Monday, 24 October 2011

new TV "Ade in Britain"

Following the BBCs "made in Britain" we can now look forward to TV funnyman Ade Edmonson traveling the country discovering regional traditions, crafts and cooking in "Ade in Britain"

"Ade Edmonson takes a culinary road trip around Britain revealing the eccentricities and character of each region through their most celebrated dishes. Indulging in his love for both cookery and British culture, Ade takes to his iconic Land Rover to meet the producers and farmers behind many famous local delicacies. He also takes part in regional traditions and customs from Morris dancing to cheese rolling along the way. Each of Ade’s funny and insightful journeys culminates in a scrumptious feast whipped up on his trusty mobile kitchen to celebrate each area’s unique food heritage. "

Press pack is embargoed until 1st Nov but if you google there is plenty of info out there already.

Ade seems to be going for something of a culinary Fred Dibnah look, he was in Bakewell to check out Bakewell puddings.

And Just down the road from me at Eyam school to see well dressing.
The main focus of the show looks to be food traditions, from Melton Mobray pies to Yorkshire puds but we also know he tried his hand at thatching and clogmaking and eel catching .
Cool mini and foodie trailer 

Watch the trailer here

It was nice to see the cockle pickers using Hill and Sons riddles although I also saw a craft I have a real problem with Welsh love spoons (lots of tacky trash sold on the back of made up Victorian tradition whilst the wonderful tradition of cawl spoons is overlooked)

Great to see more British traditions on the TV though for me Ade will always be Vivyan.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Grayson Perry Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

As the only person working in a craft medium to be taken seriously by the art world and having won the Turner Prize Grayson Perry is often outspoken, entertaining and thought provoking. He famously said the Art world found it easier to accept the fact that he was a transvestite than that he made pots. He wrote a well argued piece in 2005 describing the contemporary craft scene as "a refuge for artists who play it safe"
He does have a lot of respect though for well made traditional craftwork and so I was quite excited when I heard that he would be having a show at the British Museum titled "the tomb of the unknown craftsman" This surely I thought references Soetsu Yanagi's great book "The unknown Craftsman" and given that the British Museum itself is a temple to the best unknown craftsmen of ages past from around the world I was expecting an homage to those craftspeople, perhaps something that brought the objects to life again.
On my way into the museum I paused in room 24 which is themed "living and dying" it's a room I have spent time in before and has magnificent artifacts varying from Inuit hunting implements and clothing to one of the wonderful Easter Island sculptures. Here are just a few of the wonderful items on display. A Maori food bowl, the carving on the underside particularly special. 

An axe from the Solomon Islands early 20th C. Clearly an English Kent pattern head I have re-handled many of these but always in rather more utilitarian fashion.

 Solomon islands food bowl.

 Haida carving.

and moving into the great court a magnificent Haida house frontal pole  

the Haida people and all North West Coast carvers are truly one of the great woodworking cultures of the world, the design and craftsmanship are just wonderful, look at the toolmarks here, no sandpaper, a thousand precise cuts with sharp tools.

 So back to Grayson at the entrance to the exhibition is his glorious AM1 motorcycle.

 Inside we were not allowed to take photos. Did I find my unknown craftspeople brought to life? Well sadly no. I did find a good retrospective of Grayson's work and dotted alongside it were pieces of work from the museums collection which felt like they were there to give understanding, comparison and credibility to Grayson's pieces, I didn't really get any feeling that Grayson's works were in any way helping me to better understand the museum pieces. The museum pieces had very minimal interpretation, so for instance of my favourite pieces was labled

"Bonnet, Samoa, early 1800's Turtle shell and cotton"

I learned nothing of the context the object came from, the people who made it, when such an incredible thing was worn etc. maybe that is the job of a museum not an art exhibition. Amongst Grayson's work it was interesting to see a wide range of his big pots but I was most taken by his cast iron sculptures and two in particular from 2007 titled our father and our mother, strange pilgrim figures with their worldly goods on their backs. The tomb itself was also a large cast iron sculpture of a ship adorned with casts of objects from the BM collections, some how it didn't grab me, I went back out for another look at the Haida pole.

Maybe what I like best about Grayson is actually his writing, I enjoy the blog allegedly written by his teddy bear/god figure Alan Measles often ireverant and thought provoking. This is what he had to say at the end of the exhibition on Craftsmanship.

"Craftsmanship is often equated with precision but I think there is more to it. I feel it is more important to have a long and sympathetic hands-on relationship with materials. A relaxed, humble, ever-curious love of stuff is central to my idea of being an artist. An important quality of great art of the past was the pure skill in the artists use of materials. In celebrating craftsmanship I also salute artists, well most of them."

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Two Heritage Crafts Marsh Awards will be presented at the V&A next March. The first award recognises someone who has worked to pass craft skills on to the next generation. The second award is to recognise a volunteer who has done a lot to promote their craft through one of our many craft associations. Please apply or recommend someone here
We initiated these awards to help raise the profile of the valuable work that many folk are already doing within the traditional crafts, we hope you will help us do that by letting us know about suitable worthy people. As well as the kudos of the award you get a cheque for £500.
Alex Langlands from BBCs Victorian Farm will be helping us pick the winners.
Only a couple of weeks left to get applications in.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

UK Parliamentary Group recomend my work

The all Part Parliamentary Manufacturing Group is an initiative of Vince Cable to highlight the great manufacturing that still goes on in the UK. Each MP is asked to recommend local manufacturers that we can be proud of.
I am delighted that my MP Andrew Bingham has recommended not only myself but fellow craft business Hill and Sons riddle and sieve-makers. Here we are on the official website

I get a picture of a bowl and spoon and bit of blurb
"Robin Wood turns wooden bowls on a foot powered lathe. The craft is 2000 years old and died out in 1958. Mr. Wood revived it and then taught the skill to people in the UK, USA, Sweden and Japan. He has supplied the Globe Theatre, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London with his product. He also supplied props for the Ridley Scott film Robin Hood as well as exporting all over the world."

