Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Fantastic speech on the value of skill

Here are a few quotes from an important speech given the the Royal College of the Arts yesterday, I am so excited by it, much of it could be the Heritage Crafts Association manifesto, our message is clearly getting through.

"Show me a society where everyone has the opportunity and the desire to seek out new knowledge and new skills and I’ll show you a society that really deserves to be called “big”."

"In my view, the skills of a bricklayer are in no way less admirable and certainly no less hard-won than those of a stockbroker.

"When we look at something beautiful, it’s not just the object that we admire, but the skill that went into producing it. That’s why The Fighting Temeraire will always have more admirers than Marcel Duchamp’s urinal."

"My point is that admiration for skill, even when it doesn’t involve production of an object, is an integral part of our culture."

"Even a depressive and tubercular D H Lawrence found respite from contemplating man’s alienation from the modern world by applying practical skills. He once noted that:
“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor”."

on NVQs
"For example, I don’t know how many of you could give us a comprehensible explanation of the difference between Level 3 and Level 4, and why it matters. I certainly know that most of the officials who administer the system couldn’t, and I doubt whether I could either."

"I look back to the Englishmen who first raised the standard of craft skill as a force in the modern world - to Morris and Ruskin, Rossetti and Burne-Jones – and I think it’s high time to create a new aesthetics of craft, indeed, a new Arts and Crafts movement, for Britain in the 21st century.

That won’t be done overnight. But I can announce today that we are making a start.

I am considering backing high quality in the craft traditions by lending the Government's support to a new award for excellence in the crafts. Details are at an early stage, but I think it is right that excellence should be rewarded and the Government will work over the next few months with those working to support the crafts, including the various charities under the Patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, to encourage and reward excellence in this area."

"I don’t wish to idealise manual labour but to understand its intrinsic worth.

The village blacksmith did not develop arms like iron bands by reading about how hard it is to swing a hammer in a book.

The price of the potter’s ability to throw a vase in one go was long hours of effort followed by failure, and several hundredweight of clay in the bin."

And this speech was given by John Hayes new Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning read the full speech here

Sunday, 24 October 2010

honest pots

Honest pots is a wonderful exhibition on currently at York Art Gallery, and the pot above is my favourite in the show. A glorious 18th century slip decorated dish, if I could find someone who could make one of these today I would love to use it for lasagna, pasta bakes or pies. The idea of the show is to display wonderful old museum collection pots alongside the work of modern potters that have been inspired by the old work. Surprising to see no work by Bernard Leach but this was a very fine slipware dish by Shoji Hammada. Interesting that the originals were unglazed on the rims so they would stack in the kiln where Hammada using modern kiln furniture was able to glaze his rim, I actually like the unglazed pie crust rims.

 This is a similar dish, punched through to make a colander. I had always thought these were Staffordshire but this pot and the one at the top are very similar to two pots I adore at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and this one was labeled as being made in Derbyshire.
 One more glorious old dish.
 Now normally in a collection of modern slipware the pots that stand out for me are by Michael Cardew but I thought his pieces in this exhibition were nothing to write home about, this slip dish for instance.
 Now on to jugs, some nice medieval jugs first, always roughly and quickly thrown, these were made fast and sold cheap, they were used for drawing liquids from barrels and serving it into wooden drinking bowls.
These wonderful pots are water cisterns, they were to keep a supply of water in the house, how much nicer than modern drinking fountains or plastic water bottles. The hole at the bottom would have had a wooden tap and spile.
 And now on to my friend Doug Fitch. He has a good number of pots in the show and they looked great. Here are a little group of jugs and a cider jar with tap. You can see the big photos of doug at work on the wall behind.
 Here he is fitting a handle.
Many other twentieth century traditional potters were represented, here is a nice cider jar by Ray Finch and John Leach had some lovely jugs in the show.

More old water cisterns, I love the wobbly rim on this one.

