AN artist with strong Cork ties says lockdown gave her a unique chance to do what she loves all day long — and that’s lace making.
Fiona Harrington is part of an exciting exhibition running in the National Gallery of Ireland until the end of September which looks at how artists responded to their new circumstances during the pandemic.
It’s a three person show called ‘Lace, Paint, Hair,’ and Fiona said she jumped at the chance to be part of it as she was finding it harder and harder to focus on her work and to be enthusiastic as the summer went on.
“It re-focused my mind again and gave me a deadline. I am a fan of deadlines! Once I had a date to work towards, I found it really enjoyable to be able to spend all day, every day making lace, with no interruptions. It is not often we get an opportunity to spend all day doing something we love, and even though it is hard work, there was no stress attached. There is something to be said for the world being forced to take a pause.”
However, as well as being professionally impacted by the pandemic, the artist was also hit personally after her June wedding had to be postponed.
“We had a great day organised for June at the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff and a second day of shenanigans planned at the wonderful Mary Shea’s Bar in Eyeries. This was all sadly cancelled.
“We decided not to reschedule as neither of us want a wedding where you can’t hug, kiss, dance and sing, and unfortunately the days of that kind of wedding seem very far away right now.
“We plan to tie the knot at a small ceremony in Dublin in September and then see what way the world looks in a year or so, and maybe celebrate with all our family and friends at a later date,” said Fiona.
Born in Dublin, her dad is from Eyeries, where she moved after studying Fine Art in Crawford College. She now splits her time between Dublin and the Mizen Peninsula.
Fiona credits her late mother Maura, a Galway woman, with her love of all things lace, which she discovered while studying textile design at NCAD.
“My mother used to make lace when I was young and I have many memories of her sitting with her pillow or her needle and thread. She was also a gifted dressmaker and was generally always making or repairing something. I definitely got my interest and skills form her. Sadly, she passed away from Alzheimer’s when she was young so I never got the chance to learn lace from her.
“When I started to study textiles, I started to remember her making lace and began researching. I discovered a lace centre in Kenmare — only over the road from where my dad grew up and where my nana still lived. I wrote to Nora Finnegan the owner of the centre and asked her if she would teach me how to make lace. She agreed and I spent four months there learning Kenmare Needlelace, Bobbin Lace and Carrickmacross Lace.
¦”Nora’s daughter Emer was also a fantastic teacher who gave me lots of guidance.
“When I began to learn the techniques I realised there was something very important contained in the tiny stitches. There was so much history, so much heritage and for me, I felt like I could connect to that through the making process.”
After her degree in textile design, she started a small lace business from her studio in Eyeries in 2013. Over the next few years, she designed four collections of handmade Irish lace, which she says is more like paintings rather than any lace that you would wear or decorate a table with.
“Work eventually brought me back to Dublin and now I spend my time moving between Dublin and Beara as often as I can get there. I have had to cancel four trips to Beara since as a result of Covid.”
Fiona is internationally renowned for her lace skills and has exhibited and travelled extensively to give talks and demonstrations on Irish lace. She was recently selected as curator of ‘A Space Between’, an international Lace exhibition which is part of initiatives celebrating Galway as European Capital of Culture 2020.
But she modestly admits that she’s always learning: “When you make lace you have to continually upskill as it is impossible to know it all. Lace is hugely appealing to me, I love its transparency and its delicacy, however, as the maker I am fully aware of the strength behind each stitch. There is a certain organised chaos and geometry with lace, it’s really just about taking the time to focus and work it all out logically.”
Fiona plans to incorporate some of her lace work into her wedding day: “Lace is way too time consuming to make a garment, like a dress or a veil. It would probably take me decades to finish it! So I won’t be doing that!
“I do, however, want to keep the tradition of using handmade lace on a wedding day, so if our big celebration goes ahead I plan to use the Headford Lace from the exhibition for a hand tying ceremony. I also plan to make a small headpiece and some earrings for our small day out in September.”
See nationalgallery.ie for more.