Silver linings

Cara Murphy's craft has not been hit by the credit crunch and her new commissions include one from Downing Street

March 5, 2009

The Downing Street dining table will shortly be enhanced by silverware specially created by Cara Murphy, a lecturer at the University of Ulster who leads research into contemporary silversmithing at Ulster's Art and Design Research Institute.

Ms Murphy is the first craftsperson from Northern Ireland to win the commission from the Silver Trust. Pieces ranging from cruets and coffee pots to candelabra are used in Downing Street for 11 months a year, going on tour throughout the UK and continental Europe during the parliamentary recess. Ms Murphy said she expected to have full details of the commission later this month.

She said: "I don't know yet what I'll make - it could be two fruit bowls or ten sugar bowls. As a practising silversmith, most of what I make is working to a brief of some description."

She was a member of the Silver Sounds partnership with Queen's University Belfast, which won last year's Times Higher Education Award for excellence and innovation in the arts.

Both of her parents are silversmiths and jewellers: her father, Michael McCrory, was head of Ulster's School of Fine and Applied Arts until his retirement in 1996, and her mother, Deirdre McCrory, is a visiting lecturer. Her husband, Chris Murphy, is subject director of Ulster's honours BSc in interactive multimedia design.

Ms Murphy was an undergraduate at Glasgow School of Art, where she flirted with product design. "It was my teenage revolt - I said I wasn't going to follow in my parents' footsteps. But I realised that my passion is with silver and making objects."

She gained a first-class degree in silversmithing and jewellery, and went on to take an MA in silversmithing at the Royal College of Art in London.

So far, there is no sign of the credit crunch hitting silversmithing. Ms Murphy said: "I haven't got enough hours in the day to make what I need to make. I've got commissions until at least 2010."

She is preparing for the Collect 2009 art fair scheduled to be held at London's Saatchi Gallery in May, having been selected as one of Ireland's five leading applied artists. The Dublin Assay Office in Dublin Castle has also commissioned a new work for its collection.

Ms Murphy said that there were good opportunities for those taking Ulster's MA in applied arts. "There has been a real resurgence in the craft industry and the applied arts. People appreciate art and see it as a more solid investment than other things."

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