Mar 17 2011
Instead of the usual guest post on a Thursday, I’ve decided to bring you our guest interview of Jane Steger-Lewis who owns the company I love Mayo and whose collection Love Ireland is stocked at Garrendenny Lane. What could be better on St Patrick’s Day than pictures of the beautiful West of Ireland scenery and pubs? So I asked Jane all about where she lives and how it inspires her work.
For as long as I can remember, my heart has been in Mayo. My mother is from this village (Currane, near Achill Island) and I spent all of my summers here as a child. My father is from Egypt but we never went there on holiday, I’ve still never even visited once! So many things have changed since my holidays here but so many other things have not changed at all. There are a few more houses and certainly more cars on the road but the places I used to play and rocks I used to lie on at night to look at the night sky are still exactly as they were. The night sky is wonderful here because there is so little light pollution.
Prior to my move over here in 2000 I had a very stressful job in London for a major UK publisher, in charge of the production of 11 million magazines a week. I felt so hemmed in all of the time. Security was very strict at work, traveling too and from work by car we had to ensure that our doors were always locked and when at home,�
the door was locked and the alarm system was always on. Hardly the kind of environment that encourages creativity!
I yearned for air to breath and space around me. I also wanted to live a simpler, less money oriented, life. Luckily I met and married a man who feels the same. He even revels in the terrible wild, stormy weather we can have here.
I’ve always loved the house we now live in. It’s the old landlord’s house built in around 1840 (I later discovered that the last addition to it from the 1930′s was worked on by my own grandfather). The gardens here were once renowned bog gardens with walled areas too. As a youngster I used to play in the now overgrown, wild gardens here and�
in later years, kept a postcard with a picture of the house on my beside table. “One day”, I said, “we will live in that place”. I didn’t really believe that we would end up living in the actual house on the postcard and being lucky enough to look at that wonderful view every day but here we are!
Meanwhile, 2 years had gone by when the owner of my dream house and which also happened to be our favourite local bar arrived on our doorstep asking us if we would be interested in making an offer. That was it, we moved in. The house was in need of a lot of work (and still is) our surveyor told us that buying an old house like this was a ‘lifestyle choice’ and boy, was he right!
The bar at our house was very old fashioned, just one small room. The population here is quite old (sadly, the age of our customers made the eventual bar closure inevitable) and with it’s big open fire it was the perfect venue for a good sing song. We were happy to carry on running the bar although the hoops we had to jump through and the money we had to spend to keep the local fire officer happy were ludicrous. The bar was only open at night (there is another much larger bar in our village) and was no trouble to run.
Many weeknights, we would sell just a handful of pints of Guinness but then, in the summer time, the place would be alive, everyone would ‘come home’ and we would have amazing community get-togethers. I’m so glad we have those wonderful times to remember.
August bank holiday weekend was always the traditional time for homecomings here with traditional Yawl racing in the bay just outside. In 2006 things were much quieter than usual. The reason? Someone in Castlebar didn’t come home for the weekend. They decided to have a barbeque at home and buy cheap beer from Tesco. Who could blame them?�
Most of the village was there. Such a little thing but it was a sign of the beginning of the end for our bar. In November 2006 we had to close. The landscape might not have changed here but other things have. We were very sad to have to close but it was our own savings that were subsidising every drink.
At the time we sold our license, one small bar in Ireland was closing every day and time ran out for us. The sale of the license did mean that we were able to fix our roof. Some of my ideas about escaping the rat race and living simply were a little naive really. It’s all very well to say material goods aren’t important until your roof starts leaking! 4 years of a leaky roof in one of the wettest and windiest parts of Europe was certainly a wake-up call!
Living here and running the bar have inspired me in so many ways. I’ve always needed a creative outlet , I love to renovate old furniture and always like to create my own decorations if I can’t find something that I can afford or that appeals to me. I even created our own signs for the bar toilets:
I started painting pretty much as soon as I arrived. Watercolours and first and then acrylics, something I hadn’t done since I left art college. I worked mainly on landscapes at first but after a while I wanted to produce something else, something that captured the essence of the place. It is very beautiful here but I’ve learned that it’s so much more than the landscape that makes this place what it is. The sense of community and the wit and warmth of people are just as�
important. I wanted to try and capture some of that feeling too.
What made you decide to adapt traditional irish blessings into modern prints?
I want to create things to decorate my own house really. We have a large house to renovate. It’s a project that’s going to take a very long time. I’m very selfish as a designer. I want to create things that I like myself and would be happy to display in my own home. I live in an area with very few shops except those that are primarily there to serve tourist demands. I love Ireland and Irish things but not a big fan of the usual traditional leprchaun and shamrock thing�
(although some of the items I’m working on do actually include shamrocks… very stylish shamrocks of course!).
I like to have things around me that mean something, have some relevance to my life. I like beautiful things too and I guess I want my home to reflect me and the things that are important to me. I wanted to create something that captures the essence of the West of Ireland and there is nothing better than the wonderful sayings and of course Fr Ted. My background is graphic design and typography and so as well as painting, I enjoy working with type. I’ve seen that there is a fashion these days for prints using type but I really wanted something that reflects my own life, something that is relevant to me. Father Ted is has been a big part of our lives.
When vistors come to see us they always remark on how our house reminds them of the programme. Not just the house and this remote area but the way people are. It is so easy to recognise various characters from the programme around here. It might not be a documentary but the programme and the humour in the programme is very accurate and very Irish! We noticed this when running the bar. People here are very fond of the programme and refer to it and use sayings from it all the time.
We had some visitors last Summer from Holland. They stayed here for a month. They always spend a few months out of every year in this area but it transpired that they had never seen Fr Ted although they were familiar with lots of the sayings. I bought the box set containing all of the episodes to watch in the evenings. I’ve never got sick of watching those episodes, they are like old friends now. In fact the more I watch them, the funnier they are. I was interested to see if our Dutch friends would understand the humour and keen to watch their response. They understood it straight away and recognised so many aspects of life here.
You have also created lovely prints from Irish sayings. How do you decide which ones would work successfully as a print?
I make the designs, print one copy, frame it and live with it for a while. If I’m not happy with it and if visitors to the house don’t respond to it or it doesn’t make them smile then it’s “back to the drawing board”!
Your print ‘Aw go on’ is very funny and yet very pretty with its curvaceous teapot and tea cup. Can you tell us a little about the design process behind it?
I just wanted something pretty and cheery for my kitchen. I’m a great fan of Emma Bridgewater’s and particulary love her teapots and the teapot lids. If Emma Bridgewater made one like this I would buy it! As for the cup. I just like a nice big chunky cup. Regarding the type, I wanted something with a bit of wit and I like the idea of the Aw, go ons’ looking like an eye sight test with the final GO On in capital letters, the way that Mrs Doyle shouts it. I chose that red mainly because it is the highlight colour in my kitchen and there is something fresh about it.
Have you any more ‘Father Ted’ inspired prints up your sleeve? Or any from any other Irish programmes or films?
I’m working on a few at the moment actually and I have lots of ideas for new products floating around my head. There are a couple that come from ideas after watching Fr. Ted and some ‘as gaelige’.
So there you have it – I can understand now where Jane’s inspiration comes from, having seen her beautiful home and heard about the history about it. If you would like a chance to win one of Jane’s set of blessings, head over to Ally’s lovely blog From the Right Bank and enter the giveaway that is there for a week.
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