‘Everything I make has a function’: We meet woodturner Tony Farrell

‘Everything I make has a function’: We meet woodturner Tony Farrell

Aileen Lee talks to Tony Farrell about his work, career and thoughts on design.

What’s your background?

I have a background as a mechanical engineer and am now a full-time woodturner. 

I am also the chairman of the Cork Craft and Design Group — a makers-led membership collective that represents and promotes craft and design in County Cork. 

I make bowls and other traditional wood-turned objects, including hollow forms, and natural edge bowls. I also make weany-edge bookshelves.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

Some days I harvest wood while other days I might get a call from a person contacting me when they have a favourite tree that has died and they would like special pieces made from the wood, or a tree that has to be cut down for some reason. 

Recently a client commissioned me to take their monkey puzzle tree and convert it into 10 bowls. Other days I am in the workshop making wood pieces.

I have a studio and visitors call to look at my work or discuss commissions. 

A design by Tony Farrell.
A design by Tony Farrell.

I also volunteer to work in the Cork Craft and Design shop in St Patrick’s Woollen Mills in Douglas one or two days a month. 

When customers come into the shop they are dealing directly with the makers behind the work.

Describe a recent project

Another hat I wear is director of Benchspace, a creative hub and shared access workshop located in Ford’s old buildings in the marina. 

Recently we have been involved in the first urban park design in Ireland, the Douglas Street Parklet project. 

Rory Drinan headed up the project for Benchspace.

What’s your design style?

I would describe my style as “evolving”.

A design by Tony Farrell.
A design by Tony Farrell.

What inspires your work?

My work is first and foremost inspired by the timber I find. I am also inspired by the whole membership of Cork Craft and Design.

It is made up of nearly 100 highly skilled, self-employed artists and craft makers and I am very grateful to be surrounded by so many interesting people. 

I admire the work of every member — their standard is exceptional and in cases, world-class. I would also visit design shows and talk to other wood designers and research design magazines.

Favourite trend?

Internationally, there’s a trend in woodturning towards what would be termed as artistic pieces which would have almost no functionality. 

They’re purely decorative. I wouldn’t be one of those who would follow that trend. 

A design by Tony Farrell.
A design by Tony Farrell.

I would be traditionalist in the sense that pretty much everything I make has a function of some sort or other.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I have a Mary Palmer and Anne Kiely quilt that I consider one my most important possessions. 

It hangs on the wall of my studio. It is a wonderful creative work.

Your favourite designer?

Joseph Walsh is a world-class designer and it is a tremendous bonus for Cork that he chooses to remain locally, enticing other world-class designers and makers to his studio in Riverstick. 

I find the work of Richard Raffan and Nick Agar to be inspirational — both woodturners, authors, and instructors who create woodturned works of art, and who teach and inspire. 

Closer to home, Kieran Higgins in West Cork is a woodturner whose work I very much admire.

A design by Tony Farrell.
A design by Tony Farrell.

What would be a dream project to work on?

To take the work of Cork Craft and Design to the Design Fair in London. It is an international fair and I think it would be great to have the work of the Cork designers presented and exhibited on a world stage.

Have you any design tips?

My design approach is to develop a prototype, and then refine that prototype until I achieve a resolution. 

Other people have different approaches and ways of working. My advice to everyone is to develop their own style and method of working.

www.tonyfarrell.ie

Celebrating 10 years of talent and creativity, Cork Craft Month 2019 will run from August 1 to 31. This annual event includes workshops, pop-up markets, open studios and craft trails; see www.corkcraftanddesign.com

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