Francis Wiles (1889 - 1956):
Wiles’ father David was a clerk to the petty sessions in Larne and his mother Margaret was a woodcarver. While studying at the Belfast School of Art 1905-09 Wiles was the recipient of the W. H. Patterson Scholarship and was winner of a gold medal for Modelled figure from the Nude when he was studying in Dublin, 1911-15. In 1914 the Irish Times noted his modelled nude figure as having ‘all the qualities a student’s work should have’ and as ‘one remarkable exception to the general mediocrity’ at that year’s exhibition. Wiles also assisted his teacher, the sculptor Oliver Sheppard, on figures of Sir William Hamilton while he lived in Dublin, and carried out war memorials for the Church of Ireland in Cork and St. Columba’s College in Dublin, in addition to his war memorial in Newcastle Co. Down. Plans for a memorial to the First World War in Newcastle were initialled by the local council in 1924 and the design was created by Lady Mabel Annesley, who then commissioned Wiles to carry out the carving work. Lady Annesley also generously covered the cost of the sculpture work. The Newcastle war memorial in County Down is notable in Northern Ireland as the only figurative memorial to the First World War in the province to depict an animal rather than the typical soldier or allegorical figure. A sketch design of the sculpture, in granite, was exhibited by Wiles at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1927, but was not displayed in Belfast. Rather than imitating the academic realism of Edwin Henry Landseer’s lions at Trafalgar square in London, Wiles' lion reflects subtle influences of modernist art, especially that of Assyrian and Egyptian sculpture prevalent in Art Deco during this decade.
Wiles first exhibited sculpture with the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin as a student in 1911 and continued to exhibit here and with the Ulster Academy of Arts in the north of Ireland until the 1950s. His sculpture was also represented in the Aonach Tailteann festival held by the Irish government in 1924, where he was awarded a bronze medal for his work. In 1927 Wiles contributed a bronze relief portrait of the Irish nationalist and President of the Supreme Court of the Irish Republic Judge J. Creed Meredith to the exhibition of ‘Irish portraits by Ulster artists’ held in Belfast in 1927. In 1929 Wiles wrote to Northern Ireland’s prime minister, Lord Craigavon, suggesting that he, the son of ‘loyal Ulster parents’, was available to create a statue of the prime minister, should the government see fit to commission one. The response stated curtly that such a commission was not currently foreseeable. A statue of Lord Craigavon was eventually commissioned from the English sculptor LS. Merrifield in 1937.
Royal Ulster Academy Diploma Collection, Belfast, 2000; Frank Wiles: letter to Lord Craigavon, 13 June 1929, PRONI: PM2/23/150 Irish Times, 25 July, 1914; Census of Ireland, 1911.
© 2021 Ulster History Circle