Thursday 6 October 2011

Day of Digital Archives

To mark the 6th of October - the Day of Digital Archives - today's post will celebrate all of the NIVAL website's digital content.
NIVAL was formally established in 1997 with the aim of documenting all aspects of 20th century and contemporary Irish art and design and providing public access to the collection to encourage and facilitate research.

After many years of NIVAL's digital databases and digitised collections existing in their own “silo” the task of migrating these and adding new collections - including the KDW collection - is almost complete. These collections are fully cross-searchable and the new system offers many search options and filters to aid your research.

Some areas of the site are still under construction but all of the digital collections are available on

Click on for the full list of NIVAL collections, including online collections, and the Artist, Gallery and Exhibitions databases. The Online Collections link will bring you to the digital finding aids for eight of the special collections.

Friday 16 September 2011

KDW Press Clippings -Young Scientists Exhibition Letter by KDW Chairman W.H. Walsh

NIVAL/KWD/PC/03/02 - selected by Katie Blackwood

Throughout their existence, KDW kept an archive of press-clippings relating to themselves and the design work they produced. I am currently working on cataloguing these and drawing up a list of topics covered in the newspaper articles. There are several discussions around design in Ireland and how, outside of traditional textiles such as knitting and lace-making, it had been almost non-existent. 

On several occasions there are reports of the Chairman, W.H. Walsh, emphasising the importance of an art & design education (and the lack of it available in Irish schools). I particularly liked this letter he wrote to the Irish Times (published on Friday 9th January 1970), about the quality of the exhibits in the Young Scientists Exhibition. It would be easy to dismiss his comments of “lamentable graphics, slovenly penmanship and general sloppiness” as grumpiness, but as he goes on to point out himself, a basic knowledge of design is essential to good quality products. Good design in the things and places we surround ourselves with, ones that work properly and that are beautiful, can only improve quality of life for everybody.

Thursday 15 September 2011

The Kilkenny Design Workshops Archive – Life before the Collection Management Project

The KDW archive is by far the largest and one of the most important Special Collections held by the National Irish Visual Arts Library.  From 2001, when the collection was donated to the library by the Crafts Council of Ireland, until 2008, when grant aid was sourced to develop the cataloguing project, the collection was housed in its original packing in many filing cabinets in a library store room located off campus.  The size of the collection meant that it simply could not fit into the main library space and the small number of library staff made it impossible to allocate sufficient man-hours to conducting a detailed inventory of the material.

In order to facilitate researchers interested in studying the collection, materials had to be removed from the cabinets and boxed into crates and carried from the store room to the NIVAL reading area.  As the collection was neither catalogued nor classified, it was difficult to advice researchers whether the area they were interested in was documented in our collection.  Equally, it was not always easy to guarantee that all materials relevant to the researcher’s topic could be located and retrieved.   Several notable researchers accessed the archive at this time, including Anna Moran, Joanna Quinn, and Paul Caffrey.  Indeed, when researching the exhibition catalogue Designing Ireland in 2003/04, Joanna Quinn spent several days working on her own in the off-site store room - so broad was the scope of her research and so strong was her determination to leave no stone unturned!

The KDW Collection Management Project has allowed NIVAL to appraise the archive in its entirety and to arrange and catalogue the contents to internationally recognized standards for archival description.  The project has enabled us to examine the various components of the collection, to decipher the original classification system applied to the collection by the KDW, and to identify relationships between the component parts.  As such, a once unwieldy and somewhat intimidating collection of material has become an extremely user-friendly resource – an information-rich visual chronology of the extraordinary work undertaken by both the designers and administrators of the Kilkenny Design Workshops. 

The generous supporters of the KDW Collection Management Project should be congratulated for their contribution to our ongoing effort to enhance the accessibility and research value of this remarkable collection.  The Heritage Council, the Design History Society, UK, the NCAD Seed Fund for Research and the Arts Council, our funding partner - THANK YOU!

