Wednesday, 31 March 2010

is hard work bad or good?

It seems to me that as a society we are very confused about how we regard our physicality. In the past we had the Protestant work ethic which made hard work a moral and spiritual duty whether you liked it or not. William Morris in his Utopian novel News from Nowhere argued that there should be pleasure in hard work, his townsfolk take joy in heading out to the countryside to join in the physical graft of hay making. His fellow socialists suggested that whilst hard work may not always be pleasurable it should be done with pride for the good of the community.

It seems industrialisation has led to the increasing feeling that work is bad and hard hand labour is something to be minimised. Intellectual labour is more highly regarded and rewarded. There are other views though. I like this little traditional story so much I included it in my book about wooden bowl turning.

The Industrialist and the fisherman

A rich industrialist was horrified to find a fisherman lying comfortably beside his smoking his pipe.

“Why aren’t you out fishing?” asked the industrialist.
“I’ve caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman.
”Why don’t you catch some more?”
”What would I do with them?”
”Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters to catch more fish. That would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats, even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me!”
“What would I do then?” The fisherman asked.
”Then you could sit back and enjoy life!”

”What do you think I’m doing right now?”

All this thought about hard work came about whilst breaking rocks for a new path today. A passer by told me it looked like slave labour, I told him I was getting paid and enjoying it but I don't think he was convinced.
Folk regularly stop and watch me turning bowls on my foot powered lathe. "That looks hard work" they say and it is always said in the tone of voice that implies that hard work is undesirable. Yet I enjoy the physicality of my work and presumably these folk enjoy a physical challenge too since the path past my workshop leads steeply up hill and over Kinder Scout. But here is the difference. Physical graft it seems is a good think during our leisure hours and a bad thing in our work hours. How many people these days pay hefty gym fees and sweat for hours a week on machines but still think physical work is in some way degrading?

Dr Howard Garner's theory of multiple intelligences has gained wide acceptance for the idea that the view of intelligence based on IQ tests  was far too narrow, that in fact we have many ways of being intelligent. 

bulletLinguistic intelligence ("word smart"):
bulletLogical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
bulletSpatial intelligence ("picture smart")
bulletBodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
bulletMusical intelligence ("music smart")
bulletInterpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
bulletIntrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
bulletNaturalist intelligence ("nature smart")      

The Education world has taken this up in a big way but primarily as a narrowly focused teaching tool ie, this child is a kinesthetic learner so we must teach in a way that recognises that. What I would like to see is a more widespread recognition that there is no hierarchy and that being linguistically or numerically bright is not more intelligent than being musically or kinesthetically adept although it may mean you will earn more money.

In my own life I like to try to achieve a balance of physical and mental work. I get frustrated when I see one man walk along a road spraying circles around pot holes and another coming along and filling them. I feel the pot hole filler may benefit from being given the trust and training to make value judgments and the spray can man may benefit from a bit of graft. The work of a self employed craftsperson is one of those sadly rare jobs that allow use of mind body and soul, it's more about making a life than making a living.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

traditional crafts on BBC news

Nice article on the BBC news website today.

Mr Wood gave up his job as a National Trust forester in 1995 to become a professional woodworker, making traditional bowls and plates from local timber using a foot-powered lathe.

The last professional pole lathe bowl turner before him, George Lailey, died in 1958 without passing on his trade.
Mr Wood went out and researched the techniques of, what was then, a dead craft skill. He even had to learn how to make the tools he needed as none existed outside of a museum.
He calls himself a "self-directed learner" and says it is how many professional people in the crafts sector learn their trade.
Mr Wood does not want to see his craft die again, but as he operates as a sole trader there are not many incentives for him to take on an apprentice.
"In the first year the trainee would be a serious liability to my business. In the second year they would start to hold their own, but it's not until the third year that they would be useful to me. But then they'll probably leave to set up on their own," he says.
On the job training
The problem of finding new people to take on traditional crafts is not limited to the countryside.
There are three skilled workers at Ernest Wright & Son, a scissor making firm in Sheffield, all of whom are in their mid 60s.
Scissors being made at Ernest Wright & Son
There are only two companies left in the UK that make scissors by hand
They have told Nick Wright, who is the fifth generation of Wright to manage the company, that they can work for him for another five years but then they will retire.
Mr Wright cannot afford to take on trainees and keep paying his staff. He fears the company will fold if he cannot find replacements.
No apprentice schemes exist for scissor making. Mr Wright says the National Apprenticeship Service suggested he offer an engineering apprenticeship, but he thinks that would be unfair as that is not what the job entails.
Ernest Wright & Son is thought to be one of only two companies in the UK that make handmade scissors.
"It's a trade you learn on the job with the experts. And the three men working at Ernest Wright & Son are the experts," says Mr Wright.
The longer you can spend with a craftsman the better you will become yourself
Alastair Simms, master cooper, Wadworth
Mr Wright thinks people should be offered the opportunity to pay to learn a skilled trade.
"In the past, people used to pay a company to be taken on as an apprentice. People pay to go to university so why not to do an apprenticeship?" he says.
"And it would mean they would be committed to the career so won't leave after five years having been trained up, leaving me with the same predicament."
Race against time
The problem of finding new people to take on traditional crafts is not limited to small firms either.
Alastair Simms, 47, makes wooden beer barrels for Wadworth & Co brewery in Devizes, Wiltshire.
Alastair Simms making a barrel
Alastair Simms is England's only master cooper
He started as an apprentice on his 16th birthday. He is England's only master cooper.
It took Mr Simms 15 years to earn the title of "master" which in England means he has successfully trained an apprentice.
Mr Simms wants to pass on his skills but time could be running out.
"I'm 47 now so it's the right time to take on an apprentice. It takes four and a half years to train an apprentice but they will need a total of 10 years working with me to learn the trade properly," he says.
"The longer you can spend with a craftsman the better you will become yourself."
A coopering apprenticeship does not exist and the company has been told to offer a joinery one instead.
Craft skills
"There clearly seems to be a problem," says Felicity Woolf, director of UK operations with Creative and Cultural Skills, the sector skills council that looks after crafts.
Robin Wood's handcrafted wooden bowls
Robin Wood makes bowls on a foot-powered lathe
"If companies and individuals were able to apply for a more generic "craft apprenticeship", and then work out what specific areas of training are needed for their specific craft, then that would be more flexible."
Creative and Cultural Skills is also launching an apprenticeship training service in April that promises to help small businesses in the sector cut through the bureaucracy of taking on a trainee.
"Less than 10% of people working came through an apprenticeship route. The vast majority are self-taught and most come into the sector aged between 25 and 30," says Robin Wood, who is also the chairman of the recently launched Heritage Crafts Association.
It works with agencies in the education and learning sectors to identify and support ways to making sure skills are passed through the generations.
A recent survey carried out by the HCA points out the training concerns of people working within the many industries that make up the sector.
Training provision for those who want to make a living through crafts or improve their skills seems to vary widely across the board.
For example, there are short courses and workshops for basketmakers, but little in the way of formal or structured learning, whereas City & Guilds and NVQ level qualifications are available for stoneworkers.
And those working in pottery and ceramics said degree courses in Scotland had already disappeared and that the rest of the UK was heading in the same direction.
Dying trades?
The survey also suggests that 54% of people working in the sector feel the skills within their craft are in danger of dying out.
The HCA feels that the crisis faced by many traditional craftspeople is largely due to the fact that their crafts fall outside the remit of the current support agencies.
In England, for example, the Crafts Council supports contemporary crafts, whilst English Heritage's remit is to protect the nation's buildings and monuments, not knowledge and skills, Mr Wood argues.
The lathe belonging to Mr Wood's predecessor, George Lailey, takes pride of place in the University of Reading's Museum of English Rural Life.
"Whilst the last guy is working the skill isn't classed as heritage, but when he dies it becomes heritage. Surely it's far, far, cheaper to keep the skill alive rather than trying to set up a facsimile of it in a museum."

Sunday, 28 March 2010

craft, heritage craft, traditional craft, history and definitions.

So what is craft?

Most folk who work in the field have a pretty clear idea what they think craft is. I want to explore a little the history of the word, what it means and the way the things that come under this banner have changed remarkably over time. I also want to address the misconception that "Heritage Craft" must mean something backward looking, like a museum display of a dead craftsman's workshop, nothing could be further from the truth.

My main source will be a book which I highly recommend The Culture of Craft a collection of essays edited by Peter Dormer, and one essay in particular by Paul Greenhalgh on the history of craft.

