Where North Meets South

Ireland and South Africa both share a deep heritage of craft. Initially these two countries, together with the UK, will be the main source for our stories at Craft Editions about makers and their work.

There is a rich diversity of craft skills in Ireland including pottery, weaving, basket making, glass blowing and woodwork. Many of these have been passed down through generations and it is reassuring to see how vibrantly these crafts live on today throughout Ireland. On a visit to the National Craft and Design Fair at the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) in Dec 2015 the award winners from the 2015 RDS National Craft Award Exhibition were on display. Joe Hogan’s ‘Ebb & Flow’ basket won the RDS Established Maker Award of Excellence. It is a particularly beautiful work, inspired and made from found pieces of bog pine and soaked and steamed Harrisons willow.

South Africa has much in common with Ireland when it comes to ceramics, weaving and basketry. There are also many crafts which stem from the strong and diverse cultural heritage of South Africa and beadwork is just one example. Beadwork was once the insignia of tribal royalty and the skill goes back over many millennia. Today it lives on and is used by South African makers from high art, such as the stunning work by Tamlin Blake, to local crafts people making beaded items for sale to tourists.  South Africa’s extraordinary creativity and love of making is also evident by the diversity of works made from recycled materials, ranging from tin cans to plastic bags.

Craft is so connected to the land and Ireland and South Africa both have a strong agricultural tradition. They also share extraordinary landscapes, dramatic seasonal weather and a wonderful diversity of nature, which act as a source of material and inspiration for makers in both countries.

In Ireland local plants such as gorse, blackberries and moss are used in dyeing wool. Gorse is a common sight across Ireland and although there are different species, the Common gorse (Ulex Europaeus) flowers most strongly in spring and is a stunning sight driving through the Wicklow Mountains, just outside Dublin. The bark, stem and leaves are used in dyeing wool and the colour is seen in abundance in woven Irish fabrics. Eddie Doherty hand looms in Ardara, Co Donegal and uses wool that is very reflective of the colours of the Irish countryside. 

In South Africa the extraordinary red and black clay has long been a source of material for potters in Zululand.  Zulu pots are highly distinctive and are coil built, burnished and fired. They are then embellished with intricate designs. The Nala family is amongst the most famous and started with Ntombi Khumalo in the early 1900’s. She taught her daughter the art of clay pot making, who in turn passed the skill to her daughter Nesta Nala (1940-2005), an award winning South African potter and national treasure. Nesta Nala passed her skill on to her daughters and they to their daughters. The Nala family has become world-renowned and their work is highly sought after.

Craft Editions will seek out and tell the stories behind Irish and South African makers and will focus on six key categories: Clay, Cloth, Basket, Wood, Leather and Glass. 

Brian Waring