RESOURCEFUL is the word that comes to mind to describe professional artist and champion of the circular economy, Jessica Baron.
Originally from Quebec in Canada, she came to Ireland because of an Irish man to whom she is now married. They have two children, Saskia, 12, and Liam, 10. They lived in Dublin for a few years but were on the look-out to move to Munster.
“The dramatic west coast attracted us,” says Jessica in a Cork accent, despite her roots. The couple moved to Ballydesmond nearly 12 years ago. They bought an old farmhouse, more than 150 years old, which they will be doing up “forever more”.
“It’s a big project. I’m quite handy and my husband Paul is also. It’s how I got into furniture restoration.”
Jessica’s two main strands of her career are going well. She has a business-like approach to her art.
“It’s about making the difference between art being a hobby and being one of my main sources of income. It takes time and effort and includes a lot more than just painting. I still have the same creative process for the painting itself. But half my time working on it is taken up by marketing and social media.
“I’m working on a new series of landscapes which are going to Art Source at the RDS from November 11-13. It’s my biggest art fair.”
At Quebec City University, Jessica studied textile design and the history of art.
“I didn’t actually see art as a career path until six or seven years ago. It never occurred to me that I could actually make a career out of painting. It started by chance. I painted a few landscapes of the west coast of Ireland. A retailer in Killarney asked me if I’d consider making prints of these landscapes because he thought they would sell very well.
“That’s how I started to make a business of my painting. The prints sold very well. I moved away from that to concentrate on my own creations rather than aiming at the tourist market. My landscapes are not abstract and not realistic. They’re kind of impressionist.”
As well as growing her art business, Jessica also spends time working on social enterprises like the IRD (Irish Rural Development) Duhallow, based in Newmarket.
One of its projects is Relove Paint recycling. Leftover paint is collected from civic amenity sites in Cork city that would otherwise have been destined for disposal. This is remixed to produce high quality paint for use in homes and local businesses. It goes through a system of being refiltered. It is sieved and then remixed to make different colours. It’s all indoor emulsion paint which is really like new paint. It goes through a lot of quality control.
Jessica said: “The paint is flying off the shelves. For a 5 litre can, it costs €15 whereas the normal cost would be nearly €60. It’s on sale in our store in Newmarket.”
Jessica also works at the IRD Furniture Revamp.
“They have a programme where you can learn upholstery and furniture restoration. I’ve done that training. How the Furniture Revamp works is that we offer a free collection service for people that have furniture they don’t want anymore. We do the repairs or the sprucing up. Then we resell the furniture to the community at affordable prices.”
Furniture that is maybe ten years old is not that interesting to work on.
“That’s because it’s not that solid and it’s much harder to repair. Older furniture, maybe 50 years or more, was made to last. You really have a chance to give it a complete new life and it will last for maybe another 50 years. It’s really good quality.”
Jessica says she and her colleagues do a certain amount of restoration work on antiques but it wouldn’t be their main source of work.
“We work on the ordinary furniture that everyone has in their house. If you think of dining chairs with those leather seats that peel after just a few years, we redo them at quite an affordable price.
“It means people don’t have to buy new chairs. We redo them in a couple of days and they look new again.”
Furniture manufactured today is not really made to last for a long time, says Jessica. But older items can be given a new lease of life.
“Our free collection service is important in that it saves people money. It has to be made convenient for people to encourage them to recycle and reuse. If it’s too complicated, there is no incentive to upcycle.”
At Furniture Revamp in Newmarket, located in a former convent, the outbuildings have been renovated and put to different uses.
“We have workshops for restoration and repairs.”
It’s all part of a philosophy of community waste prevention, reuse and recycling. A worthy pursuit that is also very practical.
For more on Art Source fair this weekend, see https://www.artsource.ie/