Greenhalgh suggests that the current meaning of the word craft includes a quite arbitrary grouping of practices which first came together in the last quarter of the 19th century. Craft is in many ways disenfranchised art, that is it is the bits that were left out in the cold in the 18th Century when the "Fine Arts" were elevated to higher status but there are other layers too.

Greenhalgh analyses the history of the word by looking at three publications, all called "The Craftsman" published first in 1729, 1901 and 1981. Through these publications we see the name change its meaning, the 1729 publication which has no connection with making at all, and the word craft is related to modern "crafty" as in shrewd, business acumen. The 1901 publication was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement with the first two issues being devoted to Morris and Ruskin. At this time however the word craft had much wider meaning than it does today and was used as freely in the context of opera or painting as within the tight confines we know today. By the time Paul and Angie Boyer launched their craftsman magazine in 1981 "The Crafts" were pretty much as we know them today. The verb had become also a noun and the constituency including only a narrow field of baskets, pots, weaving, metalsmithing stickmaking etc was established.

Greenhalgh then discusses what he calls "The Elements of Craft" and says "When the total range of genres presently described as crafts are put together and scrutinised, it becomes clear that there is a certain arbitrariness in the gathering." The elements that link them have only come together relatively recently, during the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th century, he defines them as Decorative Art, The Vernacular and The Politics of Work. When all three elements came together it created a movement of huge global importance, ever since the movement has become increasingly fragmented with each fragment only displaying one or two of the key elements.

The decorative arts are the arts that were left after the fine arts were elevated, everything from weaving, lacemaking and blacksmithing to calligraphy, upholstery and wallpaper printing. Various arts have been recognised as fine at various times, architechture is one that slips in and out as does sculpture and poetry but making useful, functional items is outside. This matters because of status, the fine arts have higher status and work sells for higher prices. For the last 25 years the innovative contemporary end of the craft world has tried to address this situation and gain recognition as an art form though it has never achieved the status of the fine arts.

Perhaps the most famous person working in a traditionally craft medium to achieve the status of fine artist is the Turner prize winning potter Grayson Perry, but he regards "The Crafts" as a sort of lagoon where less challenging artists reside instead of risking the open sea of the art world proper, excellent challenging article here.  Interestingly Grayson is a fan of what may be called vernacular art;

"When people ask me who inspires me, who my favourite artist is, I say it is an anonymous artist working before 1800 - ancient antique ceramics, prints, embroidery, folk art. Great craft objects once seemed to have sprung out of the culture spontaneously, to have been refined by tradition.

The vernacular is defined as the unselfconscious products of a society and tends to be associated with pre-industrial societies. William Morris was a huge fan of the vernacular and today we still have a sort of separation between "the rural crafts" and the rest. Indeed HCA patron Prof Ted Collins did an excellent report in 2004 (download free here) on the state of the rural crafts. One of the key recommendations of which was the formation of a Vernacular Crafts Council to compliment the contemporary artistic remit of the Crafts Council.

So to the last of Greenhalghs 3 elements of the word craft, and for me one of the most interesting "The politics of work." This is the element that is perhaps most difficult to pin down, it is the bit that made the crafts edgy and radical and is the element that most easily gets left out of the craft mix.

Many writers from Ruskin and Morris to Marx and Gandhi have discussed what good work is. My introduction to the idea probably came from watching the TV sitcom "The Good Life" in the 1970's and later EF Schumakers books "Small is Beautiful" and "Good Work"  led to me writing out lists of what I wanted out of a job and how it had to engage mind, body and soul. Generally the consensus seems to be that for work to be fulfilling the individual has to feel they are in control of what they are doing and there is also an undercurrent that favours the worker doing the whole job rather than a part of it. This led to Morris and Ruskin being very anti industrialisation yet I have visited huge iron foundries where a team of incredibly skilled workers have to all pull together doing their specific part in exactly the right way in order for the cast to be successful. There was a deep seated pride in work in those men. Perhaps his is a little like the difference between team and individual sports. So my manifesto for the politics of work would say that work is good when it involves a high level of skill and people feel that their skill is valued. I fear that the value of hard earned skill has been left out of modern craft, when you talk to craftspeople that pride is there and I suspect we are about to see it valued more highly again. I feel this is a major element that craft can offer to the world, a sense of value in good work. This was the mainstay of early craft education in schools such as the Sloyd system but again the politics of work seems to be the hardest element of craft for folk to understand and the easiest to jettison.

