Region potters on despite recession

West Cork was traditionally renowned as a haven for potters — but harsh times mean many are now being forced to support themselves by teaching, or working in call centres or jobs in the retail sector.

However, while the economic downturn has had a serious impact on the sector, many potters are still continuing to work at their craft on a part-time basis in the hope that things will improve, says Etain Hickey, a ceramic artist and gallery owner in Clonakilty.

“A lot of potters would have been making their living full-time from their craft before the recession,” said Ms Hickey. She says around 80% of the potters she knows have been forced to find new ways to support themselves as the general public increasingly cuts back on its discretionary spending:

“Many of us used to earn our living 100% from our pottery. I would say very few potters are earning their living from craftwork at the moment — most people are having to do something else as well to supplement their income. They teach part-time, for example, but they want to keep their hand in at their pottery until things improve,” says Hickey.

She is hosting a colourful ceramics exhibition, A Celebration of Cork Potters, in her Ashe St shop in Clonakilty. Fewer members of the public are buying hand-thrown tableware at the moment, she says, adding that this has resulted in a shift to more “sculptural work”.

However, the recession hasn’t dented the creativity or the determination of some of Cork’s finest artists if this latest exhibition of work by some 21 Cork potters is anything to go by. “This exhibition is very important — it reminds people that there is a wealth of talent out there,” says Ms Hickey.

Nesting lovebirds, swimming fish, and traditional tableware grace the exhibition which also includes sculptural heads and figurate work — and it’s all by members of the Society of Cork Potters.

The exhibition was opened by Laura Magahy, chairperson of the Crafts Council of Ireland.

“This exhibition shows an eclectic mix of ceramics ranging from traditional table ware from founding member Jane Forrester, sculptural ceramic heads, elephants and strange birds from Pat Connor, translucent bone china nightlight holders by Cillian Gibbons, and the beautiful cobalt brushwork of Leda May’s dishes,” says Ms Hickey, adding that Catherine Ryan from Cape Clear has created a series of fuchsia and seashore-inspired bowls painted in fresh and fluid colours.

Meanwhile, Rossmore-based Jim Turner, winner of this year’s ICCA outstanding achievement award will be showing some of his trademark volcanic surface sculptures and some new porcelain bowls.

Ms Hickey herself has produced a new collection of brightly coloured earthenware dishes that will be shown for the first time in this exhibition, which runs until the end of August.

“Cork craft work is rightly renowned and in this day and age of mass production we are lucky here in West Cork to have so many wonderful creative people working in our midst,” she adds.

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