For most people "Irish craft" summons up shamrocks and leprechauns on cheap linen, pottery and roughly woven baskets. Ireland can do kitsch — but also craft. Both have their roots in rural life and the production of simple, functional objects, with craft given a contemporary twist to convey quality and purpose. You can see this in Brick Lane, E1, at Vernacular, during the London Design Festival.
Take the beautifully designed and made coloured stoneware and celadon-glazed porcelain of Derek Wilson — or Jack Doherty's subtly coloured Café Ceramic production range. In the same quiet vein are Alison Fitzgerald's refined willow baskets, based on the traditional Irish sciathóg used to drain and serve potatoes, and Aileen Anne Brannigan's soft natural Irish Limestone bowls for indoor and out.
An interest in nature and landscape and its impact on social history is evident in many Irish designs. The resin furniture of Sasha Sykes of Farm 21 gives this an urban take. She embeds things she finds in the fields of her home in County Carlow in acrylics and hand-cast resins. Sykes's Month of November screen highlights the beauty of the ordinary — beech leaves that she collects with her daughter Elinor on their daily walk to feed the chickens. A similar relationship to the countryside is evident in the woven wool fabrics of Cushendale Mill. Wool is spun, dyed and woven on site, as it has been for generations.
A relationship to the countryside is also explicit in Donna Bates's Parlour Lighting lamps and pendants, based on the glass jars used to collect cows' milk on the farm where she grew up.
Collaboration between craftspeople and designers and architects is a trend. Design entrepreneurs Makers and Brothers undertake many such collaborations, the most recent with the family-run glass company Jerpoint Glass Studio to create a water carafe and glass. Another partnership is that of Ovis Design, the combined talents of felt designer Jamie Lewis and industrial designer Ben Harris, who created a felt storage table that turns the common perception of wool and felt on its head, as the cylinder of felt supports the removable wooden table top.
A further joint venture is "Falling Dansu" a contemporary wall-hung ash bureau, with a sandblasted exterior and numerous inner compartments made in the workshop of Joseph Walsh, the renowned craft furniture maker, and designed by leading architects O'Donnell+Twomey.
Furniture features significantly. Wooden Leg is a partnership of two designers who produce pieces such as Teepee, a small table, and Module hexagonal mini tables, displaying the very Irish characteristic of the understanding of materials. Design Goat, one of Ireland's emerging design practices show similatuor skills in their homage to Eileen Gray, the 5.12 Chair.
Vernacular's co-curator Ann Mulrooney said: "This exhibition demonstrates how vernacular Irish tradition can be interpreted as a contemporary expression in the 21st century. Not as twee Celtic romanticism, but as a confident and understated expression of a place that has come to terms with its history. Vernacular describes our ability, as a small island nation, to assimilate influences in the creation of a distinct visual language."
The designs will be on show at Vernacular. For more information visit londondesignfestival.com.