THE GLOSS CEILING: Glass Artist Róisín de Buitléar

Our series features INSPIRING WOMEN alongside local heroines possessed of spirit, style, HUMANITY AND HUMOUR. This week’s focus is on glass artist RÓISÍN DE BUITLÉAR


Probably the least likely Honorary Grand Marshal of Seattle’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade we would’ve expected to see strolling up 5th Avenue wearing the obligatory green is Róisín de Buitléar, Ireland’s foremost glass artist and curator of CAUTION. Fragile – Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition at the Museum of Glass Tacoma, Washington in 2014.

Smiling and waving next to Irish senator and feminist theologian Catherine Zappone, de Buitléar accessorized her borrowed tweed dress and thrift shop ‘find’ jacket with a tweed and silk scarf by Fiona Carey, green leather gloves from Paula Rowan at the Westbury Mall off Grafton Street and a sash fashioned by Mary Charles, an 84 year old Leitrim woman resident in Seattle for the past 50 years. Her outfit was both inspired and slightly offbeat, true to herself as an artist and educator passionate about Ireland, its culture and traditions and a renowned practitioner expressing stories through the medium of glass and its pattern, colour, form and characteristics.

Everybody loves a parade, yet it was a Céilí hosted by the museum featuring ex-Hothouse Flower Liam Ó Maonlaí playing a series of glass objects made by Róisín and a hand picked team of ex-Waterford crystal master craftsmen that thrilled her most deeply, and transfixed Washingtonians. Her current work investigates ideas of sound and glass and the visual and aural opportunities it presents to reflect and resonate contemporary Irish culture, grounded in Irish history.

It’s no surprise, then, that Róisín, daughter of writer, musician and documentary filmmaker Éamon de Buitléar, inherited his sense of wonder with the natural world and his drive to retell its stories, choosing glass as a kind of shofar, an ancient bugle-like instrument made from a ram’s horn often used as a call to attention, like some of   Róisín’s glass sound objects played by Ó Maonlaí in a series of concerts interweaving voice, glass, piano and sonorous Gaelic.

Glass is a wonderful expression of both strength and fragility, perhaps the perfect embodiment of love and inevitable loss, at its most poignantly beautiful as it slips from our hands and crashes to the ground, irreparable. This contradiction is one of the hallmarks of de Buitléar’s evolving work: contemplative and meditative pieces, small and large-scale, blown, cast and architectural, often site-specific works expanding on her experience of collaborative practice, exploring ideas of legacy and Ireland’s narrative tradition.

De Buitléar’s glass tells a story, from the blown breath exhaled to bring molten sand into form, to her use of light and shadow, drawing the viewer close, close enough to read the subtle, intricate patterns created using diamond point engraving, a nod to the traditional Irish crafts of needlework and lacemaking.

Róisín de Buitléar’s work is in public buildings and private collections worldwide, including the National Museum of Ireland, her ‘Catch a Breath’ series featuring on a postage stamp issued to commemorate the National Year of Craft 2011. She garnered a prestigious Crafts Council of Ireland bursary for excellence in 2009, represented Ireland in the European glass biennale in Denmark in 2011 and, after two decades teaching at NCAD, continues to lecture internationally, returning to teach at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington for a third time.

An ardent advocate of maintaining Ireland’s glassmaking tradition, Róisín de Buitléar is actively committed to reawakening interest in glass work as a heritage craft meriting preservation and an industry worthy of investment. When passion, craft, artistry and vision coalesce, as they have in the life and work of Róisín de Buitléar, we feel it’s only right to celebrate it, with Róisín marshalling the support of fellow artisans and attracting savvy collectors, leading the parade.

You can see Róisín de Buitléar’s Pilgrimage commission in the recently completed new entrance corridors in the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, County Mayo, featuring painted glazed walls and two wall installations.


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