Sometimes, revived traditions are in reaction to a fast-changing world. Other times, they’re simply a labour of love. We meet the new faces of old-school art and crafts.
Words Gemma Tipton. Photography Al Higgins. Cara, Aer Lingus In Flight Magazine April/May 2017
Might heritage crafts be just a little musty, dusty and dull? Not a bit, as there’s a new wave of makers in Ireland shaking up what once might have been considered redundant crafts. From iron work to hand painted signs, its about thinking anew and getting physical with materials while adding a contemporary twist to age-old skills. The skills themselves reach back through centuries of life in Ireland to times when blacksmiths were hot-shoeing horses and coopers crafted the barrels that those horses would pull on drays to your local pub. There you might find a stained-glass window, made by a local artisan; and the sign over the door? It would have been hand-painted by someone who had learned their letters from a line of previous masters.
For a while it seemed as if the world was turning its back on these traditions and they were seldom seen outside folk parks and museums. But, before they could become completely lost, a new generation has taken up the mantle. These are the people who are re-shaping their making to suit today’s world. After all, that’s how tradition survives, by adapting to each new era and making itself new. The future is in good hands, literally…
The Metal Workers
Who: Gunvor Anhoj and Michael Calnan
What: Contemporary Blacksmiths
Denmark-born Gunvor Anhøj, met her creative partner and husband Michael Calnan when they were both studying blacksmithing at Hereford in the UK, which means even if it was a match made in heaven, it was also forged in fire and iron. Anhøj herself discovered the craft after studying horticulture and needing to repair an old iron plough tip.
“Being a contemporary blacksmith demands an equal mix of intuitive, creative and physical abilities,” she says. “So it’s very satisfying.” She’s absolutely passionate about her materials and the process. “I work best if I’m allowed design intuitively at the forge – drawing on paper never did it for me.” The pair share studio space (calnan-anhoj.ie), but tend to design and make their own work. An exception being a piece made together, which was presented to senator George Mitchell in 2016 as part of the New York City St Patrick’s Day Parade, which Anhøj describes as her “most proud moment”.
The duo’s work is expressive and exciting, making the metal flow, and then freeze into sculptural shapes. Describing her medium, Anhøj quotes her hero, American artist Beverly Pepper, who said: “People don’t think iron can be poetic, but even a human tear has iron in it”.
Inspirational spot? “Our current studio is based on the grounds of Russborough House, Co Wicklow. The woodlands are amazing and there’s also the most spectacular view of Wicklow’s rugged mountains. I really love this place and highly recommend a visit if you’re travelling to Ireland!”