Peter Mulligan reviews Traditional Crafts of Ireland by David Shaw-Smith, Thames & Hudson £24.95, Draw Your Own Celtic Designs by David James with Vitor Gonzalez, David and Charles, £9.99 and The Crafter’s Design Library: Celtic by Chris Down, David and Charles £17.99
DAVID SHAW-SMITH has put together a comprehensively researched and well-presented book on a wide variety of traditional crafts in Ireland.
He has travelled the lanes and byways of Ireland to find the old, the new and emerging crafts, and workshops where they exist, that are now flourishing.
The crafts are divided into ten main headings: textiles, stonework, woodwork, willow-rush and straw, leather, metalwork, ceramics, glassware, calligraphy and a general heading called rural life.
Within each headings are the individual crafts. For instance, under woodwork incorporates ten crafts from ranging coopering to the construction of uileann pipes, harps, violins and othe musical instruments.
Likewise, under metalwork there is everything from blacksmithing to jewellery.
The detailed description of each craft is based on the work of a master in the craft with pictures of the workshop and a breakdown of the process or stages of development.
I was particularly fascinated with the skill of stone carving. The process of identifying the grain, extracting the slab from the quarry and then shaping and the fine tools used. The finished products were a marvel to behold. Three-dimensional pictures that tell a story and will last for centuries.
Harp making was another craft that has found a rebirth in small workshops. Dante, born 1265, tells us that the harp was taken to Italy from Ireland, "Where they are excellently made and in great numbers, the inhabitants of that island having practised upon it for many, many ages; nay, they even place it in the arms of the country and paint it on their public buildings and stamp it on their coins."
The Irish harp is small and can be carried on your back. When next in Kerry visit the workshop in Ballygriffin, Kenmare.
Caligrapher and medieval historian Tim O'Neill writes on illuminated manuscripts. He has a particular interest in early Irish manuscripts and is responsible for creating the Roscrea Missal and the Cardinal O'Fiaich's Memorial Gospel Book in Maynooth College.
One also thinks of Denis Brown who executed that beautiful calligraphy in the Great Book of Ireland completed in 1990. Truly this ancient craft is experiencing a new creative phase. Interest is now widespread and Peannairi, the Irish scribes workshop, is flourishing throughout Ireland, organising courses and bestowing qualifications.
Space prevents me from dwelling on such fine crafts as bookbinding, ceramics, and stained glass which are also flourishing. Renewed interest and enthusiasm has encouraged apprenticeships in most of these crafts and, faith willing, they will all develop and allow a skilled people to articulate through their craft the humanity we all seek.
Shaw-Smith's book is a celebration of Celtic culture and will be a source of inspiration for a new generation of artisans.
Draw Your own Celtic Designs by David James with Vitor Gonzalez includes a good introduction to the Celtic roots of the designs and the various developments that created a recognised art form – the spread of illumination, the Books of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the contribution of the monk scribes.
While the introduction provides fascinating reading, what follows reveals the secrets of calligraphy and draftsman ship are revealed, enabling students of the art form to create their own designs.
The book explains how to develop grids and create outline drawings and how to colour them in using a variety of methods. It is a must for the novice who wants to learn how to draw celtic designs, also includes lessons on how to draw knots, spirals, key patterns, Celtic animals and beasts and finally Celtic lettering.
Chris Down’s contribution to the Crafter's Design Library series is primarily aimed at craft workers wishing to apply Celtic motifs to their products. In addition to an introduction to the art form, the book includes a vast variety of black and white Celtic designs and templates, accompanied by advice on how to transfer motifs on to a number of popular craft media, such as plain and mirrored glass, paper, card and fabric.
Chris Down, along with Jim FitzPatrick, Countney Davis and Vitor Gonzalez, was a contributor to the the Celtic Art Exhibition held in Birmingham Central library in 2002.
The exhibition was sponsored by the Four Provinces Bookshop, which stocks a good selection of Celtic art and craft books.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2004 Peter Mulligan