There were two videos running at one end of the gallery, one of Doug Fitch's pottery and one of Isack Button, here is a photo of him on the left.
 I have never really appreciated this sort of slipware though it has a long tradition, I was surprised they didn't have any work by John Hudson alongside it as he still makes exactly this sort of work locally.
Another friend was represented Geoff Fuller, who is a well respected potter but also runs a fantastic old pub near to me. A trip to the Three Stags Heads is like stepping into a Thomas Hardy novel. Geoff is best known for his figurative pots like this lurcher and hare.
I love his domestic ware though and particularly his free slip trailing, I have a dish with a slip trailed hare running across it which is a beauty and I love this small slip dish he made last year. I am hoping a larger one will come out like it so I can have my lasagna dish. It is the nearest thing I have seen yet to the gorgeous dish at the top of the page.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The French Compagnons apprentice and journeyman system

Les Compagnons Du Devoir operate a skills training system rather like the German Journeyman system I talked about here and here

It is a huge organisation with a 70 million euro turnover and responsible for around 6000 apprentices and 3000 journeymen at any one time. Yesterday I attended a meeting in York where we learned more about the system and discussed whether it could have any potential in the UK particularly in the current political climate with government asking businesses to take responsibility for training. Pascal, Sylvain and Koen gave us an overview of the system which I'll try to precise below.

Apprentices start normally 16-25 years old. They are placed with a partner company which pays their wages (50% of the minimum wage) they spend blocks of 6 weeks working in the company and then 2 weeks in a local training institution run by the Compagnons. They will also spend 2-3 weeks working in a similar company in another country to broaden their experience. After 2 years they take their "Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle" the basic trade exam which allows them to apply for jobs, 90% get to this stage and pass, 20% then go on to become journeymen.

First they spend a year as an "trainee" and if everyone is happy then they become an "Aspirant". During this 2-3 year phase they work for different companies 6 months at a time before moving on within France or abroad. They stay in houses owned and run by the Compagnons paying much of their wages for rent and food. In the evenings they are expected to work 8pm-10pm studying and also all day Saturday. It sounds a pretty intensive experience. Along the way they take various exams and when they feel they are ready they produce an master piece and ask to be assessed to progress to the next stage, this is judged by their peers. If accepted they become a fully fledged Compagnon, About 8% of those that set off as apprentices make it all the way to be Compagnons, it is a strict program, hard work and requires serious commitmen, there is no certificate at the end but everyone in France knows and respects what it meansto be a compagnon.

Our newly accepted compagnon is not finished now though. Having benefited from his training (I say his, for the last 5 years women have also been accepted and 200 of the current 6000 are women) he is expected to then help others by spending 3 years working for the compagnons as a paid trainer, house head or organiser. Like the German system it is a big fraternity that you buy into.

How is all this funded?
Well the companies pay the wages of the apprentices. The companies also have to pay a government tax for training but rather than this going direct to government and then dished out again the companies can choose which training agency they would like the tax to go to. Obviously companies that employ and benefit from compgnon apprentices are more likely to give their money there. The Compagnons Du Devoir are one of three similar organisations in France offering this sort of block release apprenticeship followed by journeyman phase though 60% of French apprentices do not do block release and are purely college based learning.

Whilst it is a very interesting scheme and wonderful to see this degree of commitment and quality of training it is difficult to visualise getting from where we are in the UK today to a system of this type or even be sure if it is appropriate.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Fantastic work on traditional crafts in Michigan

 I just came across a fantastic report on traditional crafts in Michigan USA. It is a tremendously positive look at how traditional crafts can be recognised and promoted as part of the heritage and tourism industry. Here are a few excerpts and the link to download the pdf report is at the bottom.

Many state arts programs offer some form of traditional arts apprenticeship program in which an apprentice (the learner), during a designated period, learns a tradition through practical, hands- on experience under the guidance and instruction of a respected, accomplished traditional artist (the master)...Michigan...since 1988, has awarded grants totaling $320,000 to 160 master/apprenticeship teams of which approximately 50 percent have been to support craft—jewelers, lacemakers, rug weavers and braiders, boat builders, instrument makers, quilt- makers, decoy carvers, and more.

Today, the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, endeavors to “advance cross-cultural understanding in a diverse society through the identification, documentation, preservation, and presentation of the traditional arts and cultural heritage of the state of Michigan.”

In large and small ways, crafts are an important element of Michigan’s economy. The sector includes gatherers and producers of craft supplies, home-based cottage industries, craft tool production businesses, large-scale craft supply and craft retail operations, craft galleries, craft schools and institutes, on-line craft businesses, craft fairs and festivals, county fair exhibitions, craft-based tours and events, and craft exhibitions.

Craft fairs, festivals, and exhibitions in museums and galleries provide not only sales opportunities for crafts but also they serve as a cultural destination for tourists and often a nucleus for a variety of craft-based educational activities.

traditional crafts are already a strong factor in local and state economies . . . these activities can and should be strengthened . . . they hold the potential to build tourism and jobs for Michigan.

