Applying scientific rigour to hand crafts

Niamh Harnett with some Linda Wilson Knirwear, which will be on display at the Glucksman Craft Fair. Picture: Clare Keogh

Beautiful crafts, suitable for Christmas gifts, will be displayed at the annual Glucksman Craft Fair at UCC from Nov 8-10.

Leading Irish craft artists will present textiles, ceramics, wood-turning, furniture, prints, basketry and jewellery. One of those artists is Waterford-based ceramicist, Laura McNamara.

McNamara, who graduated with a first-class honours degree from the Limerick School of Art and Design in 2010, works with porcelain clay. She hand-builds sculptural forms fired at 1260c. “There are a lot of people doing ceramics in Ireland,” says McNamara. “I do sculptural pieces, which are hung on walls. I also make ceramic jewellery. It’s a bit different from most ceramic work. I don’t do pottery or functional ware. At the craft fair, I’ll be displaying some new, framed pieces. People can envisage ceramics hanging on their walls when they see the work framed.”

McNamara was torn between science and art, having done well in biology in the Leaving Certificate. She chose art as a career and has infused her craft with science.

“My wall pieces are based on scientific theories in biology. I create ceramic insects and parasites and I do pieces based on plant forms. Each piece is a progression on what came before. I always loved science, so it’s great to be able to bring science into my art in a curious, investigative way. It’s commenting on our insatiable appetite to explore and categorise this constantly changing world.”

McNamara’s wall-hangings range from small, three-inch circular pieces to larger ones 50cm in diameter. They are influenced by animal cells. She also makes rectangular wall-hangings based on plant cells. The work is abstract. “People see what they want to see in my work. Some people will detect sea creatures; others will see plants. I don’t really state what the pieces are supposed to represent. I let people make up their own minds.”

Much of McNamara’s work is in white porcelain. “I sometimes mix colours into the porcelain clay and I do black-and-white ceramics as well.” McNamara’s porcelain jewellery is based on her sculptures. “The jewellery is mostly coloured and includes earrings, pendants and brooches. They are miniature forms of my sculptures. They’re not at all heavy, as porcelain is quite light. For bigger pieces of jewellery, I use porcelain paper clay, which has flax mixed into it. It burns-out in the kiln into something really light and strong.”

The jewellery ranges in price from €24 to 36, while the wall pieces cost €60 to 300.

During the summer, McNamara sold work on display at the RHA. She also got two private commissions. “I don’t do many commissions, as I mostly get sales from galleries. But private commissions are something I’d like to get more of.”

McNamara says it’s difficult to make a living from craft work. “It takes a while to build up your work and get your name known. I’m not making a living from ceramics yet. I do some teaching and give workshops in studios.”

Next year, McNamara will be exhibiting her ceramics at the Limerick School of Art and Design, as part of Limerick’s celebrations as City of Culture.

The Glucksman Gallery Craft Fair is good exposure for people like McNamara. As the Glucksman director, Fiona Kearney, says: “The craft fair is a wonderful showcase for the artistry and value of Irish craft. It is a chance to support our local economy.”


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