2021 Golden Fleece Award Winners Announced

Winners of the annual Golden Fleece Award have been announced in a brand new sleek virtual video presentation, profiling the winning artists and their work. A record 229 eligible applications were received for the Award this year, with 175 Visual Art entries and 54 Craft + Applied Art submissions. The quality of this year’s applications was outstanding, and they are a real tribute to the professionalism of the creative sector.

Each of the six winning artists will receive Ten Thousand Euro, as the Golden Fleece Trust raised a special €60,000 fund this year – the largest in its history – in response to the challenges faced by the creative sector, in the wake of COVID-19. The individual Awards were presented in two categories: Visual Art and Craft + Applied Art.

The Golden Fleece Award is a really substantial and pivotal award for emerging and established artists and makers in Ireland. It exists to support their work at this vitally important moment in their careers. This independent artistic prize fund makes it their mission to provide resources for Irish artists to innovate and develop their creative vision. 2021 marks twenty years since the establishment of the Award, through the bequest of its founder, Lillias Mitchell.

The Board of Trustees for this coveted art prize is pleased to announce the winning artists and makers for the 2021 Award. To celebrate the Award’s 20th anniversary, and in recognition of the very difficult times being faced by many creative practitioners this past year:

The six winners have been announced online, in a special 20th anniversary online broadcast, including video interviews with the winning artists. Their reasons for applying for the Golden Fleece Award this year are varied; all have been seriously impacted by the pandemic, with exhibitions and other work opportunities cancelled or postponed during 2020. The Award means they can face these challenges and continue making their work in 2021 and beyond.

Angela O’Kelly, the Golden Fleece Award’s Advisory Panel Chair said about the 2021 Award: 

“The Golden Fleece Award Advisory Panel were extremely impressed by the high standard of applications this year. The six winning practitioners demonstrated a wide breath of practice, exploring diverse relationships of art, craft, culture and science with a considered approach to materials and techniques. Each of the exemplary winners displayed very focused visions and plans to advance their work to new levels and we look forward to seeing the results of the Award in the year ahead.”

Barbara Cotter, Chair of the Golden Fleece Award Board of Trustees added:

 “The Trustees of the Golden Fleece Award were, once again, delighted by the ever-increasing number and high standard of applications received for the 2021 Award, both from the visual arts and craft and applied arts worlds. We are delighted to be celebrating the Trust’s twentieth anniversary in 2021 and very grateful to all those who have been involved with the Golden Fleece over the years. The Trustees are particularly thankful to our Advisory Panel, chaired so skilfully and generously by Angela O’Kelly. We offer our heartiest congratulations to the recipients of the Award this year and also to all who were shortlisted.”

 And the 2021 winners are:

[Visual Art] Bassam Al-Sabah’s multimedia works reference feelings of displacement, nostalgia, war, and 1980s Arabic-dubbed Japanese animé. Bassam Al-Sabah lives and works in Belfast and Dublin. He completed a BA in Visual Art Practice at IADT in 2016. His idiosyncratic work combines digital animation, painting, sculpture and textiles, to create multimedia installations that convey intricate visions of war, resistance and perseverance.

Bassam Al-Sabah applied for a Golden Fleece Award to support his practice as he works towards his first solo exhibition in the UK at Gasworks, London, which will then tour to the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhil in 2021. Funding will allow him to develop experimental new works across a variety of media, including rug-making, textiles, 3D printing, glass bead-work, ceramics and CGI filmmaking.


[Visual Art] Maria McKinney makes context-responsive work in a variety of media about agriculture, genomics and cattle breeding. McKinney is an artist based in Dublin. She studied at NWIFHE, Derry, and then graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 2005. She makes work through a range of media including sculpture, installation, photography and video, and combines craft techniques with materials that respond to context.

Maria McKinney applied for a Golden Fleece Award to help sustain her practice in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the knock-on effect this has had on work opportunities. Research in the border landscape of Cavan into the Irish Moiled (“Moilie”), one of Ireland’s four surviving indigenous cattle breeds, and the Drumlin Belt that stretches from Down to Donegal are starting points for new work that funding would help facilitate.


[Craft + Applied Art] Lorna Donlon’s idiosyncratic practice combines tapestry, collage, science and storytelling. Donlon lives and works in Dublin. She has completed studies at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin; Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland; with Archie Brennan in Washington D.C.; Lynne Curran in Tuscany; and most recently received a BSc in Cell and Molecular Biology from UCD in 2020. Prior to this she spent many years teaching at Grennan Mill Craft School in Kilkenny. A tapestry weaver, textile and installation artist, she is interested in the scientific practices of collecting, categorising, labelling and displaying objects.

**Lorna Donlon applied for a Golden Fleece Award to support her practice at a critical point in its development. Previously working on a relatively small scale, she plans to dramatically increase the size of her work by building a large vertical tapestry loom and investing in new materials, as well as time to experiment with them. 


