Paula Stokes – 1845: Memento Mori

1845: Memento Mori is a Famine Memorial dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine. Made by Seattle based Irish artist Paula Stokes, this installation of 1,845 handblown glass potatoes, has taken 15 years to complete. The title of the project, references the year that the potato blight came to Ireland, marking the beginning of a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration. Over 1.5 million people died, and a further 1 million emigrated to Australia, Canada and America.

As a modern-day member of the Irish Diaspora, Paula Stokes reflects on her own history as an immigrant to examine historical events that have shaped the present. She has opened a dialogue on how one can learn from the past and in doing so hopes to elicit compassionate reflection that transcends the polarizing politics of our current time.

The form of the installation differs in response to specific locations, changing shape and volume depending on light, accessibility and exposure of each site. Finding context that is anchored in place, and its history, is part of how the work is uniquely created for each location. In previous installations it has taken the form of a cairn (a traditional stone pile). This presentation specifically implies a grave. Site visits and continued research form the evolving artistic exploration of this work.

At this time, planning is underway to exhibit the work in Ireland in 2021. It includes working with national institutions and famine specific sites, including indoor and exterior heritage sites, and museums.

Link to exhibition catalogue:

All image credits (unless otherwise stated): Ann Welch, 2019

About Paula Stokes

Paula Stokes

Paula Stokes was born and grew up in Ireland. She graduated from the National College of Art and Design(NCAD), Dublin, Ireland, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Glass Design. She also has a Certificate in Glassmaking and Technology from the Dudley College of Technology, UK. Stokes received the Milnora Roberts Scholarship for Academic Excellence in Printmaking from the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Stokes moved to Seattle in 1993. In 1995, she travelled to Ireland to work on Dale Chihuly’s prestigious Chihuly Over Venice project at Waterford Crystal. Stokes continued to work with Chihuly’s team until 2000, specifically working as a project lead in the construction of his Chandeliers series.

In 1996, together with Róisín de Buitléar, she established a visiting artist program at the National College of Art and Design(NCAD), where professional artists from Seattle worked with the students.  Stokes has taught extensively at Pratt Fine Arts Center, Urban Glass, the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, the Pilchuck Glass School, and at NCAD.

As Exhibitions Manager at Pratt Fine Art Center, she curated and staged over 70 exhibitions in sculpture, jewelry, painting and printmaking. In 2012, Stokes facilitated the presentation of Engaging with Glass, a survey of contemporary Irish Glass, in conjunction with the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, Ireland, at Traver Gallery in Tacoma. She also worked on the exhibition of Caution! Fragile by Róisín de Buitléar at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

In 2013, Stokes co-founded the nonprofit gallery METHOD, where she has co-curated over 40 exhibitions featuring site specific installation based art. 

Stokes returned to work for Dale Chihuly in 2013 and was the project director of his Ulysses Cylinders, which premiered at Dublin Castle in 2014. Until 2020, she managed Chihuly’s glassblowing studio, in addition to working on special projects.

She has exhibited her own work extensively, with exhibitions including Wild Geese at the Green Door Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, (2020), 1845: Memento Mori at the Jefferson County Museum of Art and History, and at METHOD Gallery, (2019), Solas: Light Inspires Glass, Morean Arts Center, Florida (2017),  Into The Field, The Model Contemporary Art Center, Sligo (2014), Future Beauty at the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny(2013), Critical Selection, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Collect 2012, Saatchi Gallery, London, Engaging with Glass, Traver Gallery, Tacoma, and the Solstice Arts Centre, Co. Meath, Ireland (2011- 2012), Supermarket, Stockholm, Sweden (2012), Transformation, Shift Gallery, Seattle (2012), 21st Century Irish Craft, National Museum of Ireland (2011), and The Wild Geese, Crafts Council of Ireland Gallery, Ireland (2007).

Stokes’ work is included in many collections including the National Museum of Ireland and the Irish Embassies in Brussels and Beijing.

She has been awarded Artist’s Residencies at the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre, Ballinskelligs, Ireland, and at the Jefferson County Museum of Art and History, Port Townsend, Washington.

In 2021 she will present her installation 1845: Memento Mori, a memorial to the Irish Potato Famine, at Strokestown Park, Co. Roscommon, and at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford.