Carl Dixon on how Cork Craft Month showcases local talent and initiative
CORK Craft Month, which opens today, features a series of exhibitions across Cork city and county. These showcase disciplines from pottery to jewellery and furniture-making, and visitors will also have the opportunity to learn more about the complex processes involved in their creation.
The primary exhibition, entitled CRUTH, runs in The Old Mill in Kinsale and is curated by Tina Darb O’Sullivan. Cruth is an Irish word meaning form and shape and the exhibition intersperses traditional, high-quality items with cutting edge contemporary design.
The works on display include wood turner John McCarthy’s pieces hewn from ancient yew trees, Gwenda Forde’s ceramic bowls, blacksmith Mark Keeling’s sculptures, which utilise traditional and Japanese techniques, and the jewellery of Louise France, which investigates society’s preoccupation with the consumer experience. For those of a practical mindset, look out also for Denis Cotter’s geometric shelving units, which bring the IKEA concept into the Irish craft sphere, and the high-quality bookshelves of Martin Horgan, which accentuate the personality of the different woods from which they are constructed.
The project co-ordinator for Cork Craft Month is Siobhán McCarthy. “For me, crafts should reflect the suggestion by William Morris to ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ I think Irish crafts fell into something of a decline in the face of cheap imports, but increasingly there is an appreciation of quality workmanship. There is also a lot of interest in what would traditionally have been considered less glamorous skills such as crochet or embroidery.”
Apart from the main exhibition, there are a number of other key events planned for the month. These include Pop-Up Shops and fairs at venues such as Bantry House, Cork city centre, and The Courtyard, Midleton. Likewise, the ‘Made in Cork’ trail offers a chance to visit a mixture of shops, studios and galleries. The ‘Open Studio Trail’ gives the public an opportunity to observe various craftspeople, including furniture makers, silversmiths, potters, glass and textile artists, in their working environment, while workshops at Kinsale Pottery and The Courtyard, Midleton offer punters the opportunity to apply their own creative talents.
Tony Farrell is the chairman of Cork Craft Month, and appreciates the exposure the event provides. He is also a committee member of the Cork Wood Turners Guild, which has its own exhibition at the CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery. “There are close to 60 members in the group; mainly enthusiastic amateurs along with seven or eight full-time crafts people,” he says. “It is not a difficult skill to take up, but like most things in life it takes a fair bit of time to get good at it. The end product from a good amateur and a professional may be very similar, but if you are going to survive in this business you need to be very skilful and in particular you need to able to produce a piece quickly.
“Getting the wood in the first place is part of the challenge and part of the enjoyment, and if I see someone felling a tree or burning wood I am pretty shameless at this stage in approaching them,” he admits. “A lot of people don’t want to see good wood wasted and will ring me up if they have a piece they think I can use.”
Farrell sells his work through craft fairs, galleries and online outlets, as well as directly from his workshop through word of mouth. At present it is largely an internal Irish market. “Tourists who buy Irish crafts are generally impressed by the quality and the price but it is hard for small operations to find a space in the wider commercial world,” he says. “However, the advantage of a group is that we can market our work as a cooperative and that is something we are actively exploring.”
So why should a consumer buy an expensive craft item when supermarket chains are heaving with cheaper imports? “There is something inherently pleasurable in knowing who made a particular piece. In knowing, for example, that the bowl on your kitchen table was made from a fallen ash in Fota or an old apple tree from Midleton. Perhaps the person buying it or someone they know came from that area; it makes each piece individual and gives it greater personal meaning and value.”
Based in Midleton, Mairéad McCorly makes unique gold, silver and ebony jewellery with her Israeli husband Shmuel Yolzari. She agrees that in these recessionary times people are cautious in what they buy; however, they are more inclined to buy quality Irish items. “I suppose we have realised that if we are going to get ourselves out of financial trouble we will have to do it ourselves,” she says. “It is fantastic to see a new generation getting involved and bringing their own ideas and style to traditional crafts and to see craftspeople coming together to market their products to a wider audience.”
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