[Craft + Applied Art] Sinéad O’Dwyer is a designer whose work explores female/femme bodies and operates at the intersection of fashion and art. O’Dwyer was born in Dublin and now lives and works in London. She completed a BA in Fashion Design at ArtEZ Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Zwolle, The Netherlands in 2014 and received an MA in Womenswear from the Royal College of Art, London in 2018. Her work investigates the flawed patterns in which female-identifying and femme bodies privately relate to their bodies as visible objects.

Sinéad O’Dwyer applied for a Golden Fleece Award to fund the purchase of three pieces of specialist equipment that would contribute to the development of her practice – a de-gassing chamber and vacuum pump, AlvaForm mannequin, and Bernina industrial sewing machine.


[Visual Art] Laura Fitzgerald makes work that explores the contemporary world with a wry sense of humour. Fitzgerald is a visual artist from a small mountain farm in Kerry. She completed a BA in Fine Art (Painting) at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin in 2007 and an MFA at the Royal College of Art, London in 2013. Her work encompasses drawing, painting, text and video, focusing on the rapid changes she and others are experiencing in the modern world.

Laura Fitzgerald applied for a Golden Fleece Award to help finance the conversion of a disused cow shed on her family’s farm in Inch, Co. Kerry into a new studio. Having recently relocated from Dublin, she wishes to sustain her practice in a rural context while continuing to experiment with process and materials. Creating a home studio will allow her to make ambitious large-scale paintings, drawings and sculptures for upcoming exhibitions.


[Visual Art] Aideen Barry’s multidisciplinary practice attempts to deal with persistent feelings of anxiety and being out of place in the world. Barry lives and works in Tipperary. She has a BA in Fine and a National Diploma in Art & Design from GMIT and completed an MA in Visual Art Practices at IADT in 2007. Her work in video, performance, sculpture, installation, drawing and text attempts to deal with anxiety and the persistent feeling of monachopsis – being out of place in the world.

Aideen Barry applied for a Golden Fleece Award to facilitate the expansion of a recent body of work, The Monachopsis Drawings. Initiated as a response to COVID-19 and informed by artists and writers whose work was inspired by other seismic pandemics, it began as an “a drawing a day” project shared on her social media feeds. She would now like to evolve these drawings into moving image works using customised viewing apparatus, and an Award would allow her to invest in the time needed to develop and realise this project.


The Golden Fleece Award was initially restricted to craft and figurative visual art. In 2018 the criteria were broadened to include artists working across all forms of visual, craft and applied arts.

All applying artists were asked to submit images of recent work, along with a statement outlining how the Award would make a decisive difference to their careers. Past winners have cited needs varying from preparing for future exhibitions to developing their practice, acquiring new studio space and tools or travelling abroad to learn new skills.

The Golden Fleece Award has a distinguished specialist Advisory Panel whose knowledge and experience are invaluable in guiding the development of the Award. These include Angela O’Kelly (Panel Chair, jeweller and Head of Design for Body & Environment, NCAD), Dr Declan Long (art critic and Co-Director of the MA ‘Art in the Contemporary World’, NCAD), Catherine Marshall (art historian, editor and curator), Ann Mulrooney (creative industries leader), and Dr. Audrey Whitty (Head of Collections and Learning, National Museum of Ireland).

The award was established as a charitable bequest by the late Lillias Mitchell (1915-2000). The Golden Fleece Award is governed by a Board of Trustees which includes members of Lillias Mitchell’s family, professional fund managers, consultants and arts professionals who work closely together to fulfill her wishes.

Lillias was born in 1916 and was first taught art, aged 11, by Elizabeth (Lollie) Yeats. A sketchbook of Lillias’ watercolours from this period was recently exhibited in the National Gallery of Ireland. She went on to study painting at the Royal Hibernian Academy School and sculpture at the National College of Art. She later became a weaver and focused on preserving and teaching the traditional skills of spinning, dyeing and weaving. She set up the weaving department in NCAD in 1951.

Lillias came from a comfortable background but was aware of the financial challenges facing most artists. In her Letter of Wishes when setting up the Golden Fleece Award she states:

“I am very conscious of the fact that many artists cannot develop their talents because art does not bring in a steady income for them and yet they need to support themselves financially. My wish is to give artists “a boost” in a time of particular need.”

An important requirement for applicants to the Golden Fleece Award is that, as well as showing high artistic merit, they must be able to demonstrate a specific financial need and show how the Award would assist them to advance their work. It’s a very important annual award with a substantial contribution to art and craft practitioners, especially in these exceptionally difficult times. The 20th Golden Fleece Award will be a huge help to struggling artists more than ever before. 

FURTHER INFO at: goldenfleeceaward.com

FACEBOOK: @GoldenFleeceAward


INSTAGRAM: @goldenfleeceaward




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