IJSG Inaugural Seminar, Collins Barracks, 20/5/23

Eva Lynch

In early 2023, the newly established IJSG launched its impressively ambitious manifesto to the jewellers and silversmiths of Ireland. It has been more than 20 years since this sector had specific representation so the opportunity to have a united voice working to “advance our artisan community through creative and professional development, generating business opportunities and elevating the craft on a National and International basis” was welcomed wholeheartedly. The appetite and enthusiasm for an organisation of this kind was evidenced in the number of established and emerging makers who signed up immediately for Guild membership.

A huge majority of us makers primarily work alone in our studios – some having taken a circuitous route into the craft while others studied, trained or worked abroad – so to be suddenly part of a connected community of like-minded makers was a very exciting prospect. This excitement was palpable at the launch and inaugural event of the Guild in May when makers from every corner of Ireland convened in the auditorium of Collins Barracks in Dublin to share stories, ideas and experiences. This memorable event gave faces to the beautifully crafted objects that greet us in galleries and outlets, online in the media, and of course on the wearers. Guild chair Sé O Donoghue, one half of the prestigious Da Capo Goldsmiths, facilitated a captivating day with presentations from four keynote speakers – goldsmith Nigel O Reilly, watch-maker John McGonigle and silversmith Seamus Gill and myself, Eva Lynch.

First up, Seamus Gill treated us to a fascinating presentation on the history of silversmithing and the properties of silver itself, while samples of works and works-in-progress were passed around the auditorium allowing everyone to handle and see up close examples of various hammer techniques. Séamus has hollowware and jewellery in collections all over the world including the Vatican and the National Museum of Ireland. A particularly poignant sentiment from Seamus was that none of us makers are self-taught, we have all learned the basic skills of our trade from someone. Like myself, and many in that auditorium, Seamus began his learning under the master silversmith Peter Donovan, who sadly passed away earlier this year leaving behind him a legion of skilled makers and a legacy of unrivalled artworks in silver all over the world, particularly in the ecclesiastical domain. Our hands carry with them the skills of Peter and all of our teachers and it is vital that we share and archive this ancient knowledge.

This is a theme running through my own work, which I was honoured to speak about at the event. The true cost of an object lies in all of the elements that come together to create a work, including the inherited knowledge, techniques, materials and the impact on the natural world. I coined the term ‘Anthropoware’ to describe my recent sculptural works in reclaimed materials that probe our relationship with material objects. Master craftsman Brian Clarke, also in attendance at the event, taught me the skills used to forge a ribbon torc, techniques that underpin my sculptures. Brian devoted a decade to figuring out this lost ancient Iron Age process that can only be truly understood through the hands.

Highlighting the sometimes invisible threads that connect us to other makers, including those we will never meet, I finally had the opportunity to meet Marie-Therese White who was championing the use of Fair Trade metals in her work decades ago, long before sustainability was a hot topic. In just a few short months, and this one event, the Guild had already introduced a vast network of makers in Ireland to each other in person.

Third guest speaker of the day was goldsmith Nigel O Reilly, who has clearly succeeded in his vision to place his native Mayo on a world stage for luxury one-of-kind statement jewellery pieces in precious metals and opulent stones. In what was a recurring sentiment of the day, he paid tribute to his teachers and mentors including the late Erwin Springbrunn and Jane Huston. Seeing up close Nigel’s intricate, finely crafted pieces and the other works on show at the event highlighted the level of skill and quality that exists in Ireland.

Finally John McGonigle took us through the inner workings, rather fittingly known as ‘complications’, of his finely crafted watches. He spoke passionately about his own journey in the craft and of the history of watchmaking. John started out in his trade in the highest regions of the Alps where watchmaking flourished in villages and towns that were cut off from the rest of the world for part of every year due to heavy snow. It was another fascinating glimpse into the life and work of a maker pursuing their passion and keeping endangered skills alive.

The event closed with a Q&A between the keynote speakers and the audience where it was agreed that our craft needs to be presented as a viable career path for the younger generations and it needs to be supported and funded by the government. With a Guild at the helm of our sector now, and the passion and infectious enthusiasm pervading the auditorium that day, all of this seems very possible.

Much gratitude and congratulations to the Guild committee, and in particular Sé O Donoghue, Eimear Vize and Vanessa Murtagh for having organisational skills to rival their jewellery-making skills and pulling together an exceptional event.