Pluid (pronounced plidge, Irish for blanket) is a collective artwork made up of nearly 1200 small square original artworks exploring the theme of comfort. The square pieces are connected like a crocheted blanket and exhibited together as the National Comfort Blanket at the Cowshed Gallery, Farmleigh Estate in Dublin, Ireland from August 27 until September 5, 2021. Following the exhibition, the individual artworks will be auctioned online in aid of Pieta House, an organization that provides therapeutic services to people who are in suicidal distress and those bereaved by suicide.
It all started with two sisters and an open call
In early 2021 during lockdown, artists and sisters Claire Halpin and Madeleine Hellier put out an open call to artists, crafters, makers and doers of all ages in all communities to create small artworks (6” x 6”) in any medium considering the theme of comfort: What has given artists and creatives comfort and solace during the challenging times of this pandemic?
The project was launched on February 1, 2021 to celebrate St. Brigid’s Day. This date was chosen as a nod to the story of St. Brigid’s cloak, which grew and grew to provide for her entire community.
The response to the callout was astounding in numbers and diversity, with nearly 1200 artworks across a wide range of media and techniques, from traditional to contemporary, from limestone to painting to drawing to textiles and lace, and every imaginable medium in between. Each artwork is accompanied by a personal written response about something that brought comfort to its maker during lockdown, providing insight to the ordinary and extraordinary in our pandemic lives; the importance of family, friends and community, the unusual joys found in living within five kilometers of our homes; giving a renewed appreciation of the beauty of nature, gardens, pets and swims in the sea. Some participants also shared their difficult stories of loss and grief, being apart from family, loneliness and mental health issues. The responses come from a divergent representation across the country from all ages, and ability, from “new Irish” and the Diaspora. Pluid – the National Comfort Blanket – has unknowingly and unwittingly tapped into something that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. It is a groundswell of positivity: 1200 people connected creatively on the theme of comfort, and what unites the work is the importance of art and creativity as a comfort, a solace and a salve, a space.
“We are really proud of what the Pluid Project has achieved,” say Claire and Madeleine. “Proud how Ireland’s creative community responded, which has been simultaneously unique and collective. We believe the National Comfort Blanket is an important document of our times which reflects the valuable contribution of creativity, arts and crafts to the fabric of our society and our response to the pandemic. Now we just want to celebrate the National Comfort Blanket and its 1200 contributors through the exhibition of Pluid – the National Comfort Blanket at the Cowshed Gallery at Farmleigh.”
Finding comfort in journalling
Among the amazing works forming the National Comfort Blanket is a beautiful watercolour by Irish artist Sarah Long. The watercolour, titled “Spillings of the Mind,” is a still life painting of a pile of Paperblanks journals that Sarah had written in during 2019 and 2020. We were so moved to hear our notebooks and journalling had brought comfort to Sarah during the early days of the pandemic. Here is Sarah’s artist statement accompanying her submission:
“The concept for the piece was something that gave comfort during the pandemic and for me, one of the practices that did that was journalling. I found solace in it. It kept my plans and thoughts in order, and it helped me to manage my time better. I wrote anything and everything in my journals; I found them a safe place to work out my anxieties and fears, but also a place to conjure up inspiration and formulate creative ideas.”
We asked Sarah what motivated her to enter the open call. “I have always admired the work that Pieta House does in Ireland,” she said over e-mail. “And having participated in the yearly ‘Darkness into Light’ 5K walk a number of times, this year, whilst living in the UK, I wanted to do something for the charity from abroad. As synchronicity had it, I stumbled upon the Pluid Project 2021 via Instagram and strongly felt that this was something I could contribute to. Considering the theme was easy, as I had maintained a sense of comfort through writing during the pandemic.”
Read on for a selection of some of the participating works and stories!
Marie Sheridan, The Dog Was Never Allowed on the Bed Before. “Since the start of Covid I’ve been doing a lot of postcards in watercolour and ink, initially to send to my grown-up son and daughter who live in London. My daughter is an intensive care physio. Her hospital was designated as a Covid centre since February 2020 so she has been on the frontline dealing with the worst cases since then, especially last year when PPE was often scarce or non-existent. I have been so worried about her I started the postcards as a way of keeping in touch. I have sent postcards to a lot of family and friends. At this stage (I did a count the other day) I have sent over 300 postcards.”
Cecilia Moore, Enfolding: My Mother’s Dress. “The theme Pluid, or Comfort blanket conjured images for me of soft fabric that covers and enfolds around you, of the fabrics from my childhood especially my mother’s blue and white polka dot dress from the 1950s its skirt so full that when she wore it you could hide amongst its folds to stay close to her, it was my favourite dress of hers. It was not until this project that I actually realised that I still carried this feeling of comfort from this pattern, and it explains for me why most every day in my adult life I am wearing something with polka dots.”
Jackie O’Toole, Unobscured. “I am a community health care worker which has meant that during the pandemic and the various lockdowns I have been working continuously. Whilst I realise that I am very lucky that I still have a job, it has not been without its drawbacks and challenges, namely having to mix with other people in conditions that are out of your control by and large. The wearing of PPE and hand sanitising which of course is essential has been and continues to be difficult when working in very warm centrally heated homes. I have never been so appreciative or more grateful for my daily walks with my husband Gary and dog Loki, a short walk down our road and then through a field, down to the sea and the ‘Unobscured’ view of stone walls, grass, sea and the Burren. Open space, a place to breathe, a place to just be. The walk everyday whatever the weather has been my head space, a time to relax and gather my thoughts. This is my view, my space, my place in the world.”
Elizabeth Brennan, Log Cabin Block. “This block is called a log cabin block and is a traditional patchwork block. The red centre square denotes the heart of the home, the darker side represents the more challenging times in our lives eg. Worry, stress, sickness, death, hardships and trials we all go through. The brighter side represents those happier times of joy and celebration eg. birth, engagement, marriage, new job, support (both mental and physical) etc. I chose this block for Pluid as for me it represents the love, care and incredible support we as a family received from friends and family when covid invaded our home. I quilted a heart into each side to represent how loved we felt as we first dealt with covid ie. the blue side and then as we recovered and felt better ie. the yellow side.”
To learn more about the project and browse through the wonderful submissions, please visit Pluid’s Instagram or Facebook page. If you would like to acquire any of the works and support Pieta House, here is the link to the auction site.
Mental health affects us all. If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone.
Call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States or 1-833-456-4566 for Crisis Services Canada.
Outside of North America, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources: www.iasp.info.