For glassmakers across Ireland, coronavirus restrictions created a great sense of isolation, loneliness, fear and uncertainty. Cut off from each other and their creative outlets, they came together virtually to create The Glass Quilt, a unique and historical piece of art that showcases the resilience of the Irish glass community.
In May 2021, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2022 the International Year of Glass. A year celebrating the technological, scientific, economic, environmental, historical and artistic role of glass in our societies. The opportunities for sustainable production and consumption of glass can help the world meet the goals of The Paris Agreement and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. After all, glass is an important aspect of daily life for global citizens; in the automotive sector, architecture, the arts, information and communications technology, energy, health care, laboratory work, packaging and storage.
Amidst the uncertainty of another wave of coronavirus infections in early 2021, a national lockdown restricted Irish people visiting friends and family, travelling to work, and going about their daily lives. Glassmakers were cut off from their workspaces, their creative outlets, and their communities. Professional and amateur glassmakers across Ireland found both their physical and mental health under threat. “Focus had to be shifted from artistic practice to caring for family members, teaching children and working from a continuously full house” explains Aoife Soden from the Glass Society of Ireland. It was this isolation, loneliness, and longing for creative expression that prompted fifty glassmakers to join together virtually and plan the largest collaborative glass project completed in Ireland to date – The Glass Quilt.
A breath of fresh air
Comprising of fifty rhomboid shapes, The Glass Quilt captures the skills of Irish glassmaking and the variety of experiences and emotions throughout the difficult lockdown period. Irish glassmakers living in Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom each contributed an individual piece. They used a wide range of glassmaking techniques, incorporating their own interpretation of the theme ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’. Themes represented in the quilt include nature, poetry, textiles, patterns, mental health and emotional responses. The quilt tells a unique story of a unique time. For Irish glassmakers, it challenged them to be creative and collaborate with like-minded artists, strengthening the bonds of the glass community.
Ireland has a rich heritage of glassmaking. Despite the industry waning in recent years, Ireland has seen a resurgence of the craft. The Glass Quilt is the embodiment of how far the industry has come with artists demonstrating a wide array of techniques such as glass painting, kiln working, blowing, etching, engraving and lamp-working. The community is also engaging the younger generation to enter into the industry. Those who have built their own business after the collapse of the glassmaking factories are beginning to train younger glassmakers. The Glass Society of Ireland believe this will pave the sustainable path of glass into the future.
A vista of kindred souls
As the coronavirus restrictions eased in Ireland, many glassmakers were revitalised from their time collaborating with one another on the The Glass Quilt. As one contributor recalled, “this project brought me out of my mental isolation and opened such a beautiful new vista of kindred souls who love working with this amazing medium”. The project served as a starting point for new work, new approaches, and a restarting point when confidence had been at an all-time low for many in the community. Creators hope that by sharing the quilt with others, glassmakers from all backgrounds can showcase their bond and also the potential of community-based work.
The power of community
For the Glass Society of Ireland, The Glass Quilt stands as a testament to the power of community. It was for this reason that collaborators were recognised by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in December 2021. The glassmakers were delighted to display the project in Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President, until the end of January 2022. The quilt was selected for the prestigious Venice Glass Week in September 2021 and exhibited at Gallery Effe Due in Murano, Italy. It was also displayed in Dublin Castle during the World Craft Council conference in October 2021. The Glass Society of Ireland hope to donate the quilt to an educational or healthcare setting once exhibitions have ceased, seeing it as a way of giving back to the community which it missed during all those weeks in lockdown.
For more information on The Glass Quit project, visit https://www.glasssocietyofireland.ie/the-glass-quilt/ or watch https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1xxrvg6nc0Q&feature=emb_logo.