Thursday, 4 February 2010

Mastercrafts with Monty Don

Over the last week I have been looking over prooofs of the book that accompanies the Mastercrafts series.

I guess the first thing folk will want to know is "is it worth buying" and I would say if you can pre-order it at £14 it looks like a bargain. It's a lovely looking coffee table book with nice photographs and well designed and presented. Each of the 6 crafts covered starts with a section about the craft then has a biography of the mastercraftsperson followed by another section on the "tradition" of the craft. There is plenty of background information though I think it would have benefited from a bit more time in the production process, no doubt it was a rush to hit the deadline. I found the "craft" and "tradition" sections rather difficult to pin down and not clearly defined or structured, they pull references from traditions all over the world and throughout the ages where I think a tighter focus may have been more productive. The strongest sections I thought were the portraits of the craftspeople and the montages of photos of the apprentices.

For folk that are interested there is quite an active facebook group run by the publishers D&C and they are clearly committed to future publications in this area.

It's just over a year since the Heritage Crafts Association were approached by Richochet TV who were developing the program which first airs Friday 12th 9pm BBC2

Will it be good for the crafts? or is it just one more production to satisfy our seeming insatiable desire for reality tv programs?

When I first heard that they were going to put apprentices with top crafts people and film the learning process it sounded fantastic. If you film a skilled craftsperson at work you do not see the tacit skills involved, generally complex actions which took years to learn are so internalised that they happen without being noticed. Having a semi skilled learner alongside teases out these skills so we can see what is involved. It is a technique used by my wife Nicola in her PhD research into the transfer of tacit craft knowledge.

I imagined that the apprentices would be there for at least a year with filming over time maybe a little like the Victorian farm program and that we would see the skills gradually develop. Actually three apprentices worked with each craftsperson for just 6 weeks and at the end there is some sort of judgment as to who did best. At first I thought this was very sad, almost as if the producers did not believe that the material would be of sufficient interest without introducing the circus that is standard fodder of reality tv programs. Maybe it will be handled more sympathetically. My views have changed now though, this sort of tv show is the medium of our time and people of all ages will watch this and be inspired.

I remember as a child watching and being inspired by "The Good Life" which was all about entertainment not message. I wonder if dedicated campaigners for a self sufficient lifestyle at the time complained that it dumbed the message down to put it in a sit com. That was the medium of its time and I thought it was a good one. Anyway back to Mastercrafts I shall be watching on Friday as Guy Mallinson takes on 3 apprentices and they get to grips with the basics of green woodwork. I expect everyone who runs green wood courses to get a lot of hits on their websites next week, mine are all pretty well full for this year already but I have no doubt it will generate new interest and take what has been a rather alternative activity more mainstream.

So what do folk think? Is it going to be great for crafts or is it sad that they had to do the reality tv show format?

1 comment:

  1. Great photos and a great write-up, Robin, and very thought provoking

    Ricochet, the producers of the series, want to make a difference, and their values are in the same place as Monty Don's, yours or mine. I agree, we should reserve judgement until we see the positive effects of the shows in being able to inspire and inform new recruits to the rural craft scene, which will dwindle without promotion.

    As for the book, it really is a classy piece of publishing from a small Devon publisher committed to the values of craft and minority expression. If this project can boost the livelihoods of a few committed craft mentors, then the niche publishers investing in projects like this to inspire and inform audiences beyond the shows will have achieved something.

    A publisher’s role is to determine an audience – there are books for specialists and more wide-ranging books. Our goal for this book has been to connect with the widest range of people with a potential interest in rural crafts (the likely BBC2 audience), to inspire and inform them, thus bringing more attention to a very important subject that sustains our heritage.

    So, it seems as if we are in agreement about the benefits that the spotlight media attention of this sort provides for the rural crafts community in Britain.

    Very best wishes

    Stephen Bateman, Publisher and MD, David & Charles