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Case Study

Jenny McNamara

Dublin, Ireland

BA (Hons) Artist Designer Maker: Glass and Ceramics

Jenny McNamara first tried lampworking at an arts summer camp and loved it so much she decided to pursue studying glass. After contacting several glass artists, she learned about the Glass and Ceramics course at Sunderland and, after attending her interview and seeing the fantastic facilities, chose to apply. Jenny graduated in 2017 and in 2018 started a project called The Spaghetti Factory. She also works as a Gallery Manager and continues to work on her own practice.

I had done a couple of summers working at a residential arts summer camp for children in Maine, working as a ceramics instructor and lifeguard. While at camp, they needed an assistant in the glass studio. It was there I tried lampworking for the first time and loved it. I wanted to learn more about working in glass, so I emailed lots of glass artists in Ireland and asked if they knew of anywhere I could do this. Several replied and told me about the glass course in Sunderland at the National Glass Centre.

I applied to the course and flew over from Dublin for an interview and a tour of the department. I totally fell in love with the facilities; the huge kilns, the hot shop, the ceramics area, mouldmaking and coldworking spaces. I thought it was fantastic and that I would be able to make big, exciting work here.

I liked designing work to a brief, the opportunity to study abroad (I went to California for a semester and learned a lot) and exploring my own ideas through material. I liked the small size of our group and getting to know people well. I did an internship at North Tyneside Art Studio in the summer of my second year, and in my third year, during Easter break, a placement in Palma, Mallorca in the Joan Miro Museum, helping an artist to create a ceramic installation. All these experiences outside of university really helped me to build up my experience and confidence.

For any students looking to study at Sunderland, I’d say go and look around and speak to the lecturers and technicians. See if the course feels like a good fit for the direction you’d like to go. It really specialises in material and process, so if that’s important to you, it could be the right course.

After graduating in 2017, I left Sunderland and moved to Newcastle with friends from my course. I continued my creative practice and also started curating. In 2018 I started a project called The Spaghetti Factory with Eve Cromwell and we put on exhibitions in our living room in our flat by Newcastle Quayside. We did eight solo shows there and the project has since expanded to include collaboration with other creatives and art spaces and also guest curation. It has been a really helpful way to meet other people working in the creative industries.

I still had a lot of energy at the end of my degree so I started a two-year Fine Art MFA at Newcastle University in 2017 which I really enjoyed. I finished my MA in 2019 and a year later in 2020, started working as a Gallery Manager at Gallagher & Turner, a small gallery and framers in Newcastle. I have a studio at The NewBridge Project, which I joined in 2019 as part of the collective studio, a one-year graduate support scheme. This year I received funding from Arts Council England to create an outdoor light installation at Cheeseburn Sculpture in Northumberland. I work two days a week in my studio on my own practice and work at the gallery three days.

My lecturer Colin Rennie told me, never forget the value of your ideas and that kind of stuck with me. It took me a while on the course to start producing work that I liked and to trust my own creative voice and follow my interests. I think eventually I learned that it’s most important for you to be excited by your own work, and that helps to keep it going too.”

Published 24 September 2021

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