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Bodies of Knowledge

A single, empty picture frame with the inscription ‘Annie Massy outside her house in Howth’, is the only visual image of a world class conchologist that I could find. As an artist, this empty frame haunts me, the physicality of a face and the loss of any image of Annie seems like a small tragedy.  As an object this empty frame is testament to her disappearance from the historical record.

This project will involved in-depth research into the life of, and collection related to Annie Massey. Through art the gaps in knowledge can be filled, overlooked or imagined in a way that is not available in traditional biography.

This project was supported by the Agility Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. The exhibition of this work in Interlaken was supported by Kultur Stadt Bern, BLICKE funding.

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Research took place at the National History Museum of Ireland, in locations where Annie lived and worked, in the National History Museum London, the Botanic Gardens Dublin and through online investigations. The archive at the National History Museum of Ireland was the location where I viewed the specimens collected and studied by Annie. These literal bodies form a collection which is now one of the few traces of this woman’s life. 

Images: Al Higgins, 2022 



The pieces created from this research use a combination of casting and glassblowing. The snails inside each piece were cast in wax and a mould made. They were cast in glass, and finally cold finished ready to be picked up in the hotworkshop. For the rock pool section of the pieces a sand mould was made and molten hot glass was blown into this form. The cast snail were then added hot. Finally the pieces were cut on the diamond saw, ground flat and gilding added to represent the water.


Process and materials are an important part of my practice. The time spent making and interacting with my pieces imbues them with the skills of the maker/s. Much in the way Annie needed to hone her skills in observation, so too does the craftsperson.

These pieces were made at Niesenglass, CH.



The first exhibition of these works was kindly supported by Kultur Stadt Bern, BLICKE funding. As process, materials and the skills of making are important elements of my work this exhibition of works happened in the location where the work was produced – Niesenglass, Unterseen, Switzerland. 

This was accompanied by an artist talk between myself and curator Emer Lynch. 
During the exhibition there was also an opportunity to see the process of glass blowing, this was kindly provided by Niesenglass using their small mobile furnace. The combination of the exhibition of glass sculptures, photography and live glass blowing was very successful. This was a rare opportunity to show the audience final artworks alongside the reality of the studio environment. Bringing together the making and the output in a way that alters the reception of the works.

Image: AEB Photography

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