Over 16 years ago, Jean O’Reilly Barlow had a creative vision that made her leave behind her company, Irish Interiors. After years of traveling back and forth to Italy, she began collecting the remains of 17th and 18th century fragments with a vision of starting something new. Jean was captivated by the beauty of the ecclesiastical artifacts. Having already an extensive mineral collection, she imagined a fusion between the two. These mineralized relics turned into the works of art that she is known for today. Her art label and design company, Interi, was born.
Interi’s prominence in the art and design world stemmed from the decorated fragments. Once works of art that adorned churches throughout Italy, these antiquities have been taken away from their original context and changed in their significance.
Many of these artifacts are pieces that decorated the walls of churches or were mounted on altar bases like Italian candlesticks, crucifixes, and finials. Italian wood sunrays, for example, are decorative motifs part of the halos surrounding figures in religious Italian art. These have been preserved and recreated into sculptural works of historical significance and organic excellence.
Pictured: Jean posing in front of an altar stand in Chiesa di San Lorenzo della Costa.
18th century decorated sunray that once served as a ray of light around a religious saint or altar piece.
Usually, a fragment has gone past restoration but, because of its age and intricate carvings, it is still a work of art. Jean became interested in the fragments when she saw more than the discarded artifact, but a piece that could be made beautiful again. She combines each piece with rare minerals, gems, agatized coral, baroque pearls, and shells.The matrimony of the mineral and artifact creates a piece that appears to have evolved together over time. Each detail looks as though it had organically grown from the piece — perfecting the art of illusion and evoking man-made evolution.
Pictured: 18th century Italian fragment combined with aquamarine, coral, and gold leaf shells.
Fragments collected on the walls of a workshop.
The artifacts that make up the pieces are growing rarer and are harder to come by. Italian fragments have become scarce in the last 10 years due to the demand from the design world. When there isn’t a worldwide pandemic, Barlow usually travels throughout Italy, visiting 16th-19th century churches. She also visits antiquity sources with whom she has shared close relationships with over many years. This is how she has built up her collection of fragments.
Pictured: Jean posing in a 17th century church in Rapallo.
In their rare and original beauty, Barlow works to preserve of the ecclesiastical artifacts, as the pieces carry historical prominence and spiritual significance. Each one is given new life while being transformed into a contemporary work of art. Now, these museum-worthy relics can serve two purposes: to grace the modern home — the home being the highest gallery and to prove that there is more beauty behind the broken.