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Rosemary Kavanagh. Picture: Darragh Kane
Rosemary Kavanagh. Picture: Darragh Kane
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

My Career: Weaving the perfect job

Name: Rosemary Kavanagh 

Age: 27 

Lives: Union Hall Co. Cork 

Job title: Basketweaver, traditional craftsperson, heritage expert, teacher 

Salary bracket: Between €12,000-€20,000

Education background: Casual heritage arts apprenticeships aged 19-21, years of pursuing curiosities and asking well-formed questions, private tuition with master basket-makers Joe Hogan and Alison Fitzgerald, learning ways of the land from the old people and nature, and many thousands of hours of practice and mistakes.

Hobbies: Knitting, dancing, forest walks, story-telling, reading Irish mythology and folklore, organic gardening, wild food foraging, fiddling, and writing letters. I certainly have no shortage of interests in this round world!

Describe your job in five words: Playful, creative, demanding, rooted-in-place

Describe yourself in five words: (had to phone a friend!) Whole-hearted, passionate, inspired, caring, and quirky Personality needed for this kind of work? Patient, loving, curious, committed, poetic How long are you doing this job?

I have been consumed by all things heritage, crafty and based in the land the last 10 years — and for the last eight years, craft work and teaching have been a portion of my income.

Although, it has only begun to feel like ‘job’ since 2019, since I started to pursue my passion full time and started my own business Wild Rose Basketry.

How did you get this job? By following my passion, curiosity, and my deep belief in the importance of tending meaningful culture.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? The most important ‘qualification’ is your state of mind. Sharing your life with any traditional craft or trade is to become a set of humble hands at the forefront in the long line of tending.

Traditional knowledge — whether visible as a craft, trade or tune — are the blooms of the rich soil that have been nourished by the hundreds of generations before one’s own life came into breath. To give yourself to a traditional craft or trade, is not to melt into a cauldron of the past, but rather to receive this rich soil for planting your own seeds in, to add to the fertility through the means of our time, and to tend it well — so the beauty grows richer with each passing generation.

Rosemary Kavanagh. Pictures: Darragh Kane
Rosemary Kavanagh. Pictures: Darragh Kane

One also must have within them an eagerness to learn and be present — for it takes many years to develop enough confidence and skill in a traditional craft or trade to stand over your work. This is why in the past there would be multi-year apprenticeships for basketry, coopersmithing, harp-making, weaving, and so on.

Once a level of mastery is reached (but truly there is always more to learn!), one must be well able for the long hours of tedious and detail-oriented work. One must be able to enjoy one’s own company and be with themselves in a gentle way, while also being able to be lovingly critical to encourage growth and improvement in one’s work.

Describe a day at work: Every day is different! If it’s a day in the workshop, I wake up around 6.30am to get yoga and a walk in before the long hours of sitting down. I check the soaking tank to see if any willow is ready to come out of the water. If there is, I take the willow out of the tank and stand it up outside to drain for 1-2 hours before wrapping in a wool blanket to ‘mellow’. I then check the commissions list and see if I need to soak any willow for the next week or two’s weavings (willow takes five to 14 days in water to become supple enough for weaving).

Once in the workshop, I will complete any baskets started the day before, freshen up any brittle willow in the steamer box or in a bath of hot water, and begin new baskets. Most baskets I make take a lot of forward planning, not just in the soaking time, but in the drying/curing process. For example, to make the Scottish trug baskets, the initial hoops must be made three weeks before they can be woven on and if I want to weave an oval shopper, the bases must also dry out for a week before they can be woven on. There is a lot of juggling and planning to do to make sure everything goes smoothly during a week in the workshop.

During the hours in the workshops I listen to audiobooks, upbeat or reflective music (Kíla is my current favourite!) or practice songs I want to get better at singing. During my afternoon break, I make sure to go for a walk, swim, garden or practice (my very beginner) sean nós dancing to prevent injury or stress from the long days sitting down.

How many hours do you work a week? Depending on time of year it can be 30-50 hours. This all depends on the season! On any given week, I can be teaching in the national schools through Heritage in the Schools programme, teaching adult classes, in the workshop, or harvesting willow through the frosty cold. A lot of time goes into e-mails and computer-y things which can fall into a lot of my evenings and from which I don’t usually account as part of my working day—easily eight to ten hours a week goes into phone calls, e-mails and the like.

What do you wear to work? Cosy woollen clothes and warm socks, either found in charity shops or homemade.

Is your industry male or female dominated? I’d say fairly balanced gender wise.

Does this affect you in any particular way? Traditionally in Ireland, basketmaking would be more of a male dominated craft—it is lovely seeing more of a feminine approach to this ancient craft, and yet the best log baskets I know are made by strong men!

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: At times, yes. There is a lot to think about with organising courses, getting a commission ‘just right’, and keeping on top of preparing prefect willow for weaving.

Do you work with others or on your own? I work on my own, although in the wintertime I cherish the help of friends and family in helping cut the willow. I hope to be in a position to take on apprentices in a couple years.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? Not any time soon! I imagine that when I have deserved the gift of old age, I would still want to be telling stories and passing on the knowledge and delight of our ancient crafts. I guess when what you do is so intertwined with your being, it feels more like a way of life than a ‘job’ to retire from.

Best bits: One of the best bits of being a craftsperson in this time, is that there is a lot of amazing support available for makers. One thing that I think most creatives struggle with is bridging their work to the wider world and availing of grants/funding/opportunities outside the workshop. I am unbelievable grateful to have the helping hand and support of Cork Craft & Design and our amazing coordinator Maeve Murphy — who has been just magnificent at helping myself and many others apply for funding, grants and avail of the many opportunities to help share our passion and craft with the wider world.

Another ‘best bit’ moment for me is the winter willow harvest! I have started a humble tradition of having a wee gathering with friends and family to welcome in the year’s harvest. This includes playing a few tunes for the willow (including Sally Gardens!) before the first rod is cut. This a new tradition that celebrates the warmth of community and the richness of tradition in the heart of winter—while not taking ourselves too seriously!

Worst bits: All the hours on the computer updating website, e-mails and social media.

Advice to those who want your job? I wouldn’t trade my work for a million euro salary…seriously! I love the connection, warmth and creativity that the willow brings into my life! It is a lovely thing to belong to and tend an ancient tradition so interwoven with place — and indeed it seems when one pursues this path, the road rises up to meet you.

Any other comments? Beyond the fads and trends, I hope that people can gently come back to see our traditional crafts and trades of the land as an piece of the antidote for much of the questions of our time — as a way to tend mental health through nurturing meaningful connection and belonging back into our communities; as a way to live sustainably and support a healthy planet for future generations; and as a way to reconnect to the wisdom and strength of the land. I would love to have our heritage, crafts, arts, and trades to be welcome into the ‘Green’ movement and conversation about ‘zero waste’ and ‘sustainability’ of our time.

CORK CRAFT MONTH

Rosemary is one of 19 makers whose work is now being showcased at the annual Cork Craft & Design Showcase Exhibition in Working Artist Studios, Ballydehob as part of Cork Craft Month. She is also holding workshops during Cork Craft Month on Basket Making, programmed to run during Heritage Week at Levis’ Bar, Ballydehob.

See corkcraftanddesign.com for more details.