Sunday, 8 February 2009

French Traditional Crafts

France has a wonderful system for supporting traditional crafts.

"These craftsmen, second to none, whose talents are often anonymous
and unsung, deserve to be better known, declared the Minister of
Culture and Communication,... For although the heritage is recognised
primarily in the form of historic monuments, she explained, ...our
country also has a great many highly skilled craftsmen and women,
whose expertise is in itself a genuine yet intangible heritage. In
order to raise the status of these «exceptional skills» and to try to
ensure they are passed on, a Traditional Crafts Council was created in
1994. Its purpose is to preserve and develop craft skills both in the
field of conservation and contemporary creative work, selecting high-
flying artisans with a view to awarding them the title of Master
Craftsman. Each of them will then be given a grant in order to
provide a three year training in their workshop for one student with
the ability to acquire these traditional skills and to perpetuate
them, "

This is one model we could use for our traditional crafts association. Declaring people "master craftsmen" or "living national treasures" could bring a lot of attention to the traditional crafts, give the individuals a boost in their business locally and nationally and if it was tied to funding for a "skills training" scheme like the French system could really help keep the best of our living heritage alive for future generations.

Friday, 6 February 2009

more on traditional crafts organisation

Yesterday I went to London. That meant a 7am start, drive through the snow to Chesterfield and train to London.

I was there for an inspiring meeting. A small group of very committed folk were discussing the way forward for traditional crafts. We have been researching all the previous initiatives and all the different organisations that have done work in related areas. Where the Crafts Council concentrates on contemporary and innovative we concentrate on traditional, where English Heritage protect dead buildings we will protect the living heritage skills.

In 2005 the Heritage Lottey Fund set aside £7 million for training in the traditional crafts. This has all gone to building and conservation crafts (eg lime mortar and hedgelaying) simply because organisations like English Heritage and the National Trust have the infrastructure to make the grant applications. Our new organisation will campaign for all the traditional craft skills.

We have draft aims and objectives and agreements about the way forward. Hopefully within a few weeks we will have an official organisation that people can sign up to and show their support. My job over the weekend is to circulate our draft aims and objectives and then to look for funding for a website that can become the public face of the new organisation.

Our draft key aims are.

Recognition This will start with a survey of which traditional crafts survive and discovering which are the emost endangered.

Transmission We need to find new and innovative ways to ensure that skills are passed from one generation to the next.

Safeguarding We will campaign to ensure government understand the issues facing the traditional crafts and work through the individual craft organisations to nurture these fragile cultural traditions.

Celebration We want to shout about this important part of our living heritage.

After our meeting I hopped back on the tube down to Southwark Cathedral one of my favourite places in the city and a little oasis of calm.

I was in for a treat because the organist was rehearsing so I had half an hour sat alone in this glorious building listening to wonderful music. The organ has 3,743 pipes and was built by Lewis & Co. of Ferndale Road, Brixton, south London, and completed in 1897.

I was not just at Southwark for pleasure I had arranged to meet Tim Clements there. He is a cameraman and film maker with an interest in folk music and traditional crafts and wanted to meet to talk through ways in which all these interests could come together. It sounded an interesting project, he is as passionate about the craft of film making as I am about wood crafts. In a very similar way he is determined to make the films he wants to make regardles of whether they have comercial market or not. I will be interested to see how it turns out.

I still had a couple of hours before my train home so headed off to the British Museum. The place never ceases to amaze me, there is such cultural wealth under one roof from around the globe and from many millenia. I always find something new that I have never realy paid attention to before too.
This time I found some turned and laquered Chinese bowls dating to c200bc appologies for the very poor camera phone image. These would have been turned on a similar lathe to the one I make my bowls on today or perhaps a slightly simpler version with an asistant pulling on a strap to spin the work.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

"living heritage" more support for traditional crafts

Things are changing around the world in the way that "heritage" is viewed.

I would like to share a few words from Linda Fabiani, Scottish Minister for Culture from her introduction to the new report "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland, The way Forward"

"Our cultural heritage informs the identity of our nation. It's more than what we can see and touch in museums and galleries-it's also those intangible aspects which make us who and what we are today. The 2003 UNESCO Convention for safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) suggests all nations consider the distinctive character of their heritage as manifested within their respective borders.

To preserve the richness and diversity of Scotland's culture, an inventory is the first step. This report suggests the beginning of such a process in Scotland; it offers a clear way forward for the promotion and protection of our nation's cultural practices and living traditions. It also puts us in the vanguard of such work within Europe.

From Shetland's Up-Helly-Aa festivals in the north to the Common Ridings of the Borders in the south, from weaving of Harris Tweed in the Western Isles to the silver bands of the Lothians' pit villages in the east, Scotland posseses a wealth of living traditions. These traditions are being constantly augmented and adapted by exposure to the cultural practices of new groups who settle here.

Scotland's cultural heritage is an important part of what makes it such a fantastic place to live, work, and do business. Maintaining the intangible cultural heritage will help to keep Scotland in this enviable position."

The report which discusses how they will survey and protect their heritage can be downloaded here;

At present in England we still regard heritage as being buildings and things in museums. When trying to establish what is happening within government in England I was told "from what I can gather, the lack of immediate pressure from the public and the Heritage sector for Government to undertake work in this area means that amidst the competing priorities, the initial work in this area seems to have run out of steam and has been put on hold for the moment"

I am happy for the government to ratify the UNESCO Convention or to follow Scotlands example but I would like to see some action. Several of the crafts that I care passionatley about will be gone in 5 years if nothing is done now. Many of us have now written to our MPs asking what the governments position on Intangible Cultural Heritage and particularly traditional crafts is.

I look forward to hearing Andrew Burnham secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport following Linbda Fabiani's lead.