An American trainee chaplain and Sunday artist had her environmentally-friendly collage unveiled at Cork’s Unitarian Church yesterday.
Virginia Giglio, who with her husband, Neal Dunnigan, moved to Cork two years ago, has retired from music education in academe to focus on chaplaincy work as well as art.
Mahon-based Virginia’s collage, entitled Shebang, uses cut-out words and phrases from the Echo as well as PVC piping, electric wire, cosmetic jar lids, crisp bags and strips cut from plastic bottles. Every colour of the rainbow is used to represent diversity and inclusiveness.
Virginia loves making collages out of recycled material. She says that before Covid-19, “people were waking up to the fact of climate change and were making mindful changes in their own way of living”.
Virginia adds: “When Covid took hold, those environmental concerns have gotten far less attention. I became committed, during lockdown, to increasing personal recycling efforts due to all the increased plastic waste that I knew would be generated in hospitals due to Covid.
“I felt it was incumbent on all of us as good citizens to redouble our efforts.”
To Virginia’s surprise, experiments she carried out with a few Tayto bags “turned into full blown artistic efforts. I began to make jewellery, Christmas garlands, funny hats, puppets and toys for neighbours’ children from materials that ordinarily go into the rubbish or recycling bin.”
When her minister, Reverend Mike O’Sullivan, saw Shebang, he thought it could decorate a boarded up window at Princes Street’s Unitarian Church.
“He wanted me to incorporate some quotation from a spiritual book, or poetry. It was up to me. I decided to create poetry out of the recycled newspaper words.
“Since the beginning of Covid, I’ve been subscribing to the Echo. I used to buy it on the street. I ended up having a stack of the newspapers and I started cutting out words and phrases such as ‘restart my life’, ‘hope of recovery’, and some silly words like ‘tasty’ and ‘thrill’.
“I used a water-resistant solution to make the newspaper cut-outs waterproof. I glued them onto the board which in itself is a piece of recycled material. I’ve gone over it all with polyurethane for extra protection. It should resist the weather up to a point. Everything eventually disintegrates from the sun and the rain and the wind.
“This piece is kind of ephemeral but it should last for a few months. Mike O’Sullivan unveiled it.”
Describing herself as “a freelance Christian”, Virginia says the Unitarian Church is for people “with open minds who have a diverse and inclusive spirit. We all come together in a spirit of love and hope. We believe in the power of community to do good things. It’s not exactly a religion.”
For the congregation of the Unitarian Church, Virginia says the building is very much a meeting ground.
She is working on a chaplaincy programme at St Luke’s Home in Blackrock. She visits the residents there and says it is “amazing the kind of insights you get from giving people your full attention and listening to them.”
Being a chaplain is “like being a counsellor but with a spiritual aspect. Everybody deserves to have their spirit listened to and the chaplain’s job is to do that.”
Virginia’s husband, whose grandmother was from Roscommon, is a chaplain at CUH. The couple are originally from Oklahoma. When they decided to move to Ireland, they spent a lot of time travelling around the country asking people whether they should settle in Cork or Dublin. “We didn’t even have to finish the question. Everyone said ‘Cork’ for different reasons. Some said it’s smaller than Dublin and more homely, some said there’s less traffic and that the transportation is better. Also, real estate prices are better.
“It became clear to us that Cork is the place to be. We have found that to be true. We love it.”
Neal Dunnigan, says Virginia, “has started something new in Cork. He’s part of the Cork Community Chaplaincy Services. His congregation are the volunteers that take care of the city’s homeless. What if the volunteers see or encounter something that disturbs them, who takes care of the volunteers? Neal decided somebody needed to be there for them. He works with a group that feeds out of UCC.”
The couple, who have four children and five grandchildren, meet them virtually on Zoom every week. Apart from family and friends, they don’t miss anything about America and hope that Donald Trump won’t be re-elected in November.
“My husband sometimes describes us as refugees from Trumpistan.” (Trumpistan is the word for a potential future USA where education doesn’t exist, intellectuals and scientists are hunted down and the only food available is the Big Mac).
Trump, says Virginia, “has done terrible things to our country. It’s not recognisable anymore. We have no desire to return there. It’s extremely depressing. We were very proud Americans. I was an artist and musician, a lover of culture and ethnicity. These are things our current administration has no interest in. So it’s not a place I’m comfortable in.”
Asked what she thinks of Democrat presidential candidate, Joe Biden, Virginia says she’s “sort of an anyone-but-Trump person.”
She thinks Biden is a good man and admires the way he has been kind to people with speech impediments, having had one himself.