandelier continues a tradition of welcoming modern art into the house.

The last owner of The Argory, Mr Walter Albert Neville McGeough Bond was one of the foremost collectors of art in Northern Ireland in the twentieth century, and he had a particular interest in modern art.

Among the numerous exhibition pamphlets housed in the archive are the poster and catalogue for an exhibition of Mr Bond’s private collection, which went on public display at The Ulster Museum on 25th March 1966. In the Introduction to the catalogue Mr Bond wrote:

 ‘There has been talent among my forebears for both painting and music. But accident and ill-health deprived me of a musical career; for compensation I collect the art of others. I grew up among a variety of collected objects including pictures and sculpture; thus the idea was familiar to me from childhood.’

The McGeough Bond collection included several sculptures by Duncan Johnston, including ‘The Agony of Man,’ as well as paintings by Basil Blackshaw, George Campbell and T.P. Flanagan.

Although much of the collection was later dispersed, The Argory still houses works by Cecil McCartney and F.E. McWilliam, which are on display to visitors along with Kevin’s installation.

The F.E. McWilliam bronze sculpture in the East Hall is titled “Woman of Belfast No.2”