Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Craft Zeitgeist

What is the current zeitgeist or "spirit of the times"?

Every country in the world seems to be in debt and times are hard. But there is some real positivity here too. Whilst the money was flowing everyone wanted new fashionable things, new furniture, white goods, kettle, giant fridge, giant tv, a new kitchen and oh yes granite worksurfaces are fashionable this year. Much of this stuff ended in landfill, when we buy a kettle we expect it to go to landfill within 10 years if not 3, stuff does not last but then how old fashioned a 10 year old kettle looks anyway.

There seems to be a reassessment going on at the moment, people are thinking about purchases and looking for things that will last longer and not date so fast. Some would say traditional craft is not up to date, I would say it has timeless quality, my wooden plates are the same design I made 15 years ago and the same design was popular in every century going back to Tudor times. They came not from some sweatshop in the third world but grew as a tree within 20 miles of my workshop, one day they will decompose back into the earth or perhaps become fuel for a fire, either way not landfill. In the meantime they give pleasure to the folk that use them and I think there is meaning in knowing where they came from and how they were made.

I spent Yesterday in London with HCA vice chair Patricia Lovett and had 4 of the most positive meetings imaginable all about craft.

We started at the House of Lords, a meeting convened for HCA by Lord Cormack with representatives from a range of government agencies, Heritage Lottery Fund, the V&A and others interested in the field of craft. Top outcome from that meeting was a commitment by CCSkills to develop creative apprenticeships for craft and also to help HCA create a framework for a group of 20 apprentices across the country in different traditional crafts as a pilot. We still need to secure funding but those present in the room were confident that it could be done.

Next meeting was a working group of the Prince of Wales charities connected with craft which was brought together by Skills Minister John Hayes to advise on Government Policy. It was a tremendously positive meeting with the BIS officials proposing some really useful actions that will make a significant difference to the craft sector. It will be some time before these can be shared publicly but we believe it will make a real difference.

Next meeting was with Loyd Grossman who is chair of Heritage Alliance, an umbrella body for a wide range of heritage organisations. Thus far most of their members have been from the built and industrial&transport heritage sectors. We are keen to see them expand their coverage to support and promote intangible heritage or crafts, folk music and dance, customs and traditions etc. Loyd was totally in agreement and feels these areas are every bit as much a part of British Heritage as the built environment.

Last meeting was with our friend Mark Henderson of Savile Row Bespoke to discuss how we market craft as high value desirable products in the 21st century. Again lots of really positive thoughts.

We finished the day feeling the time for the crafts has come, we are on the brink of seeing the sort of resurgence that has happened over the last 20 years in the local specialty and organic food sector. Another freind from the Prince's meeting Ewan Clayton mailed afterwards to say he was reminded of the Shakespeare quote 'there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune'.
The mood of the times is for local handmade quality produce with meaning and a direct link to the maker, a rediscovery of the joy of making and thoughtful living. Craft zeitgeist.


  1. Very glad to be reading this sort of positive news, well done Robin!

  2. I was inspired by Robin's Bowls nearly 20 years ago seeing him at events and in his workshop and we have several in regular use. Since then my aim has been to make something similar on the pole lathe. This year I have at last made 3 - not of Robin's quality but - hey its a start. Its great at last to see some recognition for these timeless skills and may you gain more success and funds to train others to keep them alive.