Jeanette Farrell meets husband and wife team Superfolk - creators of beautiful homewares and the makers of our oak and ash trivets - in their home landscape of County Mayo.
There is peace and there is ease and there is openness' explains Jo Anne Butler, one half of the design duo, Superfolk, when asked about the draw of her native Mayo.
Having met, once-upon-a time at art school in Dublin, the husband and wife team weaved their way back to the Atlantic coast to Westport where they set up their studio in the shadow of the Croagh Patrick, St. Patrick's sacred mountain, in the county where both were born.
Mayo is renowned for its epic expanses of emptiness and its dream-like natural beauty which, for Jo Anne and husband Gearid Muldowney, provides inspiration and education in equal measure.
With mountains and sea beckoning adventure on their doorstep, it turns out to be something altogether more domestic that facilitates much of their exploration: The first thing that I would say is that we have a really big dog,' Jo Anne tells me, and when you have a really big dog you have to go outside and you have to go to places where he has free space. He's not the kind of dog you can just walk up the road on a lead. So the way that our lives are at the moment, we don't necessarily have tonnes of time to be always doing that outdoor thing but we have to; he reminds us that we have to do it, he deserves it and he needs it. So at least twice a week go to a remote place and have loads of running around.'
While the dog may favour ancient bog land, Jo Anne prefers the beach. There is one in particular, close to where Gearid's mother is from and where his great-grandparents are buried, which both she and her toddler daughter visit often.
There is a nice thing when you have a child this sense that you are walking around in the same places as people before you. But I don't think that you have to have that to feel that you belong in a place, either. I often think about belonging, how it is that we feel we can actively allow ourselves to belong in places and who allows who to belong in what place'.
This sense of belonging can also be fostered through knowledge, curiosity and respect; know, love, protect in environmental movements is always in the background of what we do, it is our shared heritage, it is our shared environment.'
Mayo is a magical place that has captured the imagination of many a traveller, but for those not yet fortunate enough to visit, Superfolk, through the beloved study of their surrounding environment, quietly distil their observations into their products; their products become an ode of sorts to the landscape's majesty.
Jo Anne's studio in the town's Custom House sits on the quayside of Clew Bay with its hundreds of tiny islands, at the point where the river meets the sea. Watching the water and the light change throughout the day provides a meditative backdrop to her printmaking on washi paper of local seaweeds and flora. Sometimes you can see the moment when the tide is turning, the moment when it is totally still, that is really beautiful.'
While Meander', Superfolk's winding brass candle holder recalls the Owenmore river in North Mayo, on which Gearid fishes, and its meandering shape as it runs through flat wetlands, their iconic trivet suggests an invitation to sit and eat together.
There is an invitation to put something on it, but you don't have to. In some ways it is like a sculpture, it can hang on the wall or sit on the table.'
There is something about light and how light falls on things, across stone and across materials that you see all of the time when you live in this part of the world. It's this observation of light and objects which feeds into everything we make.'
Jo Anne reads to me the words of the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, who wrote about this area of Mayo: 'Indeed the Nephin Beg range of mountains is, I think, the very loneliest place in this country, for the hills themselves are encircled by this vast area of trackless bog. I confess I find such a place not lonely or depressing but inspiriting. You are thrown at the same time back upon yourself and forward against the mystery and majesty of nature.'
For Jo Anne this vast and searingly beautiful landscape, empty though it may seem, represents a challenge to persevere, to create and to live: standing in the landscape' she says, is like a giant echo, because there is no other distraction, there is only yourself'.
Words by Jeanette Farrell. Images by Superfolk.
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