Sparking Something off in Tyrone

Emma O'Neill investigates a new craft initiative

SPARK is a cross border cultural craft programme, which was developed to promote and encourage a quality craft culture in the counties of Tyrone and Donegal. The initiative is driven through a cross border partnership between Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council and Donegal County Enterprise Board and is funded by Co-operation Ireland under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

SPARK is the brand name given to a group of gifted craft people who produce high quality unique crafts in Tyrone and Donegal. The cultural craft programme was established in 2004 with the aim of assisting the craftspeople in Tyrone and Donegal through a support system of mentoring, business development, marketing and transfer skills workshops as well as the showcasing of their products through exhibitions and craft fairs.

Support systems have been established in both counties with two Craft Officers appointed to drive the programme forward and to assist in the development of essential business skills for the craftspeople.

Aisling Lynch in Donegal and Mary Crooks in Tyrone, work closely with new and previously established craft businesses to promote current craft activities and to further develop the sector through networking, education and training.

The growth of the craft industry in Tyrone and Donegal has gone from strength to strength with the increased demand from the consumer for unique, one-off, bespoke goods.

Consortiums like SPARK have increased the attainability of this for consumers by bringing together high quality craft people who can offer the much desired exclusive products. SPARK has enabled consumers therefore to take a step closer to attaining the truly individual status.

SPARK brings together a mix of high quality traditional and contemporary crafts, which can be tailored to personal specification. The exclusive collections of crafts are all handmade using broad ranging techniques to create distinctive and highly individual products.

SPARK crafts offer consumers a shopping experience with a difference, through a unique opportunity where they can visit the craftspeople in their natural surroundings of their workshops, studios and galleries.

Since its formation in 2004 SPARK has welcomed 15 new members, bringing together a wide-ranging and diverse collection of craft providers. They produce interesting and beautiful treasures - from handmade glass to carved bog oak, striking fine art to brightly coloured weaves, precious jewellery to radiant ceramics, traditionally hand carved furniture to slate giftware. Whatever you are looking for SPARK Crafts has something to offer all tastes.

The inspirations of the Tyrone craftspeople are varied and diverse with Spanish influences evident in the work of Catherine Scott Ceramics, Margaret Jackson’s hand beaded jewellery inspired by a bygone era and Celtic myth and legend inspired slate and turf giftware by A Way with the Faeries and Island Turf Craft.

SPARK has recently been enriched with the addition of members to the consortium including Cookstown based artist George Gourley who portrays bygone Ireland in his sepia tone watercolour paintings, Spirits in the Wood high quality contemporary furniture made by Paul Cushnahan, MHACHA - Benburb landscape and pottery artist Stephen Farnan and Omagh based Kathleen Ward, who opens the doors of Tattykeen Studio to visitors and specialises in a range of genres including oil paintings, hand painted silk scarves and textile handbags.

SPARK members are offered numerous outlets to promote their crafts. They participate in craft fairs throughout Ireland to showcase their products including the National Craft Fair and Showcase Ireland Trade Fair in the RDS Dublin as well as annual events in both Dungannon and Letterkenny.

SPARK businesses are also presented with the opportunity to exhibit and sell their products in the contemporary surroundings of the newly refurbished Killymaddy Tourist Information and Craft Centre.

Mary Crooks Tyrone based Craft Officer described the growth of SPARK:

‘SPARK was created over two years ago and it is just about now that it has taken a stronger foothold. SPARK has a lot to offer in terms of promoting the local talent and developing the craft sector in both counties. Membership has grown significantly over the past couple of years and members now have a real confidence in their work.’

Crooks added the benefits for craft businesses:

‘Killymaddy Crafts outside Dungannon offers the ideal platform to showcase a broad selection of SPARK crafts in one place. The newly refurbished Killymaddy has strengthened the opportunity and improved the positioning of Tyrone and Donegal crafts businesses by presenting their goods in the contemporary surroundings of the purpose built centre.'

SPARK brings together the ideas and experiences of craftspeople, many of who live and work in remote areas. Be it an old cottage looking over the Atlantic sea or an old mill dwelling nestled in the Sperrin Mountains.

SPARK presents the opportunity to find out a little more about them, where they are, what they make, and what inspires them. Maybe you'll be inspired too by the unique craft and follow up with a visit to a workshop or just take a closer look at the remarkable range of crafts Donegal and Tyrone has to offer.

SPARK of wisdom: ‘No life can be dreary when work is a delight’.

For further information on SPARK crafts contact Mary Crooks on 028 877 60905 or Aisling Lynch on 00353 7491 06891.