Why this creative couple have life down to a fine art
They work together, live together and create beautiful pieces of craft together. Catherine Keenan and Adam Frew, from Co Londonderry, talk to Karen Ireland about love, chickens... and their latest joint creation
It was their love of all things arty and crafty which brought Catherine Keenan and Adam Frew together. The couple, who have just bought an old cottage with outbuildings in Aghadowey, Co Londonderry met when Catherine (33), a glass-blower, attended a seminar on the subject at the Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart, where Adam (34) has a studio making pottery.
"We bumped into each other a few times at different exhibitions after that and then he finally asked me out for a drink," says Catherine - one of Ireland's few female glass-blowers.
"We were friends for a while and took things slowly, as I think we both wanted it to work out. We have so much in common and we understand each other inside out.
"I think it would be hard to be with someone who is not in a similar industry, as we understand each other's schedules and the pressures to get things done."
The couple met in 2009 and married in 2014 in a wedding which, as Catherine explains, was a real family affair.
"We did have a very creative wedding, with lots of people helping out with personal touches. My cousin, who is a chef, made the cake, my dad and stepmum picked wild flowers for all the tables, a friend made our bouquets and Adam's sister made the headpieces.
"Everyone pitched in, which made it even more special, as it was unique to us. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful memory."
Catherine says she gets asked all the time what it is like working with her husband, as they both work side-by-side at Flowerfield Arts Centre, but plan to move the studio to one of their outbuildings.
"We love it. There is always someone there to bounce ideas off, or to understand if things aren't going according to plan," she says. "As we are both good with our hands, we can help each other out with different pieces if we are particularly busy. We just roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done to get a project finished.
"And, because of our schedules, we can take time off and go along to each other's shows and exhibitions."
Catherine believes her chosen craft is a rare artform, because it is so expensive.
"I don't think many people concentrate on this as an artform, as it can be very costly. The furnace you need to heat glass up is extremely large and expensive, so it isn't an art that many people choose.
"But I love it and have always been interested in glass and colours since I was a student in Dublin National College, where I studied art and design and specialised in glass.
"Sadly, I feel like it is a dying art here in Ireland, with institutions such as Tyrone Crystal shutting down their furnaces.
"We aren't making the glass any longer, which Northern Ireland used to be associated with in the past - this is a real pity."
However, Catherine says there is definitely a demand for special, one-off pieces. As well as her exquisite art, she also fashions handmade jewellery.
"But, at the moment, I have to travel to England to get some of my pieces made in a special furnace. However, I love working with glass.
"It takes a long time to learn the skill and you need good hands and lots of dexterity, but I absolutely thrive on it."
Catherine admits the couple are looking forward to embracing the "good life" when they start growing their own vegetables and raising chickens.
"We both have a real appreciation for nature and wildlife," she says.
However, more importantly, the couple are looking forward to their latest creation - their first baby, which is due in September.
"I am so excited about motherhood and embracing this new chapter in our lives," Catherine says.
In addition to her glass-making, Catherine also takes classes in glass-blowing and and bead-making, which she says people seem to love.
"I am delighted there is also a real demand for my jewellery, which can be bought in Steensons, or Space Craft, both in Belfast.
"Autumn will be a busy time, with the birth of the baby, the new studio and then I have an exhibition in Liverpool in October. I will just need to be organised and plan ahead."
Also planning for the new chapter in his life is excited dad-to-be Adam.
"I am so excited at becoming a father and with buying a new house. It feels like everything is coming together for us. It is a wonderful time. The great thing about being married to someone who works in the same industry is that they understand the highs and lows - they know when you are busy and maybe have to stay late to finish a project and put your heart and soul into that.
"Catherine is very patient with me. We work well together and help each other out if we are under pressure. I am very fortunate to do a job I love and to be able to create beautiful, unique pieces."
A student of Fine and Applied Arts, specialising in ceramics, at the University of Ulster in Belfast, Adam has worked all over the world, with his pottery wheel even taking him to an island off Finland.
"Two years ago, I decided to set up my own business. I did it through the Making It programme run by Craft NI. They help artists get established, which was a great support and stepping-stone in the beginning.
"The first time I put my hands on the potter's wheel, I fell in love with it and I am lucky, as I have been able to make a living from it.
"People like my work and there is a real demand for pieces.
"I've always been excited about pots, but for me they need to be decorative and functional, as well."
Adam says there is definitely a living to be made in Northern Ireland in the craft industry, creating unique handmade pieces, with customers from far and wide seeking out his work.
"Not everyone wants to walk into a large store and buy mass-produced pots and pieces the same as everyone else."
He believes there has been a resurgence in interest in arts and crafts thanks to cult TV shows, such as Kirsty Allsop's Homemade programme.
"When I met Catherine we were at an exhibition, but I didn't ask her out for a while. I knew I liked her, so I wanted to take things slowly.
"For our first date I took her to a ceramics talk at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. We just clicked and have a lot in common. We get on really well and are true friends.
"In addition to my work, I also host masterclasses every year, when people can come along and try the art and learn more about it. I will be hosting a two-week masterclass in August during Craft Month.
"We will be having a New Beginnings sale on August 16 at Flowerfield Arts Centre before we move out to our new studio," he adds.
Showcasing best of our arts and crafts
- Craft Month will take place during August, and more than 140 events across Northern Ireland will include exhibitions, festivals, workshops, craft fairs, artisan markets and art trails
- The event will showcase the best in local glassmaking, jewellery, textiles, wood and willow-making
- The event is supported by Craft NI and the Arts Council
- For further details, log on to www.craftni.org and check out the Craft Month section