It would be nice to say it's great to be recognised for the work I do but the truth is it is shameless self promotion. When I heard about the scheme we tried to encourage other craftspeople through the HCA to recommend their MP put forward traditional craft businesses. I visited my MP at one of his regular surgeries and suggested he put forward a local craft and gave him some names including myself and Hill and Sons, he put us both forward. Over half the MPs have not made a recomendation yet so there is still time to suggest to your MP that they could put forward a traditional craft business. Stick your postcode in here to see is your MP has done it yet and if s/he has not wizz them an email.

WorldSkills London 2011

This year, for the first time, the Heritage Crafts Association was at WorldSkills.  For those of you who (like me until a couple of weeks ago) have never heard of World Skills, here’s a quick introduction. 

WorldSkills is a global skills competition for young people held every two years. This year, the 41st WorldSkills, was hosted by the UK at the ExCel Centre in London. Young people, usually 22 or under, from across the globe who have proven their skills at local/regional level to be selected for their national team compete to become the best. This year there were over 1000 competitors from 55 countries/regions competing in 46 vocational skills. Categories include health, agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, construction, IT and communications, arts, publishing etc. ( The event is aimed at young people, with careers advice and have-a-go activities to get secondary school students to consider skills-based careers.

The Heritage Lottery Fund had a big stand which they shared with like-minded organisations, including the Heritage Crafts Association. Our banners were up for the whole event but I was only there for a day. Alongside the HLF and the HCA there was the National Trust, the Heritage Skills Initiative and the National Heritage Training Group. There were also some great demonstrations and hands-on activities.

I was next to Matt Williams, the MasterThatcher from BBC’s MasterCrafts, who was thatching a roof and giving anyone who wanted a go the chance to bend some spars and fix the thatch in place. Unfortunately for the obvious health and safety reasons, nobody was allowed to have a go with the big billhook he was using! One of the amazing things was the number of people who asked what he was doing and didn’t know what thatch was – surprising if you’ve grown up in the countryside, but perhaps not so surprising if you’ve grown up in inner city London.

On my other side were some trainees from the National Trust’s Passport to your Future' Training Programme ( in conservation and collections. Their stand had lots of interesting information, but everyone went straight for the jars of bugs (towards the left of the photo) – examples of the pests that conservators are constantly battling against.

Another hands-on activity was the chance to help put up a timber-framed building – and then take it down again.

And further down the stand was a chance to have a go at pole-lathe turning. I was feeling pretty cold after a few hours at the stand, and was assured that a few minutes on the pole-lathe would have me warmed up so I had a go. It requires a lot of rhythm and control to pump the pedal and move the chisel evenly – I think it will take me quite a while to reach Robin’s standard! But I definitely felt a bit toastier afterwards.

We had a visit from John Hayes, the Skills Minister, and Jenny Abramsky from the Heritage Lottery Fund and even Tommy Walsh from Ground Force.

I’m not sure how many people I managed to convince to consider a career in heritage crafts, but hopefully the whole event got thousands of teenagers excited about skills and maybe, just maybe, they’ll become our future craft apprentices.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

research company wanted for Heritage Craft Research

We are delighted to announce that after several years advocacy work Government through the BIS office of John Hayes have agreed funding for a major piece of research into the state of heritage craft skills.

The tender document with all details of the proposed research "Mapping the occupations, skills and economic contribution of the heritage craft sector" is available for download as a PDF here or from the CCSkils website The timeframe is tight with deadline for tender applications just 3 weeks away 17th October.

This will be the first time serious research has been undertaken mapping the whole of the heritage craft sector and it should give us very good information on the current state, which crafts are healthy, which are endangered and which have potential for growth. Once we have that data then we can set about addressing the issues raised.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Stott Park Bobbin Mill

This is one of my favourite Heritage sites. Located in the South Cumbria it is the last bobbin mill surviving with all it's original machinery. I have visited several times and taken the tour, watching the turning machines peeling rough coppice roundwood down to round bobbins in second is a bit like watching a toilet roll unwinding at speed, just fantastic. This is a 20 minute film showing the whole tour you get when you visit and remarkably well shot for hand held camcorder. If you only have a couple of minutes drag the time slider along to 12.15 to skip the intros and get straight to the action. Look out for the swill baskets used for carting bobbins and blanks about.

Tour of a Victorian Bobbin Mill, Stott Park, Cumbria from Richard Elen on Vimeo.

The scale of the industry was huge, there were 64 bobbin mills in the area and each was managing hundreds of acres of coppice woodland churning out cotton bobbins for the Lancashire cotton mills.

And just a bit of nostalgia for those who made cotton reel tanks as kids here is a short film showing you how to make one.