Website interview with Joe Hogan, one of the Curators of Draíocht’s current Exhibition,
'European Baskets', In association with The Crafts Council of Ireland
Fri 9 Apr - Sat 29 May 2010 // DRAÍOCHT, GROUND FLOOR GALLERY // Free Admission // Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm
This exhibition features work by almost 80 of Europe’s leading basket-makers in materials ranging from wire to willow and includes both contemporary, sculptural work and traditional techniques. Visitors to the gallery will see how the work varies hugely from country to country, as do the materials. Curators Joe Hogan (Ire) and Mary Butcher (UK) are passionate about exposing people to these wonderful, age-old techniques.
“Sadly, when the old basket makers die, so too will their traditional baskets,” says Hogan. “But as well as looking back, we are focusing on cutting edge contemporary work and that space in between, which most basket makers inhabit, creating professional, functional baskets.”
This exhibition was produced by the National Craft Gallery in 2007 and is touring to a number of venues in Ireland, the UK and Europe.
Joe Hogan is a traditional basketmaker and teacher who lives and works in Clonbur, Co. Galway. Joe has written a book ‘Basketmaking in Ireland’ and has a website http://www.joehoganbaskets.com/
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from and where you live?
A: I live at loch na Fooey between the villages of Clonbur and Leenane, on the the borders of Connemara and west Mayo but I am originally from Caltra in east Galway.
Q: When you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up? Were there any clues in your childhood that you would follow an artistic path later?
A: I am not sure I have followed an artistic path but no, there were no clues that I would become a crafts person. In fact I was not very skilled with my hands when I was young, at least in relation to my brothers but there was a general atmosphere of fixing things in the household.
Q: How long have you been basket making and why choose an arty profession over a more conventional career?
A: I have been making baskets since 1977 and working full time at it since 1978. I originally went to university in Galway to study for an arts degree in history and philosophy and met my wife there. We wanted to live in the countryside and I thought basketmaking would provide a reasonable stable income and turn a rural location into an advantage. I feel it is very important to like the work you do .
Q: Can you tell us more about the skill involved in basket making and what inspired you to write your book ‘Basketmaking in Ireland’?
A: The basic techniques in basketmaking are reasonably quick to learn. Absolute beginners can make baskets but the shape may not be very uniform. When I give workshops for instance most participants will make 2 to 3 baskets over a 4 day period but it takes much longer to perfect the techniques so that each basket comes out the shape you want it to be. I think one could be improving in this area always and it is the constant repetition of techniques that brings one closer to perfection. 'Basketmaking in Ireland' came about a result of my interest in the traditional baskets of Ireland and as many of the designs are unique to Ireland I realized I should record these techniques for the future.
Q: When did you create your first basket and what was your inspiration?
A: 1976 or 1977, I was drawn to basketmaking because I was also interested in growing willow which is the basic raw material for the baskets I make.
Q: Do you grow your own materials or do you source some materials from abroad? Is there a lot of other equipment needed for basket making?
A: Yes I grow my own willow but I also buy in some willow for teaching as the willow I grow myself is harder and therefore not ideal for people beginning basketmaking. You need very little equipment for basketmaking, at a pinch a knife will do.
Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?
A: Yes my style has change a lot in the last 10 years as I have become more interested in making non functional work. This change is perhaps a result of a desire to express a sense of belonging to the earth through the work.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
A: I read a good bit of nature poetry by poets such as Mary Oliver, Rilke, Wendell Berry and Seamus Heaney for example.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you’re having a bad day?
A: I enjoy the work I do so its easy to stay interested but I also like gardening and walking so can have variety if I need it.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being an artist, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your work etc?
A: I find the business side a bit difficult at times but have been fortunate to have had a good bit of exposure so can usually sell my work fairly easily.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about the exhibition ‘European Baskets’ currently on exhibition in Draiocht?
A: This exhibition aims to give a snapshot of basketmaking in Europe so it combines very traditional work - like the Scottish Kishies made by Ewen Balfour for example - with very artistic work and we have also included a wide range of functional work with various uses.
Q: Do you have any advice you could give to an artist just starting out or to someone interested in taking up basket making?
A: It is not a particularly easy field to get into so one would need to enjoy the work itself to compensate for the difficulty of learning the skills.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I try to live in the present moment!