Background & History

Background & History

Impressions of community life in Ireland over 60 years...
...as seen through the eyes of our children.

A wonderful childhood experience

When asked to describe the impact which the Texaco Children's Art Competition had on her career, renowned batik artist and former winner Bernadette Madden said "A wonderful childhood experience. A magical memory. Children's Art sowed a seed which encouraged me to develop my artistic talents at a very young age. Thank you Texaco".

Her memory of the Competition and of the profound influence which it had in helping to develop her interest in art is typical of the feelings held by many who have enjoyed success in the Competition.

When interviewed by The Irish Times in 2004, Ruairi Quinn TD, a prize winner at the time of the Suez Crisis, said "I won my first Caltex (Texaco) prize at the age of 10.Then I was doing it (art) without realising I was good at it. By the time I was a teenager it was central to my life. I painted constantly, right through until I was about 27 or 28."

Speaking on the Arts programme RTE's Rattlebag, he added "I was fortunate enough to get encouragement from that first award. I won a couple of other awards at different age categories...it had a profound effect on my life and what I subsequently did". Another comment in similar vein was made by artist Marie Connole who said "I entered the Competition often during my teenage years and it was very influential in my decision to continue with art as a career".

Other distinguished past winners whose early interest in art and the arts may well have been encouraged by their participation in the Competition include artists Dorothy Cross, Graham Knuttel and Robert Ballagh, fashion designer Paul Costello, broadcasters Thelma Mansfield and Terry Prone, ICTU General Secretary David Begg, novelist Clare Boylan, actress Jean Anne Crowley and musician Ethna Tinney. In addition, one can only imagine the countless other winners whose early love of art was fostered by this Competition and who still reflect this warmth in their daily lives as adults, parents and teachers.

A world distinctly different

The world into which the Texaco Children's Art Competition was born was one distinctly different from today's. The year was 1955 - two years before the Treaty of Rome brought the European Economic Community into existence. For the children of that era, life was far simpler and less complicated. Television and the transistor radio were still a way off while rock 'n' roll had yet to hit the airwaves. Children everywhere were blissfully unaware of the impact it would have and of the pop and celebrity that would follow in its wake.

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Theirs was a life illustrated in comic book adventures and played out with simple gadgets such as skipping ropes, spinning tops, footballs, soap box carts and other similar inventions. Truly, it was an age when children spent time in their imagination and found expression for their thoughts in art and other simple forms of creativity. As Ruairi Quinn recalls "the Competition and the prizes were immensely important. Ireland was an introverted and isolated place. Anything like that (the Competition) took on enormous significance."

The concept devised for the first Texaco Children's Art Competition (then known under the name Caltex) was one whereby children were invited to illustrate the phrase 'Keep It Quiet', a slogan that was being used to promote Havoline motor oil at that time. In the fashion still operative to this day, brochures were printed and circulated to every primary and secondary school throughout the country.

Though little was expected from it, the Competition attracted an amazingly large entry... so large, in fact, that the organisers quickly realised that they had tapped into something very special. Nowhere was this more evident than in the excited faces of those first young winners and their parents who travelled to Dublin to receive their awards presented over lunch in the elegant surroundings of the Gresham's Aberdeen Room.

In making the decision that a second Competition should be held - free of any guidance or constraint as regards theme, method or medium - few would have prophesied that it would become an annual event whose integrity would be universally recognised; one that would endure for half a century during which time it would make its own unique contribution to art and art education in Ireland.

A magical appeal

With an annual entry of up to 50,000 paintings, the Texaco Children's Art Competition is one that has touched the lives of virtually every family in Ireland at some time or another throughout its 50 year lifetime. In that respect alone, it is quite special.

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For children, it has a magical appeal - remembered by broadcaster Terry Prone as "the highlight of the year from the time I was seven". It brings the challenge of competition in which all young people delight. To this, add the prospect of reward, a trip to Dublin to attend the prize giving ceremony, and the chance to win a glittering prize. For the children of the 1950s, this was something really special ... really different! So it has been ever since ... for the children of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now 2000s.

Persons who have officiated as Guest of Honour at this ceremony include former President and UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, former Taoisaigh, Lord Mayors, Diplomats and other distinguished persons. Indeed, one could argue that the willingness of such high profile persons to participate in the event is, in itself, a reflection of the regard in which the Competition is held.

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And so it was on the 19th May 2004 when the President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary McAleese was the Guest of Honour at the 50th Anniversary Awards Ceremony. A feature of the Ceremony was the unveiling by her of four postage stamps which were issued by An Post to commemorate this special anniversary. By her presence and by the issue of these postage stamps - which featured reproductions of four of that year's winning entries - the affection and respect which the Irish State and the people of Ireland have for the Texaco Children's Art Competition was clearly reflected.

Other events which celebrated this special anniversary included the presentation of twelve paintings to the Office of Public Works for permanent exhibition in Government offices and other State buildings, the commissioning of a television documentary and the publication of a supplement in Irish Arts Review, copies of which were circulated to audiences here and overseas. Activities were also planned in Texaco offices across the globe.

To support and encourage children through art

In conclusion, it is perhaps natural that we in Texaco believe that the Texaco Children's Art Competition can no longer be viewed simply as a commercial sponsorship.

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While the objective set for it all those years ago would differ little from any we would set for it today - namely 'to support and encourage children through art' - we believe that, over time, it has reached far beyond that definition. In essence, it has acquired the status of an institution and become a part of the fabric of Irish life that has endured and developed across the generations.

In every respect, it is a testament to the enduring innocence of childhood and to the power and inventiveness of a child's imagination. Despite the culture of pop and celebrity referred to earlier...despite the appeal of computer games and the influence of high technology... when a child of 2018 sits down to paint a portrait of 'My Mammy' with her wavy blonde hair, luscious red lips and deep blue eyes, she still looks as beautiful today as she ever did in the 1950s! In our opinion, therein lies the magic of the Texaco Children's Art Competition... and the strength that has kept it alive and vigorous across the generations.