Thursday, 20 August 2020

Material Matters - Michael Ray

For the second week of our Material Matters series, we are featuring Castlefreke based visual artist Michael Ray. Michael has been connected with both the West Cork Arts Centre and the Arts for Health team for almost twenty years. He has displayed at the Centre many times and has also visited hospitals around Cork, working with patients to create a variety of work as part of the Arts for Health team.


Michael is renowned for his work with glass, successfully exhibiting his work around the world.  Yet, during the lockdown, Michael's primary focus turned to wood. I asked Michael what he has been working on recently.

"Well during the lockdown I suddenly got a really bad toothache" Michael laughed. "I wasn't able to go to the dentist with it so it became very difficult to live with. To distract myself from the pain I would go out to my shed and start crafting. Hacking away at the wood kind of took me to another place and became a sort of therapeutic relief. I wasn't making anything specific at first but I eventually realised what I was making looked like teeth and that's primarily what I have been working on lately".

Michael has an impressive ability to work with a variety of materials. Wood and glass are wildly different materials so I was interested to learn about his process with wood and what that feels like to work with.


"I first look for a piece of wood that is still growing. I like to work with greenwood because you're able to interact with it in interesting ways. It moves and changes shape dynamically so you have to be adaptable. I'll take a small branch, usually the size of a fire log, and cut it into an appropriate length. I strip the bark from it as I go. The making process starts by shaping the 'legs' of the piece which end up as the roots of the tooth. I'll rough out three of these using an adze and gouge. These legs can be anywhere up to two feet in length. Once I have those done I decide if I'm going to hollow out the main bulk of the tooth or leave it mostly solid. If I decide to hollow it out I’ll use a hook knife, which is sort of like an ice cream scoop but extremely sharp. This allows me to make curved cuts into the wood. Once that is done I'll apply a finish to the piece. I might use a blowtorch to create a charred surface to the piece, to make the wood split, and from there, apply metal leaf or a wax to keep it all smooth and sealed. I may also burnish the wood which presses the fibres down and helps the wood shine. The final product can look very animated, almost like it’s about to move off. It's a very organic process. You have to adapt to the wood and sometimes the wood can present unexpected opportunities such as knots and the directional changes in growth rings.

With glass, you have a very clear picture of what you want the piece to look like. You can’t be as prescriptive with wood which makes it a creative challenge but that's what I like about it. some of my process’s go against traditional crafting conventions of making something perfect. The destructive qualities of heat for instance, can turn the whole process on its head and allows for something new and unexpected to happen".


As the project is still ongoing, Michael isn't sure if this work will become public just yet but if you are interested in learning more about Michael's glass work, you can see examples on his website

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Material Matters- Anne Harrington Rees

My name is Gavin Buckley. I work as part of the front of house staff at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. I also write a weekly blog about the latest events happening in and around the Centre. Over the next four weeks, I will be interviewing four West Cork-based makers. All four are long-standing members of the West Cork Arts Centre and have a keen interest in the qualities of material and form in their work. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rossmore based designer Anne Harrington Rees.  Before ever meeting her, I knew that Anne worked with the Arts for Health Team for many years, working with the hospital residents of Dunmanway, Clonakilty and elsewhere. 

I had never met Anne in person until she invited me to chat with her at her stall in the Skibbereen Farmer's Market. Anne's stall bloomed with vivid colours across the variety of her collection. Neatly displayed there was a selection of tea towels, wall hangings and cushions. Besides the notable colours, what stood out were the designs inlaid upon them. On one item you would see an intricate pattern of leaves with a striking flower at their heart. On the next, a multi-layered and multi-coloured graphic of a moth spread radiantly across the material. I was immediately eager to learn more about the work and the person behind them so I asked Anne about her background with crafting. 

"I've always loved creating. I remember as a child my mother and grandmother taught me how to sew and I used to practice by sewing dresses for my dolls. Ever since then, and as I grew up, I've been making things. I even made my wedding dress for example. But besides crafting, I have always been interested in the environment and the nature we have around us. My passion for both is what has led to this current work". 

Anne would go on to tell of a life wholly immersed in both crafting and nature. In terms of education, Anne has a Higher National Diploma in Design Crafts as well as a degree in Landscape Horticulture. Some of her earliest professional endeavours were spent crafting small coiled hand baskets which she would later go on to display in her first exhibition. This was only the beginning of her success as she went on to win several crafting competitions both in Ireland and the UK. Besides that, she was a Horticulture lecturer in the UK for several years and even had her own garden maintenance business for a time. 

It was clear that Anne cares a great deal about the environment. I asked her what brought this about. "There were many influences. I was brought up in the countryside. I was always out hunting for blackberries or walking the dogs. We used to grow vegetables in the garden, and my dad would always know the names of every plant.  Besides that, my husband is an Ecologist and he used to work in a nature reserve where I would help him do bird surveys from time to time. Because I was involved in all of these things, I became aware of the problems facing the natural world. Today, I do my best to raise awareness of these issues because we need to mind what is in the world around us. I think if people don't know about the problems, then they won't know how to protect the environment around them and start doing positive things for it". 

Anne primarily focuses on selling at markets these days. I asked Anne about the process behind what she has been making lately. "Well it usually starts with me just going for a walk with my dogs and I'll end up spotting things. An insect on a leaf, a budding flower, things like that. I'll take a photo of whatever I find interesting. Later on, I'll lay out all the photos I've taken that day or from any day really. From there I'll sketch an image based on patterns I like in the photos. I'll then scan my sketch into my computer where I add colour using editing software. I also may add further layers on the computer, like the leaf patterns. Once I'm happy with the completed image I'll save it and send it to an Irish based printing company. I feel it's important to support Irish businesses. They then print my image onto the towels or hangings or whatever I like. It's all fair trade or organic materials too. Once I get them back I must fold them, package them and get them ready for display. That's it. They are then ready for selling at the markets".

Anne's passion for nature and crafting truly comes across in her wonderful work. To see for yourself, you can always find Anne on a Saturday afternoon in Skibbereen Farmer's Market. Alternatively, some of her work is for sale in Green Dot in Clonakilty. All of her work is also available for purchase at

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council