'August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied,' wrote the American critic, writer and naturalist Joseph Wood Crutch in his most famous work The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country. Whether this heady sentiment informed the rationale behind Craft NI’s August Craft Month is yet to be established, but it is certainly true to say that a spirit of creativity and artistic satisfaction hangs over Northern Ireland’s annual summer celebration of contemporary crafts.
The August Craft Month guide was launched in 2007 as a means of publicising twenty-five events taking place during that month and incorporating signature initiatives like Creative Peninsula and Craft Fest, both of which remain core elements of the burgeoning programme. Little did the organisers expect their modest enterprise to grow into the major month-long crafts fest that it is today, encompassing close on a hundred separate events in inner city and rural areas and highlighting the work of immensely talented local and international makers.
It is an invidious task to pick out just ten greatest hits from such a stunning selection of summer treats, so, with apologies to those omitted from the list, here is one person’s guide to August Craft Month.
Everyone loves a gorgeous ceramic pot as something to cherish, to use or simply look at. They don’t come much more mouth watering than the rock and water coloured porcelain vessels which comprise Portrush-born Jack Doherty’s Waypoint, first curated for display in three historic sites in the Cornish town of St. Ives, a mecca for contemporary art.
Doherty is an internationally acclaimed potter, whose work reflects his childhood in a family of Antrim fisherfolk. This landmark exhibition runs until September 17 at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh. It gives the festival the perfect send-off with a talk by the artist on July 27, prior to the official opening on 28.
It’s thrilling to see the way in which traditional rural crafts like thatching, dry stone wall building and willow weaving are making their way back into everyday life. You can wallow in the smell and creak of burnished leather as master saddler James Adair, a winner at the Society of Master Saddlers National Saddlery Competition 2016, brings a sense of nostalgia mixed with practicality to his two-day courses in the basic techniques used to produce hand-stitched goods, such as bags, belts, purses and dog collars. August 6 and 7 (and October 8 & 9, November 5 & 6) at the Journeyman Saddler workshop in WIN Business Park, Canal Quay, Newry.
August Craft Month is designed not only for the exceptionally gifted and internationally acclaimed. For those who may be less talented but creatively ambitious, a delightful afternoon is in store at the quaint little SPA Cottage Studio in Ballynahinch on August 10 in the company of tutor Tineke Kroes, who describes herself as a textile artist and silhouette cutting fanatic.
Armed only with boundless imagination and the ability to wield a pair of scissors, beginners and advanced paper cutters alike can enjoy a few hours of immersion in this enchanting traditional craft. The workshop is suitable for adults and children aged 7+ years.
David Esler is a stained-glass artist, whose use of colour and motifs produce works of extraordinary beauty. Witness the window designed for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 on the theme of the kindertransport. An Associate Member of the British Society of Master Glass Painters since 2001, Esler’s distinctive style is inspired by poetry, nature and symbolism and uses traditional techniques of painting, staining and enamelling.
On August 6 and 20, in his studio in the picturesque setting of Donegore near Dunadry, he will give two practical workshops on the design, colour and application of hand painting on glass and two talks which explore the use of colour through the medium of stained glass.
In tandem with the spirit of the master saddler, Eamonn Higgins opens his blacksmith’s forge to the public from August 24 to 26. Sparks will fly over an open fire from morning to late afternoon. Eamonn introduces the public to the brave new world of the modern artist blacksmith, who still burns red hot iron onto horses’s hooves but also produces wonderful pieces of art.
Participants will be introduced to the basic skills of scrolling, drawing down, twisting, upsetting and riveting and can come away with their own hand-made knife. Hot Milk Forge is along Lisnamanny Road in Martinstown near Ballymena.
The motto of these workshops is ‘ waste not, want not’. Mottainai is the Japanese term to express a sense of regret for something wasted. The mission of textile designer and maker Catherine Quinn is to produce textiles that will enhance people’s daily lives and become an enduring part of their home.
Quinn spent time in Japan studying textile crafts and indigo dyeing with an indigo master. In her studio in west Belfast’s Conway Mill she combines her love of Irish and Japanese textiles. Students will learn shibori (bunching or twisting) techniques and how to use an indigo vat. They will take home two personalised and unique swatches of indigo dyed cotton. Beginners workshop on 6 August; advanced techniques on 13 August.
This intriguingly titled event is designed for people who possess hand stitching skills. The worldwide Roses from the Heart project began in 2013 as a memorial to those women who, in the 18th and 19th centuries, were sentenced to transportation to Australia for offences such as vagrancy or the theft of a loaf of bread. The aim is to make and exhibit 25,566 cloth bonnets for every one of those forgotten women.
Participants will each be handed the name of a victim and will make a bonnet, embellished with her name and that of the ship which took her from the Port of Derry-Londonderry to an unknown destination. The workshop on August 6 will be led by Derry-based milliner Audrey Doherty in her studio at 32 Victoria Road.
No excuse is needed for a trip to the coast and countryside of the Ards Peninsula. Here, in two stone cottages in a particularly picturesque spot near Portaferry is to be found Welig Heritage Crafts, a thriving sustainable business run by craft workers and conservationists Clive Lyttle and Elaine Burke.
The workshops on August 9 and 11 will give instruction in traditional skills such as hand carving a spoon from green wood and weaving a potato basket of the kind commonly used in rural areas across Ireland and made from locally grown willow.
We may not all be a budding Jack Doherty, but this event is an irresistible offer - an open invitation to have a go at throwing a pot, when ceramicists Gareth Clarke, Jemma Millen and Victoria Bentham turn up with their pop-up pottery wheels at the delightful Linen & Latte coffee shop in Glengormley (August 12) and SpaceCRAFT at the top of the escalator in Belfast ’s Fountain Centre (20 August). The workshops are open to all ages and abilities and there is no need to book in advance. Just bring an apron and oodles of imagination.
Such is the prestige of August Craft Week that high profile international institutions use it to showcase and promote their own ventures. Bild-Werk Frauenau, an international forum for culture, art and education and a stage for music and fantasy, is situated in the beautiful Bavarian Forest in Germany.
Glass art forms the central focus for the 2016 International Summer Academy and workshops and the full programme is being publicised through the Craft Month website. What a fantastic opportunity for young Northern Ireland artists to travel to this bewitching European region to work alongside some of the best creatives in the world.
August Craft Month comprises many more events taking place over four weeks all across Northern Ireland. For more information visit www.craftni.org.