Tuesday 6 September 2011

KDW Photographic Archive - Personal Selection, Selected by Saive O'Donoghue, KDW Intern, 2010

Aran Dolls
Designed by Jenny Trigwell, c.1974
One of the greatest ambitions of Kilkenny Design Workshops was to modernise Irish design. To achieve such a lofty goal in the face of a staid visual culture, the group had to simultaneously break away from established Irish design tradition, whilst still maintaining a sense of national identity or 'Irishness'. Clichéd Irish symbolism such as the shamrock, the harp, and the Celtic motif were rooted in nostalgia, the antithesis of modernism. How then, were Kilkenny Design to refer to Irishness without becoming nostalgic? One of the ways Kilkenny Design achieved this was to locate nostalgic symbolism in children's products. An example of this is the Aran Dolls, pictured, which showcase the characters of Brigid and Padraigh 'in traditional Aran dress'. The existence of such Irish caricatures is tenuous at best, but by patronising such distilled images of Ireland, Kilkenny could successfully mythologise an exaggerated (if not invented) tradition, and in doing so, profit by aligning themselves with it. The use of twee notions of the Aran man and woman in children's products served the dual purpose of naturalising Irish design nostalgia, and Kilkenny Design by association, whilst shielding its existence amongst their children's items, not their 'serious' design products.

Thursday 1 September 2011

KDW Photographic Archive - Personal Selection

Selected by Noreen McGuire, KDW Intern, 2010

Tobacco jar
Designed by Bertil Gardberg, c.1969
Copyright: NIVAL

While archiving the wood products for the KIlkenny Design Workshop NIVAL project I came across images of an afzelia tobacco jar with a Kilkenny marble lid, designed by Bertil Gardberg circa 1969 (NIVAL/KDW/WD/08). This design, like many in the KDW collection, could have been produced today, and indeed I have seen more recent interpretations of it, which are available nowadays as storage containers. What struck me in the process of archiving this material is that quite a few products were produced to serve the needs of smokers. Smoking was a less maligned activity in the 1960s and 70s than it is today, and therefore beautiful products to house your smoking paraphernalia would have been desirable. If this design were to be relaunched today it would no doubt be for the storage of more acceptable stimulants such as tea, coffee and sugar. So the KDW archive is not just a window into Irish design history, it offers a record of Irish social history made manifest in material objects.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Cataloguing the Kilkenny Design Workshops Archive

NIVAL began cataloguing the very extensive KDW Archive in 2009 with the aim of creating an online finding-aid for the collection. At present this is a text-based catalogue but plans are underway to digitise a representative collection of the photographic documentation and to connect these with the paper records.

NIVAL’s target audience is inclusive and encompasses anyone with an interest in KDW and design in Ireland including third and fourth level researchers, academics, artists and designers, arts administrators, librarians and archivists, and the general public.  With the development of web resources and online databases, NIVAL is increasingly able to satisfy users’ needs remotely, reaching a wider national and international audience.

KDW cataloguing project, Phase 1

In 2009, NIVAL began Phase I of the project with an appraisal of the KDW Archive, donated to the library by the Crafts Council of Ireland.  The archive includes c.40 volumes of press material, 26 volumes of record sheets, and 10,000’s of photographic images documenting the craft and design products developed by the Workshops between 1963 and 1988.  The appraisal involved the establishment of a project plan for managing the collection in several distinct but related stages, and the identification of logical archival series within the collection.  This phase of the project was aided by a research grant from the Design History Society, U.K, and by funding from the national College of Art and Design, Dublin.

Phase 2 KDW cataloguing
Foreground - Theresa Reilly, MA Intern, background - Dr Una Walker

KDW cataloguing project, Phase 2

Phase 2 of the KDW project, entitled the Photographic Image Management Project, began in March 2010.  Funded by the Heritage Council and the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), the aim of Phase 2 was to arrange, catalogue and preserve the unique collection of 10,000’s of photographic images produced by the KDW as both a promotional tool and documentary record of the work undertaken by the Workshops over their 25 year history.  Phase 2 was concerned only with the photographic material for which there exists some form of text-based documentation that aids in the identification of the images. 

The project was been carried out by NIVAL in collaboration with students on the MA in Design History and Material Culture programme at NCAD.  Dr. Una Walker, Postdoctoral Researcher at NIVAL, managed the project with the assistance of Donna Romano, NIVAL Administrator.  The project team included Seamus Gilna, Senior Cataloguer; Katie Blackwood, Roisin Sheridan and Renata Pekowska, NIVAL Assistants; Robert Bridge, NCAD I.T. Support; and seven postgraduate student volunteers.

