Just a year on I feel so much more positive about the future of traditional craft skills. We still have a way to go but the foundations have been laid for 2010 to be the year when traditional crafts become recognised as an important part of our cultural heritage.
The year has started well. Mark Jones director of the V&A is the first patron of the Heritage Crafts Association and was made a knight in the the new years honours list. We shall be holding a press launch of the HCA at the V&A in March to highlight the issues facing traditional crafts in the UK and the fact that they fall outside the remit of all support agencies and government departments.
Two other Patrons have joined us, Alex Langlands who folk may have seen presenting the BBC Victorian Farm series and Roy Brigden keeper of the Museum of English Rural Life.
Alex is currently filming a follow up series and has already been rick building, tanning, barrel making, lobster pot making, hedging and forging a devon style bill hook. 2010 will also see the launch of Monty Don's new Mastercrafts tv program. If these prove successful we could see crafts becoming as popular on tv as celebrity chefs which would be a huge boost to the field. The HCA has been working hard to get the message out that whilst crafts are important in many ways perhaps the least recognised is the fact that they are a part of our cultural heritage. Smith is after all our most common surname.
I want to share a vision for the future of crafts now by looking at a story of two baskets. I have posted before about my good friend Owen Jones the last swill basket maker here.
Owen makes swills which are a traditional Cumbrian basket made from split oak. They were made from oak from the local coppice woodlands and used for everything from picking potatoes to holding bobbins in the local bobbin mills and by the local charcoal burners too. Beatrix Potter was clearly a fan of the design and the often apear in her lovely watercolours as in the tale of Benjamin Bunny.
I would argue that this basket is as much part of the cultural heritage of the lake district as dry stone walls, Wordsworth and Herdwick sheep yet it is not recognised as such. Owen has not received any support for his work nor is there money available for him to take on an apprentice.
A few years ago whilst traveling in Sweden I visited an ethnographic museum and found a young man making baskets in a similar way out of split pine.
I had seen similar old baskets in the museums and was told that like the swill this was a particular specialty of the region of Darlana. I assumed the young man like Owen must be quite unusual in having the skill to make these baskets and was astonished to find that most children learn to make one of the baskets whilst at school. It is a simple little basket designed for picking the local lingon berries and there is a folk story about how the design originated.
My vision for the future of crafts in the UK would have children in Cumbria given the opportunity to experience swill making, children in Sheffield given the opportunity to make cutlery to use at home, children in Stoke would make a pot to eat their breakfast from and all the elderly craftpeople who are the caretakers of the skills and knowledge associated with these crafts and passed down through the generations would be encouraged to pass it on and money made available to help them do so.
I know fellow traditional craftspeople may feel this is so far from the current situation as to be wishful thinking but we do protect and preserve our old buildings and museum collections. These skills are every bit as much a part of our heritage and I believe that by the end of 2010 if we work hard we can get them recognised as such.