The Glass Society of Ireland is a professional all-island, non-profit association that opens a window onto the contemporary Irish Glass Community, both here in Ireland and abroad. The GSOI is a volunteer and member-run organization open to practitioners, educators, artists, curators, collectors, academics, gallerists, enthusiasts and clients of all levels and diversity with a specific interest in glass. Membership is also open to the Irish glassmaking diaspora and international artists who have decided to call Ireland home.
The contemporary wing of the GSOI was founded in 1995 by Róisín de Buitléar and Mary Mackey originally known as The GSOI contemporary makers, it worked as a partner organisation bringing a contemporary viewpoint to a historical society. The association is much older and founded by Mary Boydell in 1991 who was president for many years. After her death aged 89 in 2010 the GSOI slowly ceased activity and the contemporary makers remained, rebranding as GSOI.
In ’95 there was a healthy industrial workforce of glassmakers in Ireland spread over three factories. Despite this there were very few hot working studios in Ireland, Jerpoint glass, and Kerry Glass were producing table and giftware. Only a handful of studios were creating work by kilnworking. Stained glass studios were in abundance, creating both restoration works and commissioned works for contemporary buildings. The government percent for art scheme provided important budgets for artists to create larger scale works in public buildings, including stained glass installations. Crystal manufacturing dominated the commercial glass market, but individual artists such as Maud Cotter and James Scanlon were being commissioned regularly for public buildings. Today there remains only one commercial crystal factory and the individual artists have taken the place of the commercial producers. More conceptual, abstract and site specific work is being made than blown objects for domestic context. There are no apprenticeships, and a minority of students are opting to study glass at university level. Until the crisis, student exchanges, erasmus & Leonardo programmes were very central to glass education for Irish students. An overall majority of students have historically emigrated in pursuit of a glassmaking career. Currently in studio practice, artists are working between disciplines, mixing materials, contexts and ways of exhibiting. There are no specific glass dealers or galleries for exhibition spaces that promote glass specifically. However since 2018 The national museum has shown two major exhibitions of glass at the Museum for Decorative Arts. There is no national center for glass in Ireland, and artists exhibit alongside other mediums. There is only one open access studio offering all areas of coldworking. Artists are working in all disciplines, including performance, installation, site specific work, sculpture, lighting, and a variety of small craft businesses which concentrate on homeware and giftware.
People are finding ways to work together either by working in bubbles or by working remotely depending on trust and knowledge using technology to help straddle the gap. Interestingly communication although remote has allowed groups and individuals to meet regularly even though they are in different areas around the country. This could lead to greater communication, pooling of ideas and combining resources more freely than before. The glass society of Ireland has actively looked to build on national and international partnerships in order to encourage global thinking and cohesion amongst artists working in the field. This includes arts advocacy orgs, educational & national institutions, and national glass orgs such as GAS, GAAC, GCS uk, Aus glass, This opens possibilities to learn from each other and build on our communities and integrate diaspora, to arrive at solutions which may allow a different kind of thinking to emerge to cope with this pandemic. Holding world based conferences, exhibitions, and live workshops can all be on the table for discussion. This is important when the world seems like a more isolated place and travel is less possible or impossible.
Yes it certainly does. It brings communities and individuals together, through meetings, collaborations and partnerships. Visibility is an important issue to smaller countries like Ireland, and working with an organization like Isgne brings visibility globally to our artists and practices. It offers competitive and noncompetitive opportunities to artists, stretching and flexing the artistic scope of working in isolation. It offers many opportunities for making, and showing activities that do not exist in Ireland. Isgne also offers a window into the possibilities of glass as a material for expression, a virtual exhibition space, significant to contemporary artists particularly those at the beginning of their careers. Seeing collaborations and activities happening in different parts of Europe is an important beacon when other opportunities are not open to them. Isgne has shown the versatility and diversity of work being produced in glass which is important to a small Island nation isolated on the edge of Europe, it helps to feel included and inspired by a larger community connected by a fascination for the material of glass.
Not really, Glassmakers are one big family, ready to share, experience and hand on knowledge and experience to the next generation. Our doors virtually or otherwise are permanently open to travellers.
Of the 128 members, 90% are women.
Initially it was devastating, but in the last few months, gsoi members have reconfigured their practices and adapted to working in different ways, using the time as a reflective time, or as time to catch up on maintenance work, establishing a stronger online presence and sales. Lack of international travel to an island community is very impactful, however this has led to more discovery of local places and appreciation of what is on the doorstep. It has encouraged members to reach out virtually to each other,
As an island nation we are a resilient people. Without significant support glassmakers have had to be resilient in finding ways to survive anyway. We are seeing more communication and engagement with our society which is only a good thing. Working together will lead to more cohesion, and moral support is as valuable in the right circumstance as fiscal support. we will continue to work towards creating an opportunity for both. We as a people have lived through much harder times than this, survival is part our dna.
Upbeat, hopeful, resilient and community focussed.
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