Phase 3 KDW cataloguing
Katie Blackwood, NIVAL, preparing to input data on the KDW press clippings

KDW cataloguing project, Phase 3 - Overview

 June – to October 2011

 The aims of Phase 3 of the project are to catalogue

  • 34 volumes of KDW press and publicity material to series and file levels
  • 26 volumes of KDW record sheets which provide the most complete documentation available of all design jobs undertaken by KDW to series and file levels
  • the photographic material for which no documentation exists (an estimated 600 files) to series and file levels

  • to input the records to the web-based database which has been developed using a relational database based on ISAD(G) elements of description.

Cataloguing the KDW Archive is still underway but a sneak preview can be had on

Monday 22 August 2011

Welcome to the NIVAL Kilkenny Design Workshops blog

IQ Lamp: Designer: Holger Strøm, 1972 
NIVAL reference code: IE/NIVAL/KDW/ID/

The Kilkenny Design Workshops were founded in 1963 by Córas Tráchtála, the Irish Export Board, in a radical move which in effect established a state-sponsored design consultancy aimed at improving the design of Irish products and thereby increase exports. Córas Tráchtála had been concerned with design, packaging and marketing since its inception in 1951 and as part of the national programme for economic growth full responsibility for design in industry was transferred from the Arts Council to the newly reconstituted Córas Tráchtála in 1960.

Under the leadership of William H. Walsh the former stables at Kilkenny Castle were acquired and converted, opening in 1965 with five workshops - silver and metalwork, textile weaving, textile printing, ceramics, and woodworking. Designers from across Europe were employed as lead designers and mentors, producing prototypes which were offered on a royalty basis to industry.

Kilkenny Design Workshops Design Team, circa 1965
Left to right: Max Andersen, (Workmaster Silver/Metal Workshop); Holger Strom, Packaging; Jim Kirkwood, Ceramics; Gerald Tyler, General 3D Design; Jenny Trigwell, Textile Designer; James King, General Manager; Damien Harrington, Graphics; Oisin Kelly; W. H. Walsh, KDW Chairman
NIVAL reference code: IE/NIVAL/KDW/PL/03/1

Initially the emphasis was on craft-based industries but over time the workshops expanded to include industrial and product design. KDW provided an interdisciplinary environment for individual designers who produced designs for goods using various materials and techniques, and for different market segments.  Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s KDW moved more overtly into the area industrial design.

In addition to the objective of improving the design of Irish products KDW also had an educational role. KDW organised exhibitions which celebrated traditional Irish crafts, e.g. patchwork, which were toured in Ireland and Europe. In the late 1970s KDW instigated a designer development training scheme providing twelve recent graduates annually from the country’s art schools with a six-month residential placement at the workshops. Schools competitions and annual design awards also offered opportunities for aspiring designers. KDW made access to good design available to the public through its retail outlets – the first KDW shop opened in Kilkenny in 1966, a second was opened in Dublin in 1976. These shops stocked examples of the craft-based products designed by KDW and also goods produced by other Irish craftspeople and manufacturers. The Dublin shop included an exhibition space which hosted design related events open to the public.

In the mid-1980s KDW instituted an economic plan aimed at making the organisation totally self-sufficient. One component of this involved increasing income from the retail part of the business and partly to this end a KDW shop was opened in Bond Street in London. Unfortunately a drop in retail income combined with the effects of the recession led to financial difficulties and in 1988 state support was withdrawn and KDW ceased operation. The London shop was closed and the shop premises in Kilkenny and Dublin sold to cover debts.

Entrance to the Kilkenny Shop in Bond Street, London, 1986
NIVAL reference code: IE/NIVAL/KDW/NP/61

The Kilkenny Design Workshops Archive was donated to the National Irish Visual Arts Library by the Crafts Council of Ireland in 2001.  The material was given to NIVAL with the understanding that the collection would be made available to the public for research purposes and, depending upon funding, the collection would be catalogued to an institutional standard.
NIVAL has been engaged in a phased project to catalogue this extensive collection with financial help from the Heritage Council, the National College of Art and Design, the Design History Society (UK) and the Arts Council since 2009.

To view further images from the KDW Archive see the NIVAL Facebook page