Ciaran Hogan - A New Generation Of Basket Weavers

“From the highest king to the lowest pauper, who doesn’t like to sit down!” Such was the warm welcome from Irish basket maker Ciaran Hogan, when Craft Editions visited him in the summer of 2016 at his studio near Galway. After a spell travelling around Australia and New Zealand, Ciaran returned to his native country to start creating baskets using designs passed on by his father, renowned basket maker Joe Hogan.

Ciaran told Craft Editions how the family’s love of basket making started when Joe Hogan decided to live a more rural life. He moved to a peaceful, isolated part of Ireland and took up farming, but soon found that his small plot didn’t have the capacity to earn him a living. To supplement his income, Joe planted some willow and started making baskets. Since then, basket making has become his main occupation and Joe has gone on to win international acclaim for the tradition of Irish basket making.

Ciaran Hogan has clearly inherited his father’s love of basket making. This is evident as we talk about his work, the majority of which takes place at his studio in Galway Craft Village, in Spiddal, in the West of Ireland. Ciaran spends his days sitting on the floor of his studio weaving baskets using willow, about half of which is grown at home, the rest being commercially grown and brought from Somerset in the UK.  

“Rule of thumb is a field that will grow good grass will grow good willow,” says Ciaran, who shares a plot of farmland with his father to grow willow - an annual crop. It’s a patient process, in the first year’s harvest, “the crops can be branchy”, says Ciaran, who ends up discarding a lot of what he cuts. Year two is when the magic happens. During the second harvest, the willow is big and strong, making it the perfect consistency for sturdy basket making.  Of course, like with any crop, the characteristics of willow vary greatly and Ciaran explains there is a big difference between commercial and home-grown varieties, which tend to have more character.

The time of harvest is crucial to producing willow that’s workable. Harvest tends to take place from December onwards, though Ciaran and his father usually stick to a February and March cycle, to ensure the crops aren’t too wet and aren’t too leafy. As a marker of their Irish heritage, they like to have it all cut before St. Patrick’s Day, a national holiday in Ireland in mid-March.

Once the willow has been cut, Ciaran bundles it up and grades it based on thickness. There are two different ways to use it, he explains. Firstly, you can use it semi-fresh – about twelve weeks after it’s been cut – “so there’s still a little sap in the willow”. Ciaran’s own preference is to use the semi-fresh willow for his work. Alternatively, the willow can be left for two to three months after it’s cut until it's dead and brown. Once dry, it can be stored for three to five years before it’s soaked and used. “After soaking you can use a steam box overnight to get a couple more days’ usage,” says Ciaran.

And the finished result? Practical, functional and beautiful. Though Ciaran has taken a lot of inspiration from his father, he has chosen to focus on more practical shapes such as his distinctive Sciob baskets, which were traditionally used for straining potatoes after cooking. He sells what he has made in his shop – next to his studio. “It’s a slow enough process so I just about keep the shop stocked,” he says. When asked what he enjoys most about it, Ciaran claims that he likes being self-employed and “calling his own shots in terms of the business.”

Ciaran shares his love for his craft with others through teaching a range of courses throughout the year. There are only about ten to fifteen full-time basket makers remaining in Ireland at present, placing a once ubiquitous craft at risk of extinction. It is wonderful to know that this ancient art form is being kept alive in a quiet corner of the West of Ireland and inspiring a new generation of makers with its beauty.

Find out more about Ciaran Hogan here.

All images by Craft Editions.

Brian Waring