2015 was the Year of Irish Design. In celebration there were exhibitions, events, talks and programmes all across the country. RTE aired a four part documentary, Designing Ireland, introducing us to the history of design in this country. Hosted by Angela Brady and Sandra O’Connell this fascinating series took us from our roots in vernacular design and use of materials, through the dawn of modern design in Ireland via innovative architecture and fashion designers, to the heady days of the Kilkenny Design Centre and into the digital era where computer-based planning is married to mastery of materials by engineers, architects, fine crafters and designer-makers to produce products that can stand with any in the world.
Alison, Angela and Sandra at the 7 HANDS Exhibition in London, with Alison’s greenwood chairs*
Artists and craft people gravitated towards West Cork throughout the second half of the 20th century for the light, the distance from civilization, the beauty of the countryside, the affordability of land for studios and housing and for the support of a community of like-minded individuals. Alison Ospina, in her book West Cork Inspires, describes this period and profiles many of the practitioners who discovered this unique area, drew inspiration from it and made their home here.
Last summer in Ballydehob the 7 HANDS Group harkened back to this golden era of West Cork Design with a stunning exhibition of contemporary fine craftwork by seven local artists. The exhibition moved on to Dublin and London where it was well received, although I cannot imagine the settings there could rival that of our tiny pristine Haugaard Gallery on the Pier in Ballydehob.
Kieran Higgins is a master woodworker *
The exhibition was supported by a series of artists’ talks and it was quite magical to listen to Brian Lalor talk about the detail and precision of his etching process, compared to Alison Ospina’s approach to her greenwood chair building in which the material reveals the ultimate design to her.
Angela Brady walked us through the making one of her luminous glass creations (those gorgeous beetles!) and Paddy McCormack spoke about the fiery furnace in which his wonderful chess set was forged.
We came away with our own little souvenir – yet more hares for Robert, this time by Etain Hickey.
The 7 HANDS group has larger ambitions. They want to re-establish West Cork’s place in the Irish design and craft pantheon. With this, their first exhibition, they have made an excellent start.
Patrick Connor’s quirky portraits *
The extraordinary intricacy of Brian Lalor’s ‘Liffey with Cranes’*
*A special thank you to Angela Brady for some of the photographs in this post.