Early work

The skill and technique of cutting and shaping wood, as it spins on a lathe, has existed in Ireland for centuries.

The skill and technique of cutting and shaping wood, as it spins on a lathe, has existed in Ireland for centuries. Until the 20th century this craft was primarily for utilitarian objects such as bowls, pots, or architectural ephemera. At the turn of the 20th century the demand for artistic and decorative wood-turned objects increased and there was a sharp move from objects created for the domestic sphere to objets d’art.

Fascinated with the natural characteristics of the wood, the work of Emmet Kane avoids standardisation and instead challenges texture and form. The broad scope of Kane’s career lies in the fact that he demonstrates an unwavering ability to champion and challenge the medium; constantly changing his styles, and continuously questioning the directions which his work is taking. For nearly three decades Emmet Kane’s career has followed a path that has led him through the realms of craft, sculpture, design and architecture.

Hollow Form, elm, the underside textured with multiple rings, 1992; private collection.

Emmet Kane was born in 1970 in Castledermot, Co. Kildare – a village in the south-east of Ireland filled with archaeological remnants dating back to the 6th century and history; round towers, high crosses, and the ruins of a Franciscan friary. Coming from a long line of master craftsmen, Kane was encouraged by his father to experiment with woodturning after leaving school in 1989. Kane joined the family business where he perfected his technical approach to wood turning. His appreciation for the arts was nurtured by his mother, who was a home economics teacher with a profound interest in art, sculpture, and design.

Hollow Form, elm, the underside textured with multiple rings, 1992; private collection

By the 1970s wood, which had been previously considered imperfect, with natural flaws became popular and woodturners began to enhance the natural defects in the medium, allowing the wood’s natural beauty to emerge. Kane was tempered by an aesthetic epiphany when he was exposed to the work of American woodturners David Ellsworth, Giles Gilson (1942-2015) and Mel Lindquist (1911-2000), who transformed the landscape of woodturning during the 1970s and 80s. Kane was captivated and inspired by the technical virtuosity of their work. Kane’s early work also began looking at examples of work by Ray Key, Jacques Vesery, Alain Mailland and Bert Marsh (1932-2011).

Hollow Form Elm 1992

Self-taught, Emmet Kane’s early work from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s is stylistically his most humble. Initially his visceral reaction was to produce unadorned wood turned bowls and he slowly progressed into the production of small vessels with lids. These early pieces were made from either cherry, elm or oak. The integrity of Kane’s small bowls and delicate vessels reflect the functionalism of woodturning in daily life and embraces the domestic realm.

Boxes and Vessels - Cherry and Elm, 1989-90

In 1996-97 Kane won a place at the Craft Council of Ireland’s prestigious Business Design Development course which enabled him to establish his own business. This opened up the realm of woodturning internationally to him and he travelled to the USA during this period. His early body of work, which evolved during the 1990s, consisted of one-off pieces. These early pieces were inspired by wooden vessels which Kane had seen in the National Museum of Ireland, through the patterns, textures and muted colours which define these ancient pieces. Working primarily in elm, in 1992 Kane began to texture the underside of his bowls and vessels, embracing subtle decorative features with the addition of multiple rings or scoring. He also began to ebonise the elm and one of his earlier bowls displayed the first, yet refined use of an incised line with gold.