Colourful critters
in the happy valley

FROM fabulously attitude-filled women’s ‘heads’ to cheerily quirky dogs, smilingly slanting watercolour scenes and her newly added coral-inspired bowls, a sense of playfulness is a common thread in the varied creations of Thomastown ceramic artist Brid Lyons.

FROM fabulously attitude-filled women’s ‘heads’ to cheerily quirky dogs, smilingly slanting watercolour scenes and her newly added coral-inspired bowls, a sense of playfulness is a common thread in the varied creations of Thomastown ceramic artist Brid Lyons.

And she has plenty to celebrate: On June 3 at 6pm as part of the town’s Happy Valley Festival, her Clay Creations studio and shop on Low Street is marking its 10th anniversary – while also opening a new upstairs gallery with the first ever exhibition of work by Thomastown artist Tom Dack.

Tom’s work – including hand-painted historical maps, caricatures and a collection of new pieces – is set to be the first of many exhibitions in the gallery, Brid said during a visit to her studio last week.

The ceramicist herself is from outside Limerick and made her way to the Thomastown-based Craft Council of Ireland Pottery Skills Course after completing a course at Limerick Art College.

“I always wanted to do something in relation to art, and it turned out to be ceramics. I loved it from the first day that we did it,” says Brid, who’s now a member of the Made In Kilkenny craft network.

She then worked with various potters, including Bennettsbridge’s Michael Jackson, until she moved into a studio in the Design Yard at the Kilkenny Design Centre. A decision to turn to craft full-time then led her to her current location, a former butchers’ premises, with support from Barrow Nore Suir Rural Development company.

It’s a place where her numerous ideas come to life, evidence of which is a “thinking corner” she has set up in the back of the studio, with prototypes and story boards of her various ideas.

“When I’m working on something, I like to change. I like moving and producing new work – for myself, I feel I need it. I have a lot going on that I want to get out. It mightn’t always work out, and I might not come back to it for three years. That’s what happened with the dogs,” she says of her ‘breed’ of ceramic critters. It’s also what has happened with her most recent ‘breed’, a style of cats.

A sense of playfulness comes through in a style of watercolours that she premiered during last year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival. These, too, were the result of an idea that germinated over the course of several years.

“I had a watercolour that my mother had kept from when I was in art college – she had it outside in a shed. I was home one time and I thought, ‘I actually like that. I think I’ll take it’,” she recalls. Not thinking much of it, she framed it and hung it among a group of images in her home. “People started to admire it and say, ‘Why don’t you do it in clay?’” she says. “It wasn’t good enough at the time, but so many people started saying it, so I said ‘I’ll try it’.”

It’s this sort of experience that she enjoys as a result of having the public see her newest experiments in her studio and shop – and getting their feedback on what they like.

There has also been added social interaction from inviting other craftspeople to shares some of her studio space over the years, in the same way Brid had minded the studio of those she worked with when she was just starting out. This has mostly been potters – four of them together at one stage – but is currently jewellery designers Ed and Jackie Keilthy.

Both of them natives of the South East, the pair spent seven years in Australia – “We went over as a lab technician and a hotel manager and came back as silversmiths,” Jackie says – and 10 in Connemara, before deciding to return to this area of the country.

Their signature pieces are ‘life bracelets’. “You sit down with a customer, they literally talk about their life from start to finish, and you design the bracelet around their life,” Jackie explains.

In Brid’s own work, she says the main thing is: “Does it make you smile? Does it make you laugh?”

“I like to make things that make me laugh,” she says. “It makes me want to make more.”

Brid Lyons’ Clay Creations is on Low Street, Thomastown and is open from 10am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday.