From Ireland to a Baltimore steel business: One family’s history inspires two sisters’ art [video]

Nancy and Jane Kavanagh are artists and sisters whose work is fueled by their family history.

The Joseph Kavanagh Company was founded in Baltimore back in 1866. As coppersmiths, they designed and built distilling equipment. Today it is a steel bending and tubing company.

It’s from this history that Jane and Nancy found inspiration for their new joint exhibit at the Janekav Gallery in Newark, Delaware.

“We started thinking about metal and things that people work with to create with their own hands,” Nancy Kavanagh O’Neill said.

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While touring a machine shop at Hagley Museum, seeing all the old machines and tools reminded the sisters of growing up around their father’s machine shop.

“As little girls we were just mesmerized by these big machines and these big pieces of metal,” Jane Kavanagh Morton said.

Nancy’s camera lens captured the industrial history of the machine shop at Hagley.

“I’m looking for something that may have outlived its usefulness but still has a story to it,” Nancy said.

Jane wanted to work her clay into something resembling the old metal on display. “I was really interested in replicating some of this rolling and bending,” Jane explained.

Jane began using what she calls her “kettle kiln” outside, to fire the clay and make it look like “old metal.”

Irish roots

The sisters have deep Irish roots – their mother’s family still lives in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Their Irish side came out for an exhibit last year, and you can still find many examples of the work in the gallery’s gift shop.

One of Nancy’s favorite things about Ireland is the love of conversation or as she calls it “the chat.” “That’s all part of being Irish, just finding somebody that will listen,” Nancy said.

The current exhibit is set up not just to showcase the individual pieces, “Our pieces are in a conversation with each other. We want this show to make a statement about creativity,” Nancy said.

“There’s a reverence for what a human being can make with his own hands. It’s pretty fascinating,” Nancy said.

Jane and Nancy will be at the opening reception for their show on May 6th and 7th at Janekav Gallery in Neward, DE or visit the gallery website for more information.


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