National Print Museum Students visit to National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street
Annie Birney, the National Museum of Ireland’s Educator, hosted an educational event on 19th May 2017, for the National Print Museum’s Cultural & Heritage Studies programme.
I was extremely fortunate to be one of the six learners, who together with our Course Co-ordinator Gillian Lamb, benefitted from a varied range of activities during this special day. At that time we were preparing for an assessment on Irish Leather Crafts. So in advance of our visit Annie, and our course’s Assistant Co-Ordinator Hillary O’Callaghan, devised a schedule that would maximise opportunities for learning in that context.
First Annie led us on a mini-tour of the museum, highlighting relevant craft or leather related artefacts. On previous visits we had self-guided –all agreed it was so much more useful to learn through Annie’s insider knowledge. After the tour one of the museums interns invited us to see Early Medieval pampooties. Found, preserved in a bog, these shoes were made from one piece of leather and were worn in the Aran Islands until the 20th century.
Next, we were introduced to the museums Handling Collection – a range of numbered replica artefacts were displayed. Their corresponding numbers were placed in a lucky dip jar. Once we picked a number off we went on a treasure hunt to find the real artefact in the museum. Our selection included Neolithic Bann Flake arrow heads and an Early Bronze Age funerary urn and afterwards everyone got to make a brief presentation on their chosen artefact.
Following a pic-nic lunch, which Catherine shared unexpectedly with one cheeky feathered Stephens Green resident, we returned to do a Leathercraft Workshop.
Facilitated by Roísín Gartland, a conceptual artist and designer, the workshop proved to be an inspirational learning experience. Under Roisin’s gentle guidance we used prepared materials to create a simple leather phone case.
My prior knowledge of the ‘hairy vellum’ which medieval scribes had to work on made me extremely appreciative of the clean, soft leathers my inexperienced hands were manipulating. Our awls and hammers tapped out non-melodic rhythms, to create spiral patterns on the front of our cases. A satisfying, and relatively easy stage – almost therapeutic in nature.However the next stage was more challenging -the task of replicating our experienced facilitators perfect edge stitching. Tension mounted in more ways than one, resulting in a shortage of oiled cotton thread, mild frustration and in my case the tedium of unpicking of 74 loose stitches!
During this 60 minute process we chatted like the fictitious Ladies Aid sewing circles in L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Reflecting afterwards, I had a sense of having been part of a temporary creative community. However, leather work I realise requires total concentration, good eyesight and a particular type of patience I have yet to acquire. The next time I pass a window displaying quality leather goods my first thought will be of the craftsmanship and not the price tag.!
Sincere thanks to The National Museum of Ireland, Annie Birney and all involved for making our visit a crafty learning experience
The National Museum of Ireland : www.nmi.ie
Roísín Gartland : http://www.roisingartland.com.
National Print Museum: www.nationaprintmuseum.ie