Sarah Jenkinson on Weaving together Past and Present
Art//Galway Stories//Irish Design

Sarah Jenkinson on Weaving together Past and Present

Sarah Jenkinson's studio is nestled just behind Ernie's Shop on Sea Road. Here, in the heart of community and culture, we sat and chatted about her passion, what inspires her, and the beauty of slow craft.

Bundles of drying willow lean on one another in a delicate earth toned array of colour on the walls of Sarah Jenkinson’s studio. Traditional Irish baskets are stacked throughout the space. There’s a smell of the willow wafting through the air as we chat. It’s a distinct but subtle spiciness that encapsulates the room. The willow rods are different hues of brown, green, orange and purple - reflective of the awe-inspiring Connemara landscape. Sarah, an expert in her craft, spends most of her day in this room. Here, she weaves beautiful contemporary baskets, blissfully celebrating an ancestral practice in modern times.

Sarah and I chat about her abiding love for traditional Irish basket weaving. She has a particular quality about her, it’s the brightness and joy one exudes when their vocation is realised and nourished. “As soon as I smelt the willow I was just hooked,” she tells me. “I just couldn't believe that weaving a few rods together could make a basket… It was in 2019 that Ciarán Hogan took me under his wing. I learned traditional Irish basketmaking from Ciarán weaving skibs, shoppers, turf baskets and creels. It really rooted me in this ancient craft and tradition we have in Ireland.”

Sarah effortlessly blends traditional basket patterns with contemporary function. “As a basket maker, everything I have learned thus far, I have learned from somebody else, some other basketmaker… The techniques and traditions have been passed down for thousands of years, for generations.” From bicycle baskets to shoulder bags and lampshades, her creations are lasting and enduring pieces saturated in the practices of the past.

Sarah works quite literally from plant to basket. She grows, harvests, and weaves the willow herself. “I suppose it’s about a slow craft,” She says. “I’m very much steeped in the natural seasonal patterns of every year… The willow comes from the land, it’s woven into a beautiful functional piece. In the end it’s going to go back to the land.”

Now more than ever, there’s a strong desire for more considered, handmade pieces. This slow craft is a tradition that continues to stay alive through oral and visual teaching. “You can learn from books but to get all the knowledge and all the tips, to really feel part of it and its history, I think that sitting with other basket makers is the best possible thing to do…​​All of the basket makers I’ve met are very generous and kind with their knowledge sharing. They want you to be the best basket maker you can be.”

To me, there’s something absolutely delightful about this method of teaching and learning. In order to learn the craft, there’s a certain aspect of pouring yourself fully into it, up to and above the brim.

When a basket is finished, there’s a real sense of elation. Sarah told me that she has never made the same basket twice. This is an element of her work that spurs on her creative spirit. “I will always love weaving, I just feel it in my bones,” she says. “I am never bored, because there are just so many different baskets. I’ll always be learning too, there are so many inspirational basket weavers.”

I can’t help but admire the genuine love she expresses for her craft. “I am one of the luckiest women on this earth!” she proclaims. This purpose and passion she has found in weaving is reflective in each and every basket she creates. Handcrafted, considered and absolutely beautiful, these are products that are steeped in tradition with a contemporary flare. “I was inspired to embrace this heritage craft as a way of reconnecting people back to an ancestral space, where weaving, nature and community are in harmony.” These one-of-a-kind baskets are available through her Instagram @sarahjenkinsonbaskets, as well as for sale in Ernie’s shop in Galway’s Westend.

All photos by Ciarán MacChoncarraige.

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