Decoding craftsmanship at Cork event

Carol O’Callaghan previews an event in Cork attracting some of the biggest names and influencers in design and craft-making today

Gareth Neals work is celebrated internationally and has made its way into the collections of the V&A and Zaha Hadid Architects.

n a world of over-consumption, scarce resources and a disconnection between people and place, a seminar takes place next Saturday, September 23, at the Joseph Walsh Studio in Riverstick, Co Cork, seeks to explore the value of a designing and making culture. It also aims to stimulate conversation and foster inspiration among influencers in the design and making community in Ireland — a place somewhat isolated from centres of global design excellence like New York, London and Milan.

A creative practice of international repute, whose output of hand-crafted furniture and installation pieces are sought after by collectors and museums globally, (a Joseph Walsh Chair carried a guide of up to £10k at auction, recently), the seminar is the second in the studio’s series, entitled Decoding Craftsmanship.

Coincidentally, it comes at a time when dialogue and inspiration are badly needed locally as a response to Cork City Council’s proposed flood relief plan which seeks to separate the citizens of Cork from the River Lee.

Who wants the visual terrorism of clumsy two metre high walls which will erase historic quay walls and railings along a river-way which has served Cork commercially and socially for centuries? It would, in effect, end a dialogue between people and place which has lasted over one thousand years and more.

One of the seminar speakers, and a man with a highly developed sensibility in designing in tandem with the local environment, people and culture, is Brazilian Humberto Campana, one half of the internationally renowned Campana brothers. Their first private architectural project employed native materials and rescued dying craft traditions by wrapping the façade of a house with a natural palm which serves as a tropical heat shield, underpinned by fresh techniques and fabrication.

John Makepeace’s Millenium chair is one of a pair crafted with multiple layers of laminate from English holly and leather.

Moreover, rather than denigrate the culture of Brazil’s shanty town areas, known as Favelas, where homes are made of cast-off and found materials, the Campanas celebrated their creativity. It’s this making philosophy which informed their design of a chair also named Favela which is constructed with pieces of wood which seem to be nailed and glued together randomly.

Such was its impact, that it is now in the permanent collections of world famous museums like the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Musée Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Closer to home, an elder statesman of design, British furniture-maker John Makepiece, has inspired creators for decades. His holistic approach has developed from beautiful craftsmanship, to education and material management and particularly forestry sustainability.

Another guest speaker is materials consultant and author of five books on the subject, London-based Chris Lefteri who will be a name known to any student or design practitioner for his knowledge and understanding of materials in crafting and digital manufacturing, and for his accessible writing, which removes the turgid prose so often associated with books on this subject.

The iconic Favela chair by Estudio Campana is made from pieces of wood randomly connected by glue and nails.

Irish craftsman Joe Hogan, whose basketry has evolved from practical potato baskets to objects which have taken on a sculptural aesthetic, is joined on the speakers’ platform by Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey of O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects. This practice of international repute has developed a design language rooted in the connection between people and place, whether it’s a local project like the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in Dublin’s East Wall or, or on an international scale, the Central European University in Budapest.

Each building responds to its own environment, communicating with its users, its geography and the society in which it is sited. In fact, it was John Tuomey who said of his practice’s philosophy, “To have a building feel like it’s part of the fabric of social life is second nature to us.”

And so it ought to be, especially as a society living with the legacy of poor boom-time construction, a period which saw us sating voracious Celtic Tiger consumer appetites, by surrounding ourselves with products which were rooted in the value of quantity over good quality, over sustainable materials and finished products.

Pod on lichen encrusted beechwood by Irish basket maker Joe Hogan, whose work began with practical objects like potato baskets, and has now evolved to take on a sculptural aesthetic.

The potential for this timely edition of the Decoding Craftsmanship seminar series, with its stellar line up of speakers, stands to show design and making as processes of creativity, practicality and innovation, which delivers value beyond the fiscal, by enhancing our quality of life and fostering a sense of identity and community which respects our traditions of making and also embraces the innovation of technology with responsible use of resources.

Decoding Craftsmanship, Joseph Walsh Studio, Fartha, Riverstick, Co Cork. Information and bookings at


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