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Goldsmith Deirdre Donnelly’s “Celtic Origins” By Donna Haskins
Close your eyes for a moment and think of Ireland: the music, culture, mythology and legendary beauty. Now imagine ancient Ireland, before history was recorded, even before written language. A silvery mist glows in the pre-dawn light on the morning of the winter solstice as you stand on a high grassy knoll.
In front of you is a vaulted tomb, set into the hillside and accented with white quartz to reflect the weak light that struggles through the dampness. As you approach the entrance and pass by the large monolith at the door, you touch the swirls and symbols deeply scored into the stone by a master carver. Once inside, a ray of light suddenly overpowers the flickering torch flame as the rising midwinter sun enters through a special aperture and pierces the darkness. The illuminated stone walls come alive with messages and figures carved there to honor the outstanding chieftain buried within the chambers.
These powerful images and influences from her Irish heritage have shaped and guided the work of Goldsmith Deirdre Donnelly. Deirdre grew up 50 miles from Dublin, in an area lightheartedly nicknamed the “sunny southeast” where it rains two out of three days; her original passion was veterinary medicine. She practiced in Ireland before moving to the United States. After she visited the National Museum of Ireland to view their world famous “îr” (meaning “gold” in the Irish language) Exhibit of Bronze Age jewelry ornaments, she was inspired to learn the arts of goldsmithing and metalworking.
Deirdre derived additional inspiration from the fabulous carvings on the stones of the prehistoric tombs and megaliths in Ireland, particularly those at Newgrange dating from about 3,200 BC. Many of the motifs and patterns are featured prominently in her work, including triple spirals thought to represent the sun’s movements and serpent forms said to be related to the moon’s wanderings in the sky. She studied at the Jewelry Arts Institute in New York and has been creating her own pieces since 1993. Additional training was completed in workshops at the Peters Valley Craft Education Center in New Jersey and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. She continues to work as a veterinarian today, even as she builds her successful jewelry business.
In her Vermont studio, surrounded by stone walls and tall pine trees, she sings along to World Music and Celtic melodies as she designs and crafts jewelry by hand from precious metals and high-quality gemstones. In the tradition of the accomplished Irish goldsmiths before her, the work is uniquely beautiful and artistically significant.
Deirdre creates her pieces in high karat (24k, 22k and 18k) gold and silver, incorporating a variety of techniques including forging, forming, stamping, lamination and granulation. She also makes her own sheet and wire in gold. Favoring translucent stones over opaque, she uses colored and unusual gems to complete many of the pieces. Most of the stones have historical significance and mythology associated with them but one of her favorites is the Moonstone.
Her work is centered on a common theme but each piece has its own unique beauty. There are bracelets of misty silver threaded with ringlets of gold, matte finished rings with cabochon moonstones and swirling gold accents, striking pendant necklaces with a variety of stones and wonderfully detailed gold and gemstone earrings.
Deirdre’s favorite piece is a 22k gold Celtic cross she fabricated with intricately detailed granulation and wire work inspired by the magnificent Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice, gold ornamentals by the master goldsmiths of seventh and eighth century Ireland. She created a central enamel for her cross (a modification of one found on the Ardagh Chalice) surrounded by four panels—two with spirals, one with an interlocking Celtic design and one on the bottom integrating a modification of the serpent featured on the Tara Brooch. Her father has named it her Magnum Opus.
Creating personal pieces for others, particular symbols of love commissioned by friends and family, is deeply satisfying work for Deirdre. She has made several wedding bands, engagement rings, and eternity rings. It gives her great pleasure to see the delight on their faces when they open the box containing one of her special creations. Her latest commissioned piece is an engagement ring for her brother’s fiance.
Deirdre’s jewelry collections are exhibited at the Frog Hollow and Artisan’s Hand Galleries in Vermont and she is a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Deirdre is the featured Artist for March at the Hanover League of New Hampshire Craftsmen shop in an exhibit titled “Celtic Current.” She will also exhibit her work in booth 521 at the Sunapee Craft Fair in August.
Copyright Donna Haskins–All rights reserved.