Wexford is famous for its potatoes and now an installation of 1,845 hand-blown glass potatoes is exhibiting outdoors at Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens. Artist Paula Stokes has returned to her paternal family’s home place of Wexford from Seattle to unveil her internationally renowned ‘1845: ‘Memento Mori’ installation, opening on July 17th 2021. The site-specific exhibition is a Famine Memorial dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine. The title of the project 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 1 million emigrated to Australia, Canada, and America.
Speaking of returning to her family’s native Wexford to showcase her art Paula says, “I’m delighted to be showcasing this exhibition in County Wexford. My father Kevin Stokes was from Raheenagurran, Gorey. My mother is from Kerry, but she and my father met in Enniscorthy and were married in Gorey. 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.”
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.
“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,” continued Stokes.
Visitors to Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens, can view the exhibition as it sits within one of the fishing towers within the gardens, enabling visitors to view it while being outdoors. 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.
“We are delighted to be welcoming this fascinating site-specific exhibition to the south east from our Irish Heritage Trust sister property Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum”, said Brenda Comerford, General Manager, Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens. “The majestic setting of the fishing tower which overlooks the garden lake and the gothic Revival castle is ideal for this Famine memorial. It offers a unique way of representing the history of the Famine that is very tangible to our visitors who can also view our Famine Cottage and Exhibition here in the self-guided Irish Agricultural Museum. We look forward to welcoming visitors to enjoy this exhibition while they meander our gardens and lake walks.”
Stokes graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland with a bachelor’s degree in Glass Design. She also has a Certificate in Glassmaking and Technology from the Dudley College of Technology, UK. Stokes received the Milnora Roberts Scholarship for Academic Excellence in Printmaking from the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
She has exhibited extensively internationally, with exhibitions including 1845: Memento Mori at the Jefferson County Museum of Art and History, Port Townsend and METHOD Gallery, Seattle (2019), Design and Literature Showcase, CIACLA, Los Angeles (2019). Her work is included in many collections including the National Museum of Ireland and the Irish Embassies in Brussels and Beijing.
In May 2021, 1845: Memento Mori travelled to Ireland for the first time to be exhibited at multiple venues over two years, including Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum in Co. Roscommon, Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens in Co. Wexford, the American Folk Park, Ulster Museum, Co. Tyrone, and at the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life in Co. Mayo.
DATES FOR 1845: MEMENTO MORI
- 29 May – 10 July: The National Famine Museum / Strokestown Park House, Co. Roscommon strokestownpark.ie
- 17 July – 21 August: Johnstown Castle Estate Museum & Gardens, Co. Wexford johnstowncastle.ie
- 28 August – 7 November, Ulster American Folk Park, Co. Tyrone nmni.com
- 13 November 2021- 28 May 2022, National Museum of Ireland-Country Life, Co. Mayo museum.ie/en-IE/Museums/Country-Life