So now we have the history of craft understood what of traditional craft? and heritage craft? The HCA committee discussed these terms at length before deciding on a name for the organisation. Traditional tends to be used most often to describe the vernacular and often rural crafts, it has been used for many years and is maybe seen as rather safe, old fashioned and backward looking.
Around the world there is a movement to recognise craft skills as part of our cultural inheritance or heritage, 117 countries have signed the UNESCO convention which recognises this. The dictionary definition of heritage is everything that is handed down to us from previous generations including traditions and skills as well as things. In the UK heritage currently has a very narrow interpretaion, generally meaning buildings and museum collections, things rather than the "living heritage" of skills and traditions. HCA are setting out to change that narrow focus. There are many benefits to practicing craftwork but the HCA was first set up in response to a range of traditional crafts being in imminent danger of dying out. When we analised why it was we thought it was a problem if the last swill basket maker did not pass on his skills we all agreed that it was because it was part of our inheritance and as such we had a duty to pass these skills on.

We have chosen not to list crafts that we perceive to be heritage crafts, rather we have said that our focus is skill based crafts which tend to produce useful, functional work (though we would include some decorative crafts such as calligraphy and lace) This definition is different from the artistic end of the craft spectrum where the idea, originality and innovation has much more weight. So are heritage crafts the disenfranchised crafts that were left out when the artistic crafts went in search of fine art status? Perhaps, but I would also like to think we are getting back to the root of what craft was when it was a global force, to include again in one movement, the decorative arts, the vernacular and the politics of work. This is far from backward looking it is radical and relevant today.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

traditional crafts in papers and will there be another Mastercrafts series 2?

Tuesday the 23rd of March was a great day for traditional crafts. The Heritage Crafts Association finally had it's official launch at the V&A and opened up it's friends membership scheme and Jon Henley published a wonderful article in the Guardian's G2 section. Jon has a deep understanding of the crafts and we were delighted he was able to contribute to the HCA forum on Tuesday.

 Here's an excerpt of the article.

"All over the country, practitioners of traditional trades risk being the last of their kind . . . a man who makes wooden oars and sculls in Windsor; a woman near Hailsham who fashions the chestnut and willow baskets known as Sussex trugs; a man who crafts astonishing split-cane fishing rods in Newbury; father-and-son wheelwrights in Devon; a master cooper in Devizes (one of four left in the country); a willow basket weaver on the Somerset Levels; a besom broom squire in High Wycombe. Yet, having interviewed many of them over the last year or so, ( I am struck by the huge public interest that still exists in these crafts. Witness, too, the unexpected popularity of TV series such as Victorian Farm, and Monty Don's current Mastercrafts. In today's increasingly virtual world, there's something very appealing about people who make things by hand, with tools and techniques often unchanged for centuries.

So why are these skills in danger? Not all are, of course: some rural crafts, such as hedge-laying, have rebounded, helped by environmental legislation and agri-environment grants. Others – gunsmithing, saddlery, boot- and watch-making – fall (providing they pitch themselves cleverly) into the luxury goods category, and find wealthy buyers. Traditional building trades such as stonemasonry, thatching, slating, stained-glass work and brick restoration benefit from built heritage funding. If not exactly flourishing, many now have recognised training schemes and the prospect of jobs with the National Trust or English Heritage.

The ones in trouble are the one-man bands – people making traditional products for which there is, demonstrably, a market (Trevor Ablett's appearance on the Guardian website brought him 350 orders), who can make a fair living for themselves but can't take on anyone else."

Read the full article here

and if you haven't seen them see Jon's other articles on craftspeople here

Also at the forum were many of the Mastercrafts mentors, the book producers and the producer.

So the question everyone wants to ask, will there be another series? Well we are certainly hoping so, but we have not heard any official announcement yet. Tony the producer with Sophie Hussain (stained glass) and Guy Mallinson (green woodwork)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Phil Harding, Mastercrafts mentors and Ewan Clayton help launch the HCA at the V&A

