Nearly 2,000 glass blown potatoes form famine exhibition

An exhibition featuring 1,845 glass blown potatoes is coming to Northern Ireland next month.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 8:00 am
Irish artist Paula Stokes puts the finishing touches to her famine memorial installation in the gardens of Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum, Roscommon. Photo Brian Farrell
Irish artist Paula Stokes puts the finishing touches to her famine memorial installation in the gardens of Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum, Roscommon. Photo Brian Farrell

Artist Paula Stokes, who is from Seattle, will unveil the Irish potato famine exhibition in Wexford on July 17 before coming to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on August 28.

The title of the project – ‘1845: ‘Memento Mori’ – references the year that the potato blight came to Ireland, marking the beginning of a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration.

Over 1.5 million people died, and a further one million emigrated to Australia, Canada, and America.

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Speaking of returning to her family’s native Wexford to showcase her art Paula said: “I’m delighted to be showcasing this exhibition in County Wexford.

“I have wonderful memories of the summers we would spend in Wexford on my uncle’s farm as a child. It is a real honour to take this exhibition ‘home’ and to share it here in County Wexford at the spectacular Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens in County Wexford.”

Paula says that the form of the installation often differs in response to specific locations, changing shape and volume depending on light, accessibility, and exposure of each site that it is showcased.

Each glass potato is hand blown and then sandblasted, creating a white ghostly appearance to the potatoes. The large mound of glass potatoes and the fragility of the glass are very representative both of the vulnerability and of the resilience of those who died and those who survived the famine.

The exhibition travelled to Ireland for the first time in May this year to be exhibited at multiple venues over two years.

Paula graduated from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin with a bachelor’s degree in Glass Design.

She has exhibited extensively in the US and internationally. Her work is included in many collections including the National Museum of Ireland and the Irish Embassies in Brussels and Beijing.

Paula said: “I hope that the installation will resonate with a wide variety of audiences as it reminds us of our own fragile humanity and serves as a connection between shared human experiences in the past and the present.”

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