The crafty way to see Ireland
A visit to an artisan’s working studio is a memorable experience that will enhance any Irish holiday, and new trails and maps make them easy to find
The award-winning ceramic artist from Limerick says: “We all started work in the recession. We don’t ask for much. We work hard and I’ve been surviving making pots since I left college in 2006.”
Morgan’s fine porcelain tableware in pale blues and creams has a subtle flowing form that works in both contemporary and period-style dining rooms.
Earlier this summer, she opened up her exhibition space to create a Makers’ Market, where the work of other local craft makers is for sale alongside her ceramics. Now visitors can see a wide range of pottery, jewellery, furniture, leatherware and prints. A group of potters also runs children’s workshops behind the exhibition area.
Morgan enjoys mixing the retail work with making pieces. “There are four of us who share looking after the shop. Thomastown is a very special place. It’s a hive of music, arts and craft, and people don’t really get to see how much goes on here,” she says.
There are plans to turn the former courthouse into an arts centre. “It’s mainly Irish people who come here but we’d like to encourage foreign tourists too – to offer pottery or glass-blowing workshops – but we really need a boutique hotel or luxury hostel for people to stay in,” she says.
The basket maker
Arriving at Heike Kahle and Klaus Hartmann’s basket-making and pottery studios in Baurnafea is a good demonstration of how resourceful people can create comfortable lifestyles almost anywhere. Their home and studios are well off the beaten track of north Kilkenny.
However, like many other craftspeople, their home and work lives blend together much like the buildings on their rural plot of land – their house, their beautiful garden and small willow plantation, their interlinked studios and their on-site craft shop.
Originally from east Germany, Kahle and Hartmann came to Ireland 20 years ago to work as “wwoofers” (volunteers through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, working in exchange for board and lodgings, wwoofinternational.org) and never left.
“I think it was because the Wicklow farmer Denis Healy showed us Ireland from a different angle than a tourist’s one. We didn’t feel like we had much of a future in Germany at the time. Klaus – my boyfriend then and husband now – was a nurse and I was a biologist.
“We went to work in a Camphill Community [where workers and people with disabilities live and work together] and opportunities came up to learn basketry and pottery, which we both took.”
Looking back now, having raised their two teenage sons in Ireland, Kahle says their crafts allowed them to completely share work and home life. “I teach basketry night and day courses and Klaus works part-time with Castle Arch pottery in Kilkenny city. It was a huge advantage that both of us were flexible. We won’t get rich with this work but we’re fine,” she adds.
As she shows me around the orderly pottery studio – with both a gas-fired kiln and a timber-fuelled one – and her airy basket weaving workshop, the impression is of life lived apart from the technologically driven age. Even the baskets themselves – different ones for beach combing, picking berries, drying herbs, collecting mushrooms, eggs and cut garden flowers – remind one of a softer pace of life.
“I love the fact that what I do has a low impact on the environment,” she says. “I grow and harvest my own willow without chemicals or toxic dyes. I work with simple hand tools that don’t need electricity and what I make will eventually revert back to nature.”
Madeinkilkenny.ie. Jerpoint Glass, Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny, jerpointglass.com, 056-7724350, open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun noon-5pm. Karen Morgan, Market Street, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, 086-1663691, open Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm. Baurnafea craft workshop, Baurnafea, Co Kilkenny, 059-9726947, visits by appointment
Heike Kahle’s baskets are on show at the Grennan Mill Craft School exhibition in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, tomorrow until August 18, 10am-6pm daily. Jerpoint Glass work will feature in the Made in Kilkenny Connection Made in Butler House, Kilkenny, tomorrow until August 18, 10am-6pm daily. Karen Morgan’s Makers Market exhibition and workshop