Stonemad husband and wife team going strong 30 years on

Wife and husband team, Liz and Philip Quinn have been in business since the 1980s. Here Philip discusses their business and the detail that goes into their work. 

Wife and husband team, Philip and Liz Quinn from Stonemad Sculpture Workshops have carved out an extensive business in stone, wood and metal at their base in Holycross, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Here Philip outlines how a strong diverse offering, along with deep-rooted community links within the region, have all played an important role in the long-term success of this innovative craft enterprise.

What services does your business provide?

We have been in business since the late 80s, and we now combine a broad interest from building stone walls to restoring decorative stonework, as well as providing lime work restoration for churches, castles, large houses and a wide variety of other structures. We also undertake one-off commission pieces, mainly geared towards artwork for both public and private sale. One of our other specialities is garden design, but not in the cobble-lock drive sense. Our focus is on a more natural type of garden design, incorporating meditative spaces with bespoke stonework, all of which are designed to appeal to the senses.

Complimentary skills

Liz and I work together and it’s a real team effort. One of Liz’s skills involves weaving living willow fences and structures which often form part of the garden work we undertake. We also grow one and half acres of willow and hazel which we use in the manufacture of chairs, weaving baskets and other interesting pieces. If we see something that needs to be done; we’ll either figure out how to do it ourselves or else find someone who can do it – as nothing gets in the way of our passion for repair and restoration. In addition, we run various sculpture workshops mainly in wood, stone and metal, at our base in Holycross. We also operate at other locations, comprising community groups, mental health groups, youth centres as well as providing workshops in some of the prisons.

What makes your business different?

Everything we create is custom-made. I am in the process of crafting pieces for a sensory garden in Two Mile Borris, Co. Tipperary and everything we produce for this project is new, tactile and requires a great deal of research. So we can’t say, ‘oh we have that worked out, we can make ten of those’, because all the elements are original.

The research involves reading, talking to people, ringing around to different artists who may have insights into specific materials or their availability. As part of this project we intend to include timber cobble. The idea for this emanated from reading an article on restoration in an English art magazine and involved uncovering a small piece of wooden cobble, dating back almost two centuries and was discovered in a part of London. I got in touch with a contact of mine in the UK, who confirmed that the cobble was in good condition which provided us with the necessary confidence to proceed with that element of the project.

Main challenges over the last decade?

In the last ten years, the biggest challenge was keeping on top of the recession. We were quite fortunate that our work continued uninterrupted, including workshops across the prisons, schools and the mental health association. They were ongoing and even more so during the recession and because of that, we remained busy during all that period.

How do you source work?

We source our work mainly through State Bodies, the Arts Council and institutions such as schools. There is a lot of demand out there, but as you can imagine, it takes a lot of time, experience and expertise to research and tender for this type of work. Recently on a large workshop, it took us three days, to complete and put together a proposal for ten days of actual work. Liz prepares all the proposals. It’s a perpetual task and often means working late into the night and many evenings during the week.

Interview by Brendan Byrne