Artist Sharon swaps bright lights of London for a byre in Co Antrim

Townland: the work of Ballymena-based ceramicist Rory Shearer
Townland: the work of Ballymena-based ceramicist Rory Shearer

A cowshed in a farm in the middle of rural County Antrim may seem like the last place to find an exhibition of exquisite contemporary craft.

But for artist and maker Sharon Adams, who has returned to her rural County Antrim roots after 25 years living the cosmopolitan life in London and Brighton, her ‘Five Artists Show in a Byre’ exhibition is in the perfect setting.

Poet Elaine Gaston and artist Sharon Adams, who organised the Five Artists in a Byre Exhibition.

Poet Elaine Gaston and artist Sharon Adams, who organised the Five Artists in a Byre Exhibition.

The exhibition of contemporary local art and craft features startlingly original one-off pieces of sculpture, furniture, ceramics and drawing.

The byre is beside Sharon’s farmhouse located in the Glarryford/Cloughmills area between Ballymena and Ballymoney.

She said: “Galleries can be a bit sterile and serious and I wanted to do something that was more down to earth that everyone can enjoy. It is literally a disused byre where people used to milk their cows.

“It hasn’t been turned into a gallery. I simply swept it out and put in the artwork. I think of it as a rural pop-up exhibition.”

Robert Martin, Director of R Space Gallery in Lisburn with Noel McCullough with furniture maker Noel McCullough.

Robert Martin, Director of R Space Gallery in Lisburn with Noel McCullough with furniture maker Noel McCullough.

Two years ago, Sharon, wanting to re-discover the girl who grew up on a family farm, bought the 19th century farmhouse and outbuildings that border her father and brother’s working dairy farm.

“My family have been farming in the area for generations and having been away for 25 years I decided it was time to come home and reconnect with my old self. I wanted more space and had a hankering to do something back home.

“My father and brother own the adjacent land and I join in with milking cows and feeding calves so I’m fully active on their farm.”

At the height of her metropolitan adventure, Sharon ran a successful events company in London before deciding to do an Arts degree at the University of Brighton. This led to her returning to Northern Ireland in 2012.

The disused byre in Glarryford scene of a new contemporary art and craft exhibition launched on Saturday as part of August Craft Month

The disused byre in Glarryford scene of a new contemporary art and craft exhibition launched on Saturday as part of August Craft Month

She says her decision to return home was partly tied up with her work. “I make ‘functionless tools’. In the modern, digital world we are disconnected from having manual skills and making and doing.”

As well as Sharon’s own abstract tools the Five Artists in a Byre exhibition, one of more than 150 events during August Craft Month, features sculpture by Alice Clarke from Belfast, drawings by Cushendun-based Katy English, furniture by Ballymena maker Noel McCullough and ceramics by Rory Shearer, who also lives in the Ballymena area.

There are pieces, more often seen under the bright lights of a crisp white gallery and a complementary retail selection. In natural materials and muted colours, they are quite at home among the original fixtures of the byre, last used for milking by the previous owners in the 60’s.

Working predominately with wood and metal, Sharon’s art provokes questions about the meaning and value of skilled work in a digital age. Her work has been exhibited in England and Ireland, and is held in public and private collections.

She added: “I met Rory Shearer through an Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Armagh last year. Rory’s big ceramic pieces are very much about the Antrim countryside and sit very well in an agricultural building.”

Furniture maker Noel McCullough also lives on a farm at Cloughwater, three miles from the Byre. His late aunt Molly Linton lived in the farmhouse that Sharon’s bought in 2013.

Noel uses local wood in his farm-based workshop: “I design and make bespoke, one-off furniture. In this exhibition there is a small dining table made from local elm and oak, a scorched love seat or kissing seat and a coat-rack in the shape of an old wooden rake.”

The exhibition continues on 16, 22-23, 29-30-31 of August from 11am to 5pm at 81 Old Frocess Road, Cloughmills BT44 9NA www.sharonadams.co.uk/byre