Dublin’s stained-glass silversmith takes centre stage at Gifted

by Gazette Reporter
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An internationally award-winning silversmith and enameller is set to dazzle at Ireland’s largest gathering of craftspeople in the RDS next month.

Originally from Clondalkin village in Dublin, Jean Wilkinson has painstakingly mastered plique-à-jour, a rare and time-consuming technique whose finished product resembles tiny stained-glass detailing. 

Now her work will feature at Gifted, the Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, which takes place at the RDS from December 6 to 10. 

She draws a connection between her complex style and the textile work her mother did for the Irish fashion designer, Sybil Connolly, who was known as ‘Dublin’s Dior’. 

“Plique-à-jour, which has become my passion, is made up of cells and looks a bit like lattice work,” said Jean, who lives in France and was exhibited at the Louvre, Paris, with the rare technique last year.

“My mother, Kitty Doyle, was an Irish lace crocheter – her mother and grandmother did it – and she was among the women in Clondalkin who worked for the famous Irish designer Sybil Connolly.

“Even though I was young, I was very aware of how important this fashion lady was and what she was doing for Ireland’s reputation.

“Mammy had the skills in her family already and used to make and assemble the pieces that the other women made. She would also fund our Santa presents by making a lace crochet blouse or a Christmas shawl.

“I only recently realised how similar our artforms are, they are both very delicate and made up of cells and space and air.”

Despite a family flair for craftsmanship and a draw to silversmithing from the age of 12, Jean’s parents discouraged her career choice.

“I was the youngest of nine and my parents had an older generational mindset, whereby they always told me to work with my head rather than my hands. 

“They had come through a lot of hard times and felt that education and a job outside the trades was the way to have a better standard of living.

“I was an IT Consultant for a large part of my twenties as a result and, while it’s true that I was making good money, I wasn’t happy. 

“I’m much happier now because I’m making my heart’s desire all the time. As an artist, you’re always conceiving and you’re always immersed in beautiful things.”

Jean will be bringing the dish that earned her the gold in the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council Awards 2020 to Gifted next month.

She will also bring a number of small silver music boxes inspired by her husband’s love of Christmas. 

“The music boxes are decorated with a scene and movement on the top and has some moving parts. It’s a departure from my usual designs but I really enjoyed making it and would love to see what the Gifted crowd thinks of it,” said Jean. 

Gifted, the Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, will take place at Dublin’s RDS from Wednesday, December 6 to Sunday, December 10. Full details and booking can be found at www.giftedfair.ie

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