Mary Bourke

I loved getting lost in the making, the focus required to get the piece just so.


What craft do you work with? 

I’m a goldsmith. I started making jewellery in 1997. At the time I was in UCD, Dublin, working on a PhD in Neuroscience. I took up jewellery making as a hobby, a way to switch off.  I attended classes in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) Dublin, I fell in love with it. I loved getting lost in the making, the focus required to get the piece just so. I loved being able to share what I made with my friends. Something real, something they could see and touch and wear. A year later I took the brave step of leaving Neuroscience and getting my first job as an apprentice to a goldsmith in Dublin. From there my focus was to get a place on the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland Jewellery course in Kilkenny. I was successful and trained there for 2 years. On completion of the training I worked in ESL in Dublin, a goldsmiths focused on high-end, bespoke commissions, mainly wedding and engagement rings. After I moved to Carlow in 2003 I began working for myself.

My favourite technique is probably piercing – which is cutting sheet metal with a saw. This can result in intricate pattern and design. A saw blade is like a tiny file, taking away tiny pieces of metal to get the edge true. Piercing can be rhythmic, almost meditative. While piercing the noise of the saw cutting drowns out everything else allowing me to focus on the line and its development.

What inspires you to work with this craft? 

I love creating something that is real, a tangible object that brings joy to others. I love the personality and the story that we attach to jewellery. The most important events in our lives are marked by these tiny handheld objects. We pass them on to those we love to keep memories alive. They connect us across place and time. 

How do you start your creative process?

Sometimes the most difficult part is starting. How do I start – I take photos of things in my daily life – and play around with them. I sketch and doodle. I handle the metal, sheet or wire and see what might work, what it might suit. Momentum takes over and I get stuck in. The most enjoyable part of the creative process is sitting at the bench working things out and seeing the piece come together. Sometimes finishing is a challenge – there’s always another tweak or adjustment that could be made. Some days everything goes smoothly, and others not so. I’m constantly learning and improving how I work. That’s what I love about my work, there’s always a challenge to rise up to. The best feeling is watching the client put on the piece of jewellery and seeing their delight as they look at it – nothing beats that.

How would you best describe your workspace and what tools could you not do without?

My workspace is tiny, enough room for my bench, a rolling mills, a table and me! I have a south facing window which I love as the sun shines on my back as I work at the table. My bench is in the darkest corner of the room with 2 bench lights.  Some tools hang on pegboards. Tools I can’t do without – saw, parallel pliers, 10x loupe, and callipers. But in reality probably all of them!

Are there new techniques you would like to try?

Yes, I’d love to try 3D printing and laser cutting. I’m eager to learn about using modern technology in my work as it looks exciting and gives the maker new opportunities and methods to reach the finished piece.

What have you learnt that you would like to share with fellow crafters?

I think the best advice would be to document your work, every step, every measurement. Sometimes this can feel like a chore when you are creating but experience has taught me that it is worth the time it takes to jot down some notes and take photos at the end of the day. It makes it easier to repeat the process and make tiny incremental adjustments.

What other types of craft do you dream of collaborating with?

I would love to play with colour and pattern, be it through colouring different metals or using different coloured materials. I love the effect repetition of a tiny structure can have, growing into an impactful piece. As I am typing this I start thinking about movement too. I suppose I am looking to experiment and play and see where that goes.

What professional dream do you have?

I have a dream of having a studio workshop in a building with other makers studios. I imagine the various tools, materials and equipment that other practitioners use. I think about the energy of being with other makers and creatives. The synergy of having a shared language of making. The calmness of a workspace full of the sounds of work. Together we would all grow and develop as designers. Creativity is sparked by seeing how others work, having conversations and learning from everyone around. My dream is of collaborating with other creatives regardless of discipline, and helping others collaborate too. I have realised the importance of human connection the past two years and would love to be working alongside other makers on a daily basis.

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