Phil Harding told us how pleased he was to be asked to speak not as an archaeologist or as a man off the telly but as a craftsman. He was speaking at the V&A as one of the country's top flint knappers and as a passionate supporter of traditional craft skills. Most of the Mastercrafts mentors joined us along with a select group of top craftspeople to discuss the issues facing the crafts in the UK today and how we could work together to ensure our inheritance of craft knowledge is passed on to the next generation.
One of the highlights of the day was the presentation by Prof Ewan Clayton a speaker of great eloquence and breadth of experience in the world of craft and far beyond, we hope we may be given permission to share his insights with folk who were not there because it was quite something. The day brought together for the first time a wide range of traditional crafts from blacksmiths and basketmakers to potters, upholsterers and weavers. Many were representatives of the various craft organisations so between us we represented the collective experiences of many tens of thousands of craftspeople. We had a bit of this

and a bit of this
Quite a lot of laughter
But the main purpose of the day was getting folk together in small groups discussing their experiences of their crafts.
This is Sophie Hussain, Guy Mallinson and Tony Dilamore Mastercrafts producer
Tickets were very restricted due to room size so we gave the first batch of tickets one to each of the craft organisations and then favored working craftspeople. We also invited Tony from Mastercrafts and Jon Henley from the guardian both of whom have a good understanding of the crafts and have done much to promote them. Jon did us a wonderful article to coincide with the launch which deserves a blog post of it's own. He is as passionate about the crafts as we are.
Each table had paper and pens and all the discussions were recorded as we went. Much was said and it will take a long time to collate but I suspect there will be much of interest when it comes together. All the results will be made public on the HCA website, it will be a snapshot "state of the crafts". This is Joe Kelly director of Craft Northern Ireland in full flow.

We are very keen that HCA should be fun, we all have real jobs and do this at our own expense, I think the fact the HCA committee work so hard and so well together to create a welcoming atmosphere helped everyone else have a great day.
After the morning session we went into entertainment mode and had invited guests and craft demonstrators. Owen Jones making a swill.

Samantha Marsden hand engraver.
Cliff from Ernest Wright co scissor makers.
but as always at this sort of event it is the little spaces in between formal presentations when the real networking and fun meetings happen.
Here's me chatting with Rosie Greenlees director of the Crafts Council.
And one of the nicest things was to see the mastercrafts mentors get together for the first time, they had a great time chatting about their experiences. Here are Dave the thatcher and Sophie the glass both of whom whilst serious about their crafts are great fun. Way out of focus and blurry but it captures the fun of the day.

Finally back to the end of the morning session and as we were wrapping things up and asked for a few comments from the floor Carole Milner from the Ratcliffe Trust gave us the most wonderful plug letting everyone know that whilst we may look like a slick professional fully formed organisation we actually are all volunteers with jobs to hold down and this thing will only be sustainable with a lot more help. Carole should know, she was responsible for pulling together all the conservation crafts into a single organisation ICON.

Since Tuesday we have been inundated with emails, press requests, we still have all the table notes to collate, the speeches to transcribe, press releases to write, photos to send to press. Then we can hopefully take a few days off and get back to our day jobs.

Tuesday felt a bit like the end of the beginning of HCA and a huge step up to the next stage of the developement of the organisation.Anyone who wants to be a part of that next stage (or just to support it) can now join HCA as a friend here for the tiny sum of £12

More photos on the new HCA Flickr page here

Saturday, 20 March 2010

After Mastercrafts what comes next?

The Mastercrafts TV programs have generated tremendous interest in traditional crafts and highlighted the dedication required to learn the skills. What comes next? another series? we hope so. An end of show mastercrafts party? well sort of.

The Heritage Crafts Association have been working hard to raise the profile of these crafts and bring all the crafts together to campaign for better support and work out ways of keeping the crafts alive and flourishing in the future.

Next Tuesday at the V&A in London things come together. The HCA are holding a forum and press launch event and most of the Mastercrafts mentors are coming along with members of the production team and the book publishers. There will be editors from Crafts magazine, Craft and Design, Country Life, and Jon Henly from the Guardian amongst other journalists who write on crafts. 

At the morning Forum we have representatives of a wide range of crafts organisations from the Basketmakers and Pole lathe Turners to the Craft Potters, Calligraphers, Woodcarvers, Feltmakers, Lacemakers, Upholsterers, Weavers Spinners and Dyers, Artist Blacksmiths and many more. These folk will discuss what we feel is important about traditional crafts and why they should be promoted, we'll discuss what the issues are that face the traditional crafts today and find out if they are the same for all of us or differ across our different areas and finally we will look at how we can work together to ensure the best traditional craft skills survive and flourish in the future.

In the afternoon we have the official press launch with working craftspeople showing off their skills to invited guests including politicians from the Lords and Commons, Craft consultants from funding agencies and trusts, directors of Crafts Council, Craft NI and Craft Scotland amongst many others.

So what will come of all this? What is the aim of the day?

Well it's difficult to say really, we do not want to preempt or impose our ideas on the outcomes of the forum. We will be as interested in listening to what all these crafts have to say. We suspect there are common issues and we hope that there is a feeling that we are all in this together and can work together to share the best of what we do and pass it on to the next generation.

We are very sorry that since the forum is being funded primarily from the committees own donations it has had to have a strict limit on numbers.  We wish many more of our supporters could have been there and we hope to run a larger more inclusive event not too far in the future.

The other exciting news of the day is that we will be launching our friends scheme. Our supporters will now be able to take a more active role in the organisation but signing up as a friend and paying a small annual sub of £12 folk will be able to help us take the work of the HCA on to the next stage. We will not spend this money on expensive membership packages and we will not be spending much time and money actively recruiting. Rather we hope word will spread as it has done so far by word of mouth, we wish to return I guess to the original idea of charities where folk join and give money because they believe in the good cause rather than for the attractive membership package. Friends will all get a vote at the AGM of course and priority invitations to  future events. If you have been waiting to be more involved I am afraid you have to wait just a little while longer. The friends page will go live on the HCA website on Tuesday.

Mastercrafts stone carving courses and apprenticeships

For folk who enjoyed the mastercrafts stone episode last night and would  like to find out more or perhaps book or short course to try carving themselves we have put a little bit of information together.

First Andy Oldfield the mentor of the program and runs a variety of taster courses, here are his contact details  and a typical taster workshop. or weekend workshop.

Probably the best resource in the country for anyone wanting to learn more about stone is the National Stone Centre in Derbyshire. They run carving courses as well as dry stone walling and having lots of interesting displays. 

Sam Fridlington runs courses in Lincolnshire, 19 years experience as a stonemason including working on Lincoln Cathedral.

The building crafts have received much more support and recognition than the smaller domestic traditional crafts or industrial town based crafts that made all the objects of our daily lives. A lack of skilled stonemasons and other building skills was identified as a problem in the 2000 HLF report "Sustaining our living heritage" and this led to the setting up of the heritage training bursary schemes, which have received so far over £10m from HLF and helped train many hundreds of apprentices in traditional building skills. Construction Skills have also been very supportive and National Heritage Training Group have one great work.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Mastercrafts weaving with Monty Don

Well I caught up with the weaving episode last night, very interesting and different again. It was good to see Monty getting to grips with a subject he knew nothing about, I learnt a lot too.If you missed it you can catch up on iplayer here

I would have liked to see more different aspects of the craft, to visit some yarn producers or some folk that did natural dying or spinning. To see the industrial processes Margo designs for would have been interesting too, I really enjoyed seeing the blown plate glass made in the glass episode, large scale production can be interesting as well as small scale handmade. I would have loved to see a Harris tweed weaver.

Having said all that I loved the show, I got completely drawn in to the emotional side of it as no doubt many less craft obsessed viewers would do. The finished fabrics were glorious and astonishing to have been made in such a short time. Were the final pieces judged as art or craft or design? It has been interesting to see the variety of judges and the way they have set their own differing criteria, some attempting some sort of objectivity, whilst others respond completely intuitively and subjectively to the pieces that speak to them. Some have rated function and technique most highly (will this roof let water in?, are these joints tight?) whilst our Arts council and Weavers guild ladies clearly wanted to see something innovative that they had not seen before. I guess this tells us something about the various crafts and what is viewed as important in those fields at the current time.

Looking forward to stone, Andy has taught both of my kids stone carving and he is fun, patient and I suspect it will be a great episode to finish on.

For folk who are interested to learn more or try their hand at weaving the Association of Guilds of weavers spinners and dyers is a great place to start with many active local groups around the country.

Feel free to add links to other useful or interesting weaving sites in the comments below. I'll add a plug for my friend Anna Champeney who runs weaving and natural dying couses from her idyllic home in Northern Spain, she has an interesting blog too.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

UK director of culture likes heritage crafts

Yesterday we had a most promising meeting with UK Director of Culture Mick Elliot.

