Online exhibition showcases forgotten contribution of crafts people to built heritage

Posted on: 16 February 2024

A new digital exhibition showcases the painstaking craft practices of the stonemasons, plasterers, joiners and carvers who constructed our beautiful 18th-century buildings.

The work of craftspeople has been long lost to history, overshadowed by the big names — the architects and patrons who designed and commissioned them. Now a new digital exhibition, entitled Craft Uncovered, celebrates the immense contribution of craftsmanship to the architecture of Ireland and Britain in the 18th century. The exhibition can be viewed at this link

The exhibition also showcases the research undertaken at the Department of History of Art and Architecture as part of the four-year CRAFTVALUE project, which has been funded by the Advanced Laureate programme of the  Irish Research Council. The team has worked with stakeholders in Ireland and the United Kingdom, including the Office of Public Works and the National Trust, to develop knowledge of our shared heritage.

Prof Christine Casey pictured in the entrance hall of Castle Howard, Yorkshire

Christine Casey, Professor of Architectural History, and lead of the CRAFTVALUE project explained:

“Too long taken for granted, this rich contribution of crafts people to our built heritage is now the subject of sustained research and analysis. For the last four years the CRAFTVALUE project has sought to open our eyes to the enormous achievements of craft practitioners whose work animates our towns and cities."

"The CRAFTVALUE research team has investigated how the virtuoso staircases and magnificent marble chimneypieces of our public buildings and town and country houses were physically created; where the materials were sourced and how craft skills were acquired, developed and sustained.”

Russborough, Co. Wicklow, Library ceiling from above

The exhibition employs digital techniques, video footage and archival text to uncover historic craft practices employed in a range of 18th century building in Ireland and the UK. These include the beautiful stonework at Castletown House, Celbridge Co. Kildare; the intricate parquetry floors at Russborough  House, Co. Wicklow, the superlative plasterwork of Clandon Park in Surrey and the intensively crafted staircase at Beningbrough Hall, in North Yorkshire.

Dr Andrew Tierney at the entrance hall to Castle Howard, Yorkshire

The exhibition also features elements from historic buildings on Trinity’s campus, including digital models of the staircase in the west pavilion of the Old Library, the façade of the Printing House and the plasterwork of the Saloon ceiling in the Provost’s House.

Fascinating on-site video interviews with leading conservation practitioners, Sven Habermann, George O’Malley and Gunther Wolters (specialists in wood, plasterwork and stone) also form part of the exhibition.  

Trinity College Dublin, chapel, Corinthian capitals

Professor Casey added:

“Our research comes at a time when there is growing concern about the decline of hand skills and apprenticeship culture. Our findings also contribute to an emerging global discussion on the value of craftsmanship in society.

"Uncovering the important and overlooked contribution of craft practice to 18th century architecture helps us better understand its role as a key driver of historic architectural production. By exploring the rich, archival record for elite architecture in the period, we are also better able to understand craft practice across a wider spectrum of building activity.”

Provost's House, Trinity, Saloon ceiling

The CRAFTVALUE team has already published a book Enriching Architecture, craft and its conservation in Anglo-Irish building production, 1660–1760, and a second edited volume entitled Between Design and Making, Architecture and craftsmanship, 1630–1760 will be published later this year with a monograph on eighteenth-century craft practice due to be published in 2025.

Media Contact:

Fiona Tyrrell | Media Relations | | +353 1 896 3551