Thursday October 31, 2013 | by Paulina Switniewska

OPENING: Irish glass artists respond to Waterford closure in “CAUTION! Fragile” exhibition

The exhbition "CAUTION! Fragile. Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition," opening November 9th at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington and running through September 30th, 2014, will feature work by Irish glass artists Roisin de Buitlear, Eamonn Hartley, Fred Curtis, and Greg Sullivan. "CAUTION! Fragile" was largely inspired by the closure of Ireland's Waterford glass factory in 2009, which left many artists and glassmakers bereft of a workplace as well as raw materials most did not have access to otherwise, having been trained primarily as cutters and engravers. As the Waterford Crystal iconic brand lives on but with production moved out of Ireland to lower-cost countries, the same Irish artists that had established careers since joining the factory as teenagers were being effectively displaced and left without the tools and machinery required for them to continue their craft outside.

"I was frustrated and very concerned that the end of this large-scale manufacturing would also mean the end of industrial glass production in Ireland," explained Roisin de Buitlear in an email exchange with the GLASS Quarterly Hotsheet. "I knew it was the end of large-scale industrial glassmaking in Ireland as we knew it, and an end of this employment for the hundreds of glassmakers living in this one town. I knew also that it was the end of a way of life for these men, a culture of industrial community, tacit knowledge, and identity." 

"CAUTION! Fragile" is therefore a deeply personal project for Roisin de Buitlear and her collaborators, with Eamonn Hartley, Fred Curtis, and Greg Sullivan all former workers of the Waterford glass factory for many years. A result of three years' worth of work, the exhibition features over 35 blown, cut, and engraved pieces that incorporate the beauty of original Irish glass artistry, as well as the rich cultural history and the experience of living and working in Ireland, and specifically, the Waterford factory. “The imagery is a narrative of human experience and historical change at a specific time and place,” says Roisin de Buitlear, “the story of the glassmakers are interwoven with mine. Language, music, and land as symbolic repositories of my culture are also embraced in this exhibition. It is an interweaving of tradition and culture, which is at the core of all my personal work.”

Roisin de Buitlear's 2010 residency in Tacoma provided the opportunity to have some of her works shipped back to Ireland for engraving, showcasing the unique craftsmanship of Waterford artists. 

Three elements prominent in the exhibition are sound, landscapes, and iconic objects inspired by collections at the National Museum in Dublin. Among the works of sound displayed are a series of glass instruments created by Roisin de Buitlear, in collaboration with musician Liam O Maonlaoi, whom created an Irish incantation especially for the exhibition. Also included are recorded interviews of the glass workers of Waterford detailing their experiences working at the factory. 

“This collaboration was about letting each maker have a voice to express to express their personal expression through working together as a team,” elaborates Roisin de Buitlear. “This was the first time that all of these glass masters have made a series of pieces based on their personal experiences under their own names, and is the first time I have made sound objects.” 



CAUTION! Fragile. Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition
Saturday, November 9th, 2013-September 30th, 2014
Museum of Glass
1801 Dock Street, Tacoma Washington 98402

GLASS: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for 35 years.