A Nation of Quilters
Conducted every three years since 1994, this survey discovered that there are 21.3 million active quilters who spend a total of $2.27 billion each year on their passion.

Across America, heritage tourism is expanding and is recognized as a driving force in economic development and increasing attention is being given to the connections of craft and tourism.

 In 1983 a National Crafts Planning Project... a study that was probably the first and perhaps only nationwide assessment focused solely on the traditional craft sector in the United States... highlighted the importance of honoring master practitioners, promulgating endangered craft skills, and providing governmental support to activities that expanded economic development opportunities for craft artists.

The goals of Craftworks! Michigan are to:
1.    support the growth of creative enterprises and sustainable cultural economic development by assisting, coordinating, and promoting the state’s craft industry and outstanding craft artisans;
2. stimulate collaborations with existing and new heritage and cultural tourism initiatives; and 3. identify and stimulate new opportunities for
private investment, job creation, and apprenticeship training.”

craft activity.. represents an enormous and essentially untapped resource to strengthen tourism which would, reciprocally, build the economic viability of the craft sector. Craft-based tourism is being used around the world to effectively build the individual artist’s ability to earn income and to simultaneously grow communities economically.

Download the pdf report here

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

German/French style apprenticeship system for the UK?

The new government are cutting budgets everywhere and undoubtedly funding for training will be reduced. HCA recently responded to a consultation in which Government outlined a vision of employers and learners paying for training instead of government.

In fact the majority of training in the smaller crafts tends to be informal short courses paid for by learners already.

On Friday I hope to attend a meeting in York where I just heard a group of folk are discussing the possibility of setting up a system similar to the German and French apprentice, journeyman type training. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

cleaving bamboo to 0.1mm

Just wanted to share a great link to a video of a wonderful old Japanese craftsman cleaving bamboo down to 0.1mm. Having spent many hours sat beside my friend Owen Jones the swill basket maker I am pretty faniliar with this sort of cleaving but not to this fine a finish.

Follow this link to the 8 minute film of him at work. His workshop appears to be in the centre of town and he heats the bamboo over a flame in what looks like a side alley.

Thanks to potter and fellow Japanese craft fan Pat Southwood for this one.

Barn the Spoon and apprenticeships in crafts

Five years ago I got an email from a 23 year old chap asking if I take on apprentices, he had been playing with woodturning from the age of 12 and done A level design and a degree but wanted to work without the dust and machinery.

"Like many people, who i'm sure email you far to often, i want your help, i would like you to say "sure come up to Derbyshire, i'll pay you a small wage and teach you everything i know" but i know that won't be happening."

It was a young "Barn the Spoon." note the lower case "i" Barn is a very humble chap but quite remarkable, he now signs his spoons with a lower case "b".

My reply was as usual "No, sorry" but suggested he try Mike Abbott who runs lots of courses and often has helpers volunteer with him, then he could try the journeyman thing traveling and learning from others to broaden his experience.

Well 5 years later we ran into each other again and Barn has spent a couple of years volunteering with Mike, spent the summer traveling, meeting lots of other woodworkers, making spoons for his keep and ended the summer with 2 weeks helping me out on our Autumn spooncarving courses and with building a bridge. I think we both learnt a lot and we had a great time.

Barn hollows his spoons with a long handled large Svante Djarve hook, he jams the handle in his knee and pivots the spoon like this.

I know a lot of folk see old photos of folk using long handled hooks, put a long handle on, but end up not really using the leverage. I did the same myself many years ago then in 1998 Stuart King and I visited Romanian spoon carver Ion Contantin and I saw how the long handled knives could be used. This is the cut, the fingers of the left hand act as a pivot point and you can see from the pile of shavings how efficiently it works.
I learnt a cut from Barn which he uses on the back of his spoons, a lovely pivoting cut that gives a single sweeping curved cut around the back of the bowl.
It worked particularly well with the long handled, straight ground Frosts 120 knife which is Barns favourite (though he was quite taken with the longer 106s I use)
So for anyone else out there thinking of an apprenticeship in crafts, think what you have to offer the craftsperson. Barn was great at asking what he could do to help and happy with anything from washing up to mowing the lawn to sweeping up, carting wood about and dashing home for the things I had forgotten. He gives a lot in a humble helpful way without being intrusive or getting under your feet when you're busy. He is also a very intelligent, thoughtful person and it was great fun having him around. What better way to finish than with a pic of our lunch at Grindleford Station cafe, pints of tea and egg chips and mushy peas, sheer indulgence after a hard mornings work. Thanks Barn.