On Tuesday I went to Showcase Ireland the annual trade fair organized by the Craft Council of Ireland which exhibits the best and most innovative of Irish craft, design and manufacturing to both Irish and international buyers. Regretfully I had limited time so I speed around trying to take it all in but as there were hundreds of exhibitors I only absorbed a tiny fraction of what was on view. One thing however that stood out for me, as much as a skyscraper would on a road otherwise filled with bungalows, was the extraordinary passion and enthusiasm of all the exhibitors I spoke to for what they do.
I met some of the members of the talented teams who took part in the Malthouse Design Challenge. The challenge was sponsored by the Craft Council and brought together, for a weekend back in October 2012, young designers and craftspeople, they were: Anne Kirby, Tricia Harris, Ben Harris, Jamie Lewis, Donna Bates, James Fisher, Mark Hanvey, Andy Burdock and Nik O’Donnell.
There were four inter-disciplinary teams each composed of one craftsperson and one designer. The hope was that this collaborative sharing of skills would spark ideas for new, innovative and exciting products. And it did. Also on board for that weekend was John Jenkins the design manager of Heals UK, he provided feedback on the viability and salability of the design ideas. You can see the lighting and furniture products the teams designed as a result of that weekend in the images above.
I also met Maureen Lynch a jewellery designer and maker who is a graduate of NCAD (National College of Art and Design). She set up her jewellery business twenty-two years ago when she returned to Ireland having spend time in both Copenhagen and Vancouver working and studying. I love the deceptive simplicity and elegance of the very wearable items in her collections and it was fascinating to hear her talk about the whirring of the design process in her mind.
For example the interlocking but free-flowing circles you see in the pendant above is a design that flowed from Maureen’s musings on freedom and interdependence within relationships and her working through and trying to figure out who she is besides a wife and mother of three young children.
While I was wandering around Showcase I had my eyes peeled looking for Aran sweaters. The Aran sweater is in that rather inelegant phrase *having a moment*. It seems impossible to open a fashion magazine without seeing a picture of one or to flick through the TV channels without spotting some cool dude sporting one. There were lots of knitwear stands at Showcase but the sweater that caught my eye was the boat neck one you see in the image above made by C Kennedy & Sons of Ardara in Donegal. It’s machine-made and hand finished but they also sell traditional hand-knitted Aran sweaters.
C Kennedy & Sons have a long and illustrious history. I spoke to Connell Kennedy whose great-grandfather established the company way back in 1902. At one stage the company had more than two thousand hand knitters however over the years interest in the craft waned but thankfully there has been a revival in recent times and a new generation is learning the art of hand knitting Aran designs. The recently anointed as a fashion item Aran sweater has for several years had a place in the closet of one of the most stylish women on planet fashion – Sarah Jessica Parker. She holidays with her husband Matthew Broderick and their children for one month each summer in the village of Kilcar next to Ardara and has been known to nip in to the Kennedy shop to stock up from time to time.
I was sad I didn’t have more time to explore Showcase. Next year …