The Sheela-na-Gig 3D project began life as a passing idea during a conversation between the project coordinators Orla Peach Power and Gary Dempsey about what the best method of digitally recording Sheela carvings in Ireland would be. The project is ultimately inspired by projects such as the Ogham in 3D project and the Roscommon Cross Slab Project (where Orla and Gary first met). It quickly became evident that a large scale project such as Sheela-na-Gig 3D would not be an easy undertaking and it was filed away under 'passion projects' in the DH_Age archive. It was not long before the project was revisited and ideas and concepts for a much bigger trans-disciplinary project involving archaeologists, digital specialists, women's studies specialists, folklorists and artists was beginning to take shape.
Apologies; We should probably explain what a Sheela-na-Gig is for those of you who may not know. Sheela's are 'medieval stone carvings of naked women exposing their genitals; (Cherry, 92; Kelly 96; Freitag 04). Artist Jack Roberts (2009) offers the following description
'Sheela-na-Gigs are carvings of female images depicted as posing in a manner which accentuates that most powerful evocative symbol the vulva. They are primarily a sacred religious object that was erected on many churches of the medieval period, invariably placed in a vary prominent position such as over the main entrance door or a window'
Many researchers point to the varying styles of Sheela, and their inclusion on Irish castles as well as religious sites, while also likening Sheela's to other medieval church iconography such as Mermaids (Weir & Jerman 93, Kelly 95)
The Sheela-na-Gig 3D project was unofficially launched by DH_Age in late November, early December 2016 with some cryptic posts though out twitter account, and during some surveys by Gary for the Irish Folk Art Project we began to record our first Sheela officially. The formation of our twitter account @Sheela3D sped things along from February 2017, along with a successful submission to the Heritage Council for funding to conduct a survey in Co. Roscommon. All this work inspired us to begin preliminary surveys, collating all published lists of Sheela, and comparing this with the Sites and Monuments Record, for Ireland. This is going to be the longest process of the survey, where we identify the location of each Sheela, and match recorded 'Sheela' to the official records of 'Sheela-na-gig'. 'exhibitionist figures', 'stone sculptures' and other categories which represent these interesting carvings. The results of those survey and future surveys can be viewed on our Sketchfab Collections Page
Sheela-na-Gig's have previously been mapped in Ireland, most notably by Jack Roberts who's maps has been a great benefit to our research. The addition of the location of Sheelas to the interactive HeritageMaps.ie project by The Heritage Council has also been a very useful tool for researching the location of Sheelas, which can be difficult to identify at some sites. It should be noted that many Sheela-na-Gig carvings are on private residence, or on castles on private land. If you hope to visit any of these sites please be conscious of landowners and private property. Always seek permission before entering a site.
This blog will follow our future progress on the Sheela-na-Gig 3D project as we conduct surveys on a County by County basis. We will be posting field journals from our surveys and providing tips for best practice digital recording.
Sheela-na-Gig3D is supported by