Heroes of Irish craft on show for Craft Month and beyond

One of the highlights of Craft Month, which runs throughout August across Ireland, is the Conjuring Form exhibition

One of the highlights of Craft Month, which runs throughout August across Ireland, is the Conjuring Form exhibition. It opened yesterday at the National Design and Craft Gallery in Kilkenny. Running until October 15th, the exhibition of 38 makers is a biennial event of leading Irish contemporary design and craft, selected by an international expert panel.

Having reached the apex of their respective techniques through years of refinement, each maker illustrates a deep understanding of their material. The purpose of the exhibition is to “increase awareness and understanding of Irish craft among Irish and international collectors, galleries, commissioning bodies and museums”.

Exhibitors include Roger Bennett, Max Brosi and Nigel O’Reilly, who has become the darling of dazzling bespoke jewellery. The international success of the Mayo goldsmith reached a new height in April this year when New York luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman showcased his works, taking commissions for bespoke pieces that will be created at his atelier on Bridge Lane in Castlebar.

Also featured is work by Laois-based designers Zelouf and Bell, whose furniture is part of the collection at the National Museum of Ireland. Pieces by the duo have been described by Benoist Drut of Maison Gerard in New York as “precious, clever, refined and fearless”.

RDS Irish craft bursary

Glass artist Laura Quinn has been announced as the winner of the RDS Irish craft bursary 2022. The €10,000 award is managed by the Design Council of Ireland, and is open to makers in its Portfolio programme, which aims to build the international reputation and commercial potential of our best designers of contemporary craft. Presented at the opening of the Conjuring Form exhibition in Kilkenny, the competition was judged by Alice Stori Liechtenstein, curator and founder of Schloss Hollenegg Centre for Design in Austria, along with curators Gregory Parsons and Jennifer Goff.

With a masters in 3D design crafts from Plymouth College of Art, and a first in a bachelors of arts in art and design from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Quinn has worked at the Coring Museum of Glass in New York, Loco Glass in the UK and Olustvere Klaasikoda in Estonia. Making beautiful and unusual glass objects by hand, with the assistance of digital technology, she creates repairable, recyclable and therefore more sustainable works of art.

Launch of Irish Craft Heroes

Marking its 50th anniversary, the Design Council of Ireland has just launched Irish Craft Heroes, a lovely coffee-table book that celebrates the many innovative artisans and artists who have contributed to the evolution of our Irish craft industry.

With 50 heroes, 50 champions and 10 Future Lights, the hardback publication includes stunning images of work and a timeline of key developments, as well as essays written by some of Ireland’s leading craft writers and historians, who were commissioned to examine the history of the period through different lenses.

The essay Craft in a Changing World examines development of craft from 1970 to 2021 and into the future. It is written by craft historian Eleanor Flegg and writer and wood-turner Roger Bennett. Joseph McBrinn, reader in art and design history at Belfast school of art in Ulster University, outlines the development of third-level craft education in Ireland. Textiles historian Vawn Corrigan looks at the historical and ongoing contribution of craft-based industries and production workshops to the sector.

Curator and arts facilitator Hilary Morley assesses the importance of the Guilds, Associations, Networks and Societies (GANS) in the overall success of Irish craft, while craft writer Frances McDonald traces the internationalisation of Irish craft, through the work of makers who came to Ireland from abroad.

The 50 Heroes, 50 Champions and 10 Future Lights as outlined in the book were selected through an open call: the Design Council of Ireland invited its members and the wider craft and design community to nominate their craft heroes. Ten emerging makers, nominated by public vote and a selected panel were chosen for the Future Lights section, including knife and tool maker Hugo Byrne, conceptual jeweller Mark Newman and Jennifer Hickey, a ceramic sculptor whose works are constructed from porcelain and thread.

Many of the 50 heroes listed will be familiar to people familiar with the sector: names like the late Sonja Landweer, the Dutch ceramicist whose work exceeded all price expectations at de Vere’s sale in June. Her Horned Inverted Wood Ovid achieved €10,500 against a €4,000-€5,000 estimate, while Dialogue, listed at €6,000-€9,000, achieved more than double its lower estimate, selling for €15,000. Another indication of the success and demand for Irish crafts and collectables is the €2,200 paid for a set of six tiny bowls by the late ceramicist John ffrench through Whyte’s in December 2021, which had originally sold for €550 in December 2008.

dcci.ie, ndcg.ie, augustcraftmonth.org

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables