Ceramic Artist Áine McKenna Shows At Down Arts Centre

Áine McKenna ceramic exhibition now running at the Down Arts Centre

Áine McKenna, resident artist at the Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick, has opened up a delightful exhibition of her work which which can be viewed until 5th April in the gallery.

Since her graduation in ceramics from Ulster University in 2005, Áine has enjoyed a very interesting journey leading up to her latest exhibition called ‘Dollars and Dogwood‘.

Before her final year at UU she studied art at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina in the US on a placement and said that this experience helped shape her approach to her art.

Áine said: “For the first time I was exposed to new ideas, unfamiliar cultures and various faiths and religions.

“The experience had a profound effect on me. On the campus we all had a job to do to help create a college culture.

“My job was helping with the smooth running of the pottery and sculpture studios, making glazes, loading kilns and firing work for students.

Áine McKenna pictured with her dogwood ceramic art at the Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick. (Photos by Jim Masson/Down News©)

“It was like living in a bubble – a unique experience – there was a great atmosphere of community and a super energy that came from the many other artists there living at the college in the mountains in North Carolina.

“It was a real opportunity to disconnect from what I was familiar with and get out of my comfort zone. It was a challenge and I welcomed it.

“This all helped enhance my skills in ceramics. But the stay at college in the US was absolutely transformative for me.

“So this led me to devise ‘Dollars and Dogwood‘, an exploration of my own spirituality, delving into my own personal experience.”

Áine explained that the Dogwood is the state flower of North Carolina and it has featured consistently through her work almost becoming a signature theme.

(l-r) Bernie McKenna, Patria McKenna, Aine’s mother, ceramic artist Áine McKenna, and Cecilia Halleron, Head of Art at St Colman’s High School, Ballynahinch.

“The dogwood signifies hope, faith, new beginnings. It can inspire ou to take new risks and chase your dreams,” she said.

“And the Dollar refers to the sand dollar, which is actually a sea urchin. It has a marking on its shell like the star of Bethlehem. Many Christians in North CArolina see the sand dollar as a symbol for the life of Christ.

“It is a symbolic mark similar to the Easter lily which touches on the resurrection of Christ. Working with this symbolism reminds me of the peace I experienced in that period of my life.

“This residency at the Down Arts Centre has given me the opportunity to revisit a concept in my art which I felt was unresolved.”

The beautiful works on display are made with fine white porcelain. The process of firing several times may take up to a couple of weeks.

Áine McKenna shows off one of her vases glazed with ceramic decal paper and behind her is one of her favourite pieces, a ceramic version of the state of North Carolina.

And Áine has decorated many of her fine pieces with print designs she has created herself with overlaying ceramic decal paper to the finished firing.

On display are collections of vases, framed ceramic pieces, and the centre-piece of the exhibition is a large ceramic wall replica of the state of North Carolina, one of her favourite pieces.

The exhibition, dedicated to her daughter Phoebe, can be viewed during opening hours at the Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick and is open to the public (FREE).

As Áine McKenna’s exhibition is a step closer to the end of her artist residency, she is happy that she has spent her time in the Down Arts Centre and will inevitably go on to build her reputation as a ceramicist across Down and further afield.

“I hope to have my own studio one day. The experience in the Down Arts Centre has helped me broaden my product range and has encouraged me to expand my ceramic work further.

“I’m happy to follow up on any bespoke pieces that someone may wish to have made. Just contact me through Craft NI: