The first year the potato blight ravaged through the Irish crop, sparking the start of the famine, is commemorated in "1845: Memento Mori" 

A new blown-glass exhibit opens in Seattle on Oct 18, 2019, commemorating the tragedy of the Great Hunger with 1,845 glass potatoes.

The year, 1845 was the first year that blight destroyed the Irish potato crop, sparking the start of almost a decade of hunger for the country and causing the death of one million people and the emigration of a million more. 

The exhibit, entitled "1845: Memento Mori," is the creation of Seattle-based artist Paula Stokes, a native of Co Meath, and is going on display at the METHOD Gallery in Seattle's Pioneer Square.

"1845: Memento Mori" is dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine and consists of 1,845 hand-blown glass potatoes piled in the form of a cairn. A cairn is a pile of stones that in this case suggests a burial monument to the more than one million people who died from starvation and related diseases in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. 

Stokes told the Peninsula Daily News, ahead of her Port Townsend exhibition earlier this year, "As Alexander Betts stated in a recent article in The Guardian about human migration, ‘Whether they are fleeing armed conflict or economic deprivation — or both — people will continue trying to cross borders in search of a decent life, and the global community needs to address this.’

“I have created an installation made of 1845 handblown glass potatoes that are piled into the form of a cairn. A cairn is a pile of stones that serves as a land marker, but in this case, it suggests a burial monument, and instead of stones, I am piling potatoes.

Read more: How to honor Irish Famine Commemoration Day in the US

Image: Paula Stokes.

Image: Paula Stokes.

“The number of the glass potatoes, 1845, also 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 [or] Canada but mostly to America.

“Despite my full integration into a new world, I have never managed to shake the intense longing of living so far away from 'home,'" added Stokes, who moved to Seattle in 1993. 

“In creating this work, I honor my Irish heritage and culture, and all immigrants who have come before me.

“I also want to throw light on historical events that have shaped the present and open a dialogue on how we can learn from the past. I hope to create a bridge between the old and new, the past and the present. And in doing so I hope to elicit compassionate reflection that transcends the polarizing politics of our current time.”

"1845: Memento Mori" will be exhibited at METHOD Gallery in Seattle from Oct. 18 to Nov. 30, traveling to several locations in Ireland in 2020. 

You can find more information on Paula Stokes work here. 

Read more: How monks first brought whiskey to Ireland

* Originally published in July 2019.