By Kristen M. Foley
Jeannine Kraft’s imagination has been directed across the Atlantic Ocean ever since she was a young girl. Staying true to her earliest interests, the CCAD Liberal Arts assistant professor and History of Art and Design chair has fashioned a lifelong career from her ever-evolving passion for all things Irish.
Kraft’s childhood fascination was with medieval literature and mythology from throughout England, Ireland, and Wales. As a graduate student at Ohio State University, she focused on medieval Irish art, but over the past few years she has expanded her exploration of Irish art and culture. She’s currently investigating the expression of identity in the country’s art and how it reflects the history rooted in its breathtaking landscape.
“There are these layers of history that mark the landscape,” says Kraft. “When you [first] think of Ireland you think of the castles, the high crosses, and the standing stones, and how they became an embedded part of their cultural identity—but I’m interested in how they are reflected in the visual arts.”
During her sabbatical last summer Kraft used a CCAD Faculty Enrichment grant to make her eighth trip to Ireland. “I’m so passionate about the culture that when I do get to go somewhere, I choose there,” she muses. “I should probably diversify a little, but I love it so much.”
Even with eight trips behind her, Kraft still learns something new about the country and its people every time she visits. During last summer’s trip she chose to deepen her research on modern and contemporary art. What she uncovered was somewhat of an artistic struggle, as contemporary Irish artists try to embrace their heritage and the landscape without being drowned out by stereotypical views of their country. Kraft observes that the art of today is in contention with images of the past over which should serve as the authentic voice and vision of Irish culture.
“It’s a really loaded question for contemporary artists, because there is a tourist stereotype and kitsch image of Ireland, and they struggle with that legacy and cultural baggage,” says Kraft. “That’s really where I’m moving forward with my research, to this idea of the duality of the expression of Irish identity: the constructed mythology of the landscape versus contemporary artists striving for an authentic engagement with the landscape and its legacy.”
Kraft credits CCAD with assisting her in pursuing her work and allowing her to share it with her students, who are already fascinated with Irish art. She notes that students are curious about how the art has trickled down into contemporary pop culture via the use of Irish and Celtic symbols in tattoos and fashion patterns.
One final note brings Kraft’s childhood passion full circle. Her love for Ireland and for her young son have inspired her to write Liam the Valiant-Hearted Warrior, a children’s book set in Ireland and illustrated by CCAD Illustration alumnus Patrick Butler. She’s currently shopping it to publishers; we’re all looking forward to the results.
Above: The middle and last images are contemporary archival inkjet prints by Irish artist Robert Ellis from his series New Line, which documents the space inhabited by a small alternative community in the west of Ireland (both images Untitled, 40 x 47 inches, © Robert Ellis). The gallery below (click any image to view in larger, slideshow mode) includes snapshots from Kraft’s recent visit to Ireland.
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