Exhibition showcases Cork’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement

An exhibition at the Crawford showcases Cork’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement, writes Colette Sheridan

Exhibition showcases Cork’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement

WHILE the Arts and Crafts movement began in England in 1887 as a reaction to industrialisation, it was adapted in this country with a bit of a nationalist twist.

This is one of the themes of the an exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery entitled Made in Cork: The Arts and Crafts Movement 1880s-1920s.

Curated by art historian, Vera Ryan, the exhibition will put Cork’s significant role in the movement under the spotlight.

The original movement had the aim of trying to raise the status and morale of the craftsman. It was led in Britain by socialists William Morris and Walter Crane. However, when the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (ACSI) was established in 1894 by Lord Mayo, its aims were broadly patriotic and part of the Celtic revival.

A detail from Watson & Sons of Youghal of a detail of a cartoon for the design of church windows
A detail from Watson & Sons of Youghal of a detail of a cartoon for the design of church windows

Ryan says that archaeological findings were “deeply influential.” She cites the finding of the Ardagh Chalice in 1868 and the Tara Brooch in 1850 as important, capturing the imagination of unionists and nationalists alike. The chalice, with its 200 components, came from a world “where the craftsman had high status.”

The ACSI valued fine workmanship in everything from book binding and illustration to hammered iron work, stained glass, leather work, lace design, porcelain, pottery, wood, stone and marble carving. Ryan says that the metal workers of yore, making swords and bridles, were “the equivalent of today’s techies.”

According to Paul Larmour, author of The Arts and Crafts Movement in Ireland, the Cork School of Art led the way.

“It was here in the Crawford that James Brenan (headmaster of the Cork School of Art from 1860-1889) got together with Alan Cole of South Kensington museums,” says Ryan. “They recognised all the good work that was coming from nuns and rectors’ wives, was happening here in the south. You had the Presentation nuns who, during the Famine, were creating employment for poor girls.

A casket made by James Archer
A casket made by James Archer

“Sr Mary Ann Smith was very famous in Youghal. She unravelled a piece of old Italian lace, learned the stitches herself and taught the girls how to do it. A whole network of lace-making was happening in County Cork. When Queen Victoria wore Honiton lace, made in Devonshire, on her wedding day, she made it fashionable.” However, the initial lace design coming from the Cork region was poor. But thanks to co- operation between South Kensington Museum and Brenan, it was perfected and was able to compete in world markets.

The Honan Chapel, celebrating its centenary this year, is the jewel in the crown of the arts and crafts movement on Leeside. Egan and Sons Ltd in Cork made vestments and some altar plates for the chapel. However, many of the great masterpieces of the Honan, such as the 11 Harry Clarke stained glass windows, were designed and made in Dublin.

The presence in the Crawford exhibition of some of the Cork pieces will be a reminder of the civic contribution made to the fine Hiberno-Romanesque chapel in the grounds of UCC.

A paper patter for Cork lace
A paper patter for Cork lace

The exhibition aims to bring to life the cross section of people involved in the Arts and Crafts movement in Cork where religious orders and business families such as Egan & Sons, the Days and Watson & Sons flourished and influenced the wider social structure of Cork and beyond.

  • Made in Cork: The Arts and Crafts Movement 1800s-1920s, opens at the Crawford on Friday. Guest curator Vera Ryan will talk about the exhibition at 1pm on Friday at the gallery’s lecture theatre

Republican Rose Bowl

A republican rose bowl, made by Egan & Sons in 1925, which is from the Cork Public Museum, has two inscriptions on it. In Irish, the first inscription translates as ‘a gift to a friend, Christmas 1925. In memory of a hard life.’ The reference probably refers to the troubled times Cork had been through.

The bowl was a gift made to Thomas Dowdall (1872-1944), a Cork businessman and founder member of the Cork Industrial Development Association. Dowdall gave the bowl as a wedding present in 1936 to the future president of Ireland, Seán T Ó Ceallaigh and his wife Phyllis Ryan.


Made by James Archer (1871-1946) in 1910, the casket is from the Crawford collection. Paul Larmour describes it as “a wood-lined metal casket combing engraved steel borders, repoussé copper panels and cast brass elements, set with enamel roundels depicting Irish mythological characters.”

Larmour writes that it is a “superb example of the work carried out in the Cork School of Art. The tall stylised birds anchor the corners, their beaks touching their breasts like pelicans. The gestures of the characters in enamel are dramatic and the difference in the copper interlace on each front panel enhances the drama.”

Carved Oak Chair

Annie Crooke’s carved oak armchair for Lady Aberdeen’s model of an Irish village shown at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago has been described by writer and printmaker, Brian Lalor as “deeply and vigorously carved, demonstrating skill, verve and excellent joinery.” Crooke (1869-1962) came from a gentry family in Coachford, near Blarney. She may have been a student of John Linehan at the School of Art. Women were encouraged to study arts and crafts. Another woman, Kathleen Murphy O’Connor (1896-1959) was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris for six months. Her superbly carved furniture is represented at the exhibition by a side table.

Cartoon detail for depiction of resurrection

From the Crawford Collection, this cartoon was made by Watson & Sons of Youghal in 1914. Monsignor Canon Arthur Ryan placed an order for a three light window depicting the resurrection for the new mortuary chapel that was added to the church.

The cartoon reveals the single figure of the risen Christ. It was used again in 1916 for a single light window in St Mary’s Church in Kilmuckbridge, Co Wexford. The exhibition will also feature the small watercolour design for this window.

Joseph Higgins

Carved wooden toys made by Cork sculptor Joseph Higgins (1885-1925), for his children, will be on show. Also, the oil painting of his daughter, Maighread, is in the exhibition. Ryan says that Higgins’s furniture is carved with Celtic interlace, typical of the day. “He made beautiful objects for the home. His sculptures, whether modelled or carved, make him one of the most interesting figures in the arts and crafts movement.”

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