Re-engaging with nature through sustainable crafting

Matthew James Hodgson speaks with recent College graduate Maggie O’Shea about foraging, skip hunting, and the therapeutic effects of DIY

Recent College graduate Maggie O’Shea began sustainable crafting during the quarantine in 2020, and this led to a deep passion for self-sufficiency and working with natural materials. O’Shea became a part of the blooming artistic community surrounding natural crafting in her home city of Cork.

O’Shea’s novel approach to creativity involves engaging physically with things and appreciating the tactile aspects of natural resources, from flowers to stones. She suggests that people need natural crafts to re-engage with nature, a difficult task in the urban sprawl of Dublin: “I feel there is value in touching flowers and being in nature, which people lack in Dublin. I started to collect materials out of the recycling bin. I have an intense love for constantly recreating,” said O’Shea.

“Through sustainable processes of collection such as foraging and skip hunting, O’Shea began imagining new ways of engaging creatively with the world.”

She described her return to Cork, from Dublin, when the pandemic began, leaving College’s psychology program for one year. During this time, however, O’Shea began working rigorously on identifying nature’s untapped resources for creativity. Through sustainable processes of collection such as foraging and skip hunting, she began imagining new ways of engaging creatively with the world that did not rely on spending too much money. If you know how to pull resources from the world, as she points out, you would never have to spend again.

This quarantine interest led to routine Instagram tutorials called Positive Posts which catalogued her DIY projects. “Once I realised that my art projects didn’t have to be perfect, I turned my attention to engagement with the materials themselves,” she explained. Some of these Instagram videos include tutorials on how to make bird feeders if you live in student accommodation, mushroom art, or leaf printmaking. “I love natural materials,” she said, “And I learned to notice resources; for example, notice how a leaf had certain raised ridges and this could be used for creating a pattern if I put ink on it.”

She quickly connected with a Facebook group that identified good places for skip hunting or dumpster diving for raw craft materials. O’Shea also became associated with the TEST SITE Project, a collaborative, urban research project in Cork that works at the intersection of art, architecture, and ecology, and hosts craft workshops. Another program she became involved with is Cork-based benchspace, which offers open-access factories and industrial-grade tools for professional makers and crafters. These organisations provided O’Shea with opportunities to learn more about natural crafting and to connect with people who share her interests. It was through TEST SITE’s GLOW program that O’Shea offered a wreath-making workshop for the holidays last December.

“Some day in the future, O’Shea hopes to establish a Forest School, blending the areas of nature and her background in psychology.”

O’Shea’s love and appreciation for nature began early on in life. Though she was born in Boston, she grew up in Cork, surrounded by a lot of pottery supplies and wood materials, as well as music. Her recent move to Lisbon, Portugal, was prompted by a need for something new. “In Lisbon, there is this culture of constant tiny, thoughtful, beautiful things: painted tiles that you would never notice, beautiful paintings in a window. Someone put that there on purpose! There are so many people working with crafts: wood, ceramics, etc.” By broadening her perspective and moving away from Ireland, O’Shea hopes to rediscover natural crafting communities in Portugal: “Exposure is everything. Exposure helps us understand ways of being,” she concluded.

Some day in the future, O’Shea hopes to establish a Forest School, blending the areas of nature and her background in psychology. Forest Schools emphasise children’s education with the outdoors and expose them to a learning style that incorporates the natural world. Commenting on this, she notes: “Creativity and psychology go hand-in-hand. What kids need more and more is the ability to play freely in natural environments; it’s healthy for the brain, and you can do a lot of crafting outdoors with kids with low effort.” The goal of incorporating psychology into natural crafting is still in its early stages as O’Shea explores other parts of Europe in search of inspiration and new artistic communities.

All of her experiences blend into her creations from jewellery made from chestnuts to repurposed and painted furniture found in the skip. O’Shea reminds us to always look at the natural world with wonder and appreciation. It is, after all, the origin of our creativity. According to O’Shea, “Crafting is my love. Over time, I trained my eye to identify resources through the nature of crafting. You learn what materials are durable and what you can make out of what.” By engaging with raw materials and reusing objects discovered in nature, we can reconnect with them and marvel at their integrity.