CHINA may be famous for its porcelain, but glass has brought two of its citizens to Cork this springtime, writes John Tynan

The students are here as part of an exchange programme between the contemporary applied art department at CIT Crawford College of Art & Design and Shanghai University.

The students, a woman, Yun Yun, aged 26, and Goa Lei, a 27-year-old man, will spend two months here and immerse themselves in college life and the culture of the city.

Yun Yun is from a city near Shanghai, while Goa Lei is from Shangdong, near the capital Beijing. Their visit is sure to be an eye-opener as it is their first time outside of their homeland and already they have tried their hands at currach rowing on the River Lee.

Both are looking forward to learning about stained glass, something that is uncommon in China.

“The exchange with China has been in place for four years, now,” says lecturer Debbie Dawson. “Orla Flynn, the then head of Crawford College, went to Shanghai and met with Prof Xaoi Wei Zhuang, glass professor of the College of Fine Arts at Shanghai University. He was invited to have an exhibition at the CIT Wandesford Gallery in Cork.

I curated that and he then invited me to have an exhibition of my work in Shanghai and to lecture to his MA students — we have been exchanging students since,” said Dawson, who said the exchange is supported by a twinning grant from Cork City Council.

“There has been a long history of glass in China, but in the past few years it’s making a name for itself in the world of contemporary glass. They recently built a magnificent museum of glass in Shanghai, modelled on Corning Museum of Glass in New York.

“Stained glass has long been freed from its ecclesiastical confines and is now taken seriously as a contemporary art form. Flat glass painting is the main area of focus here at the Crawford as this is what we would be known for. Maud Cotter originally set up the stained glass department back in the early ’80s.

Chinese students Goa Lei, left, and Yun Yun, who are on a twomonthexchange to study glass at the CIT Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork. Two Irishstudents are currently studying glass at Shanghai University.
Chinese students Goa Lei, left, and Yun Yun, who are on a twomonth

exchange to study glass at the CIT Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork. Two Irish

students are currently studying glass at Shanghai University.

“I studied it as a student here and I continue to make stained glass in my own studio, but we also do 3D work; termed slumping and casting, which is why the link with Shanghai is important, as that is what they specialise in,” says Dawson, adding that the glass department is furthering its international connections through another exchange programme with Copenhagen.

“We are expanding our international connections and developing our Erasmus programme. I will be going to the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen and, ultimately, we will have Danish students coming here and vice-versa. We also have a student in Cardiff at the moment and we have developed links with Lithuania and Estonia textiles departments” said Dawson, who has just stepped down as chairperson of the Glass Society of Ireland.

Glass is all around us, but generally we don’t see it. That’s by design, obviously, in windows, but it’s certainly gaining visibility as an art form. Indicative of this was the Crawford College decision to incorporate the glass course into its applied arts programme.

“Our first graduate of the new course, Peter Martin, has just had a very successful solo exhibition at Sternview Gallery here in Cork and he was also shortlisted for a major public art commission for UCD, which is a huge achievement for someone straight out of college.

Dawson said it is essential that Ireland’s history of glasswork, particularly in Waterford, be recognised and developed.

“Because of the history of Waterford Crystal, we could have a museum similar to Shanghai and Corning, etc, which would bring in big international names. There is a drive on to develop Waterford as a centre of excellence. There is a long-established history and all the skills of the master craftsmen are being lost. We must do something to ensure this heritage is maintained,” says Dawson, who describes glass as “seductive”, referencing its luminosity and translucency.

Barbara Kenneally, a student, is stone mad about glass. In fact, rocks from the former copper mines in Allihies in West Cork have proved her inspiration, using them to make moulds from which she derives glass forms.

“I love Allihies. I’ve been going there since 1962. As a child, I was transfixed when hearing about the miners going underground with paraffin lights, says Kenneally, a former medical scientist, as she removes her delicate “experiments “ from the kiln after a night in the heat.

Another student, Marissa McLaughlin from Seattle, is passionate about the Palestinian cause, which she pours into her work.

She transfers images of the conflict onto glass plates, achieving a 3D effect that gives a dramatic perspective to the strife.

“I lived there for three years, from 2002 to 2005, so it’s a place that’s dear to my heart,” she says, the determination obvious in her voice.

Dawson acknowledges that the glass department in Crawford “is very lucky, in that there has been major investment in the past few years”.

“Now we have a state-of-the-art studio place and workshop. The next thing, we would hope, is to develop a cold-working area, which involves buying expensive machinery, where the work coming out of the kiln can be grinded and polished, making the task less labour intensive — at the moment it is all done by hand.”

Student Hazel Hutton got to visit China last year and she becomes animated when recalling the experience.

“I learned how to work on a big scale. It really accelerated my work. I would go back at the drop of a hat,” she says.

Jackie Bowles, meanwhile, is one of the lucky Cork-based pair who are now in the People’s Republic for two months in place of Yun Yun and Goa Lei.

“I’m going with Laura McAuliffe, a Canadian, for two months,” she said before leaving. “It’s an amazing opportunity. Life-changing. As Laura said: We won the college lottery.”

The annual degree show held in the Crawford College showcases the final year’s students work. It opens on Thursday, June 9, at 6pm and will be a perfect opportunity to see the amazing skill and talent of our future makers.


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