 He has been involved in initiatives in Stoke to recognise the importance of the pottery industry and as someone who lived for some time in Sheffield he was well aware of the importance of traditional cutlery making to the city. He liked the pocket knife and hand made scissors we took to show him. We also took along one of Owen Jones oak swill baskets and Mick told us that when he was at school near Nuneaton he was very pleased to have to opportunity to learn basketmaking. I am certainly heartened to know that we have a Director of Culture who has made baskets.

We pointed out how everywhere we look traditional skills fall in between culture departments for art and heritage. This was clear on DCMS own website where the culture minister's responsibilities include various areas two of which are art and heritage. Mick felt that these skills sat more comfortably in heritage than art which is HCAs feeling too. When we click to find more about heritage on DCMS site though we find this.

"Historic environment

We are responsible for the identification, recording, protection, conservation, enhancement and interpretation of heritage assets, and for their promotion as part of contemporary culture.
Heritage assets are buildings, monuments, sites or landscapes that have significance because of their historic, archaeological, architectural or artistic  interest, whether designated or not. They are components of the historic environment."

We need this narrow view of heritage expanded to include traditional skills. We don't expect any change overnight but the more people talk about these issues the better and once we get recognition at the top then we can start to put an infrastructure in place to survey and protect this important part of our national cultural heritage.

DCMS are just off Trafalgar Square, we then popped down to Westminster to meet Sir Patrick Cormack chair of the all party arts and heritage group.
Sir Patrick is also chair of the William Morris Craft Fellowships which offer superb mid career training in heritage building skills. Again he was very supportive of what HCA are trying to do, recognised that there are a range of traditional craft skills which have received no recognition, or support and offered his support, although not until after the election since all MPs are busy at the moment and Sir Patrick particularly so since he is standing down as an MP after 40 years. This will give him more time to concentrate on his arts and heritage work though.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Mastercrafts with Monty Don BBC

Monty Don's Mastercrafts series is highlighting the skills involved in traditional crafts and bringing much needed attention. The Heritage Crafts Association  have been campaigning to promote and protect these crafts so we are delighted with the publicity. I blogged just before the start of the series when I was looking through the proofs of the book, at that stage I was rather wary about the competitive element in the program and frustrated at the shortness of the apprenticeships.

 Now having watched 3 programs (I have no tv but catch up on iplayer) I am a huge fan. I still much prefer the cooperative elements when the apprentices are working together and find the judging bit at the end a bit sad but if we overlook those we are left with a great program. Monty has a clear and honest appreciation of the depth of understanding, time and commitment that it takes to truly master these skills. What comes across is the dedication to the craft, the importance of feeling you are part of a living tradition and are doing the best possible job, but also the fact that you have to work hard and efficiently and fast if you are going to make a living. It is about training the body to do the job, when hammering a nail we see the end of the nail and feel the contact between hammer head and nail, our mind is no longer thinking about the hand holding the hammer handle, the tool has become an extension of the body.

My first blog of the year predicted 2010 would be a special year for traditional crafts. My first blog of 2009 was about the need for a traditional crafts organisation. These things are coming together now. Many people are I feel seeing these crafts as an important part of our cultural heritage and the idea that keeping the skills alive is more than backward looking romanticism, they should be recognised as being as much a part of our culture as our art galleries, museums and old buildings. The skills are much more difficult to preserve than an important art work since they only survive in the hands and mind of people and need to be passed on to each new generation. There is worthwhile work to be done and many people wishing to take on these skills. Our prime issue no is getting support for the mastercrafts people to help make it economically viable for them to pass on their skills. More discussion about these issues here.

The next stage for the Heritage Crafts Association is a forum at the V&A on 23rd March where representatives of many traditional crafts will come together to discuss the issues facing survival of their skills. Guy Maillinson and Don Barker the greenwoodworker and blacksmithfrom the series will be there along with representatives of many crafts. It will be interesting to hear what everyone has to say.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

meeting Mick Elliott

I am currently getting ready for a meeting with Mick Elliot, Director of Culture at DCMS, on Monday. Remember Sir Humphrey from yes minister? We don't expect Mick Elliot will be anything like the famous fictional civil servant but if we are to get traditional crafts recognised and supported as part of our cultural heritage Mick Elliot could help oil the cogs of government. We feel traditional crafts must fit under DCMS remit but we don't fit comfortably under the two current categories of Art (which focuses on the inovative and new) or Heritage (which means buildings and museum collections) We hope to get recognition that living traditions and skills are part of our cultural heritage too.