Meet the Maker: DANU

This week I was delighted to catch up with the inspirational Ruth of DANU, who has contributed to not just one but TWO of our most recent Irish at Heart offerings.

The gold accents on her gorgeous moon pendant were the finishing touches of our dreamy Aisling box, while her green (in colour and spirit) earrings brought a stylish glimmer to our Glás gifts in March.

Get to know the mind behind the creations with our latest “Meet the Maker” interview, and learn about the special connection that Ruth aims to establish with each and every customer.

When did you first decide to turn your passion into a business, and how did the name DANU come about?

 

So I graduated from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 2011 with a degree in ceramics. I had been making one off, conceptual pieces and exhibiting them all over Ireland and beyond. It was the height of the recession, so I realised it was going to be really tough to make a living off these sculptures alone - some of which took weeks to complete. I was contemplating going back to college and doing a HDip in art teaching, but a gut feeling told me that it just wasn't for me.

I found an ad for a 'building your craft business' course on the Design and Crafts Council website, which was to start in January 2013, five minutes walk from my apartment at the time: the timing and location were perfect and that is really how it all began. I did my first major craft fair in 2014, and then my first tradeshow in 2015, and have been busy ever since.

 

 

It took me a long time to come up with the name. I wanted it to be really considered and meaningful, relevant to my work and life, and relating to Irish culture – as well as being easy to spell, remember and pronounce! DANU was the Celtic goddess of earth and creativity and the Hindu goddess of water - 3 elements which are fundamental in the creation of ceramics. It is believed that the two goddesses have the same origin, from when the Vedic people of South Asia traded and interacted with the Celts of Western Europe.

 

Many waterways around Europe and Asia have been named after Danu, such as the Danube river in Germany and the Danu river in Nepal. Ancient peoples from Western Europe and South Asia referred to themselves as Children of Danu and in Ireland, there was the Tuatha Dé Danann fairy race (the people/tribe of the goddess Danu).


Much of my work is inspired by both Ireland and travel, and I am also interested in comparative mythology and anthropology - so this name really resonated with me.

Can you tell us about the ethos behind your work?

My mission is to create small batch, affordable, quality pieces that will last. I believe that ethical craft can be easily attainable. My pieces are exclusive not as a result of high prices, but because they are not mass produced in a factory by hundreds of exploited workers. The jewellery boxes are made from recycled kraft paper, we use corrugated cardboard instead of plastic bubble wrap, as well as recycled delivery boxes picked up from local shops. I keep my business small and my pieces affordable.

 

I love to hand-deliver shop orders to my stockists in Dublin city, stopping in for a chat and bumping into other designers and small business owners. Small businesses are the future and are inherently more eco-friendly, without all the greenwashing of massive corporations: they have fewer employees, less waste and a lower turnover. I hope that in the future this way of working will start to be recognised as the norm.

 
The unique look of my work is also important to me. I think authentic pieces that look and feel handmade really connect the owner with the maker of the piece - it’s like a pulse.

What makes a piece from DANU different than one from other companies?

I guess because the pieces are all handmade by me, with no two being the same. My jewellery is crafted from porcelain, glazed, and then hand-painted in 22k gold, which is then fired in the kiln; while the ring dishes and bowls are formed from stoneware clay by hand.


The magic of tiny micro businesses is that the pieces you buy are actually crafted by the owner. From the design conception to the making; from answering emails to packing the order; and from getting the feedback to appreciating customers' photos – in this process the owner is intimately connected to your experiences of the piece as a customer.

Do you have any particularly favourite creations?

 

 

I love the moon necklaces as they were my first ever jewellery design, so they are a classic! They also happen to be one of my most popular pieces.  

I love working with the krobo beads, as they are just so beautiful to handle. In general I enjoy working with new materials by default – just for the sheer novelty factor, it’s really exciting putting new designs into the kiln and seeing how they turn out after the three firings!

 

Can you tell us a bit about the items that our Irish at Heart subscribers have found in their boxes over the last couple of months? The Glás earrings and the gorgeous moon pendant for Aisling?

The Glás earrings are made from ethically sourced beads from Ghana. They are made from recycled green glass bottles and fired in a furnace using a clay mold. Every bead is unique and they are not factory made. The beads have been created this way for centuries and have been used in different rituals. I designed and created the earrings in a way that the facets would catch the light beautifully when worn.

The moon pendant was one of my first designs and one of my most popular! They are made from hand formed porcelain, glazed then fired in the kiln to 1250 degrees C. Then, I handpainted the 22k gold onto every single piece and they were fired again to 800 degrees C, fusing the gold onto the piece. My mum assembled them onto their chains and placed them into their special boxes.


Ireland has a very rich and ancient astronomical history, so many of my designs are celestial inspired.

What's Inside?

Each month we choose a wonderful theme to base our product curation around.

Whether it's Dublin, The Wild Atlantic Way or St Patrick's Day, we strive for every box to have something wonderful to wear, a gift to share, a treat to eat and a treasure to live in your home.

Every month we work with fantastic small Irish businesses; so no matter where you are in the world, you're helping Ireland!

Can you talk us through what your average working day at DANU looks like?

Every day is quite different - which I love! I might spend the whole day making a batch of jewellery or ring dishes, or maybe just glazing, or perhaps painting the gold onto each and every piece and loading the kiln.

One constant for me is music, YouTube videos and podcasts though! I tend to start out doing some admin, and sorting the deliveries for that day, and then the rest of the day crafting. I am definitely not a 9-5 person – and my night owl tendencies are part of the reason that I knew being an art teacher wasn't really for me…

 

Lastly, if you could recommend one place in Ireland for our subscribers to visit – where would it be?

Honestly it would have to be Dublin. The city has one of the most diverse, and consistently high-quality range of food out of anywhere I have ever been, and I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit!

You can get amazing, genuine Sichuan hotpot, Indian food, Vietnamese pho, Arabic coffee, Taiwanese bubble tea, masala chai and anything else that make take your fancy - and it is only growing!

A new Bolivian restaurant opened up recently, right beside a Balkan one and I can’t wait to try it. When it comes to our food, we’re a pretty international bunch here in Dublin, but that’s not to say that the local cusine isn’t incredible as well. Traditional Irish seafood is unreal, and readily available in the centre as well as in any of the coastal towns. You don’t even need to rely on a car to get there, with plenty of scenic trains and buses on offer – meaning you can enjoy a few pints with your platter if you wish!

You can take a 30 minute train along the coast from the city to the village of Dalkey, where Ken the ferryman will bring you across to Dalkey Island - which has been occupied since the Mesolithic age. There are the ruins of a 7th century church, and a pagan stone altar, and wild rabbits, goats, seals and a colony of roseate terns. You can go there to kayak, or spot the seals and seabirds, and of course have a picnic with a few beers or a bottle of wine on a summer's day – as long as you’re sure to clean up after!

Many of the stone age and Viking artefacts found on the island are now in the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare St, which is free to enter like many other museums in Dublin city centre. And, while you’re there, make sure you catch some of the amazing pubs and live music that’s on offer all through the city!

 

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