An exhibition at the Crawford showcases Cork’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement, writes Colette Sheridan
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.
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.
“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.
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.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved