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Rowena Sheen in her Ennistymon studio.

Burren flowers inspire brilliant designs


AN Ennistymon-based jewellery maker has been chosen from hundreds of crafts people nationwide to participate in a prestigious exhibition organised by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland.
Rowena Sheen is based at the Courthouse Gallery in the bustling North Clare town. She is among the highly skilled markers whose work will be on show in the National Design and Craft Gallery in Kilkenny until January 30, before the exhibition moves to Dublin and later the North of Ireland.
The Made in Ireland exhibition has gathered together the largest visual and sensory feast of fresh ideas and craftsmanship and offers an insight into current activity in skilled making on a national scale. It is not only reflective of the skills of Ireland’s community of makers, but it also celebrates work by different generations of the same family, and by collaborative groups and partnerships. It also demonstrates the importance of passing on skills, of cross-pollination and innovation.
Rowena takes inspiration from the North Clare landscape and uses locally sourced materials, where possible, including beewax from her father’s hives.
“I design and make contemporary jewellery using locally sourced native Irish wood, sterling silver, and Burren wildflower beeswax,” she explained. “I sell my work through over 20 stockists nationwide, including Laura Vaughan in Ennis, Olive & Crew in Lahinch, Foust Gallery in Ennistymon, and Irish Crafts in Doolin. I also sell online through my website Rowenasheen.com and offer local pick up from my studio.
“My most recent collection of necklaces has been inspired by the plant and animal life found during long walks in the Burren over the past year of lockdowns, and I love feeling connected to my surrounding landscape both as a source of inspiration as well as raw materials.
“Beginning with locally gathered tree trunks, the wood is left to dry naturally over many years before individual shapes can be laser cut, hand finished, ebonised and assembled using sterling silver findings. Finally, each piece is finished with beeswax collected from my father’s beehives, sealing and protecting the wood and enhancing the colour and the grain.
The exhibition in Kilkenny launched earlier this month and was borne out of a desire to bring together a snapshot of what is happening in skilled making in Ireland, to create an exhibition that organisers describe as “big and eclectic but also surprising, joyful, and inspirational”.
The open callout attracted over 420 applicants to the juried process. CEO of Design and Crafts Council Ireland, Rosemary Steen said the show is an important one for makers after the pandemic.
“The past twenty months of closures have been a difficult time for our makers, and opportunities to show craft have been reduced, which makes Made in Ireland all the more timely,” she said. “During this time the public have engaged more with the sustainability and authenticity of craft. Guilds, Associations, Networks and Societies (GANS) are at the heart of Design & Crafts Council Ireland and we look forward to continuing to support the development of technical and business skills, creating opportunities and promoting craft in Ireland through the work of our dedicated team.”
Project team of Made in Ireland, Mary Gallagher, Hilary Morley and Stephen O’Connell said: “It is our hope that Made in Ireland will engage with diverse audiences and build understanding of craft, design and material culture. In a desert of digital and mass manufacture, we find this oasis of making – a tangible link to the materials and traditions of this island, to its colour, its landscape and its people.”
Exhibitors include makers of international renown as well as young, emerging artists and those who have practised quietly in areas of the country such as Clare Island, West Cork and the North Antrim Coast. Some are members of Design and Crafts Council Ireland’s Portfolio Critical Selection, while others are highly skilled makers who practise away from the spotlight and national competition.
A full list of exhibitors can be viewed on Ndcg.ie. After the exhibition ends its run in Kilkenny, it will move to Farmleigh Gallery, Phoenix Park, Dublin for the months of July and August. Then, it will go to FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, later in the autumn.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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