Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Invite to important free craft skills event

The Heritage Crafts Association have been working with Government to highlight some of the issues facing craftspeople in the UK. The Skills minister John Hayes and his officials have been very receptive.

HCA have now organised a craft skills forum where craftspeople of all different disciplines can come together to discuss issues facing the sector and feed directly into the process of developing new strategy to support and promote the crafts. John Hayes will be speaking on the day as will Jo Reilly of Heritage Lottery Fund. Thanks to generous sponsorship from the Balvenie, the most handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky the whole event is free including lunch and at the end of the day there will be an optional whisky tasting.

If you care about the future of your craft, please consider coming and sharing your views with others. The day will involve lots of facilitated discussion groups so everyone will get the chance to air their feelings and contribute and everything will be noted down to feed into a cohesive voice of the sector. This strong voice is what we have been missing and part of the reason why crafts have been rather overlooked. So whether you are a quilter, blacksmith, potter, or basketmaker we hope you will join us for what promises to be a very important day for the crafts.

HCA Skills Forum

Wednesday 11 May 2011, 11.45am to 6pm
Chelsea College of Art and Design, 45 Millbank, London SW1P 4RL

Want to shape the future of traditional craft skills?
With generous support from The Balvenie, the Heritage Crafts Association has organised a Skills Forum on 11 May 2011 at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London. It is free to attend and the afternoon will include:
  • Keynote speech by Jo Reilly, Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Speech on craft skills by John Hayes Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning
  • Discussions facilitated by Hilary Jennings, Crafts Consultant
  • Summary by Robin Wood, Chair, Heritage Crafts Association
  • Networking with other industry professionals
  • Whisky tasting following the Skills Forum, kindly arranged by The Balvenie, the most handcrafted Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Can you add your perspective to the debate?
The HCA are looking for craftspeople, representatives from craft groups, guilds and membership organisations, livery companies, training providers, government bodies and support organisations to participate. We need you to debate, share training experience and set in progress a strategy for ensuring the continuance of traditional craft skills training in the UK.
Book your free ticket here

Monday, 25 April 2011

is that "the old way" of doing it?

 How often do folk who choose to use hand tools hear this? The implication of course is that there is now a newer, better, faster way and that I am doing it "the old way" just to show how it was done.

There is a common misconception about technologies in the Western world, we think that new technologies replace older ones because they are somehow better. This sometimes happens but it is rarely that clean cut. New technologies are often introduced because they are cheaper to make, demand less skills on the part of the user or create more profit for the manufacturer. Older technologies often run alongside newer technologies because they offer considerable benefits in many circumstances, particularly for the folk that have the skills to use them.

Ewan Clayton made this point very well in his speach at the launch of the Heritage Crafts Association
"As a calligrapher you only have to walk into a bank and you pass stone carved lettering or bronze cast lettering on the outside. You go inside and you see inkpads and stamps being used, fountain pens and ballpoints. You see carbon paper, fax machines, computers, handwriting – it’s all there at the same time."

What brought this all to mind today was a passer by at my workshop this afternoon who asked "is that the old way of doing it?" My answer was, well yes this was how it was done in the past but it is also the way it is done today, it still works well. My workshop is passed by a busy footpath, I thought afterwards that perhaps I should have asked the lady walking by if she was "doing it the old way" as a conscious decision not to drive, or use some other modern transport technology. Some things like walking, using a hammer and nail, carving with a knife or using a hand plane have been with us a long time but still work. In fact walking it seems is more common in the most advanced cities in the world like London, Tokyo and New York since driving is just not practical. There are many reasons to use simple technologies; they are cheap, tend to have a low carbon footprint and be eco friendly, they tend to be safe and offer a sense of fulfillment in the work, the products of hand tools tend to have a different feel which I like "showing how it was done in the old times" whilst valid is fairly low down on my personal list.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sir Christopher Frayling on Craftsmanship

Sir Christopher Frayling was chair of the Arts Council from 2004-9 but before that stint he was chair of the Crafts Study Centre for over 20 years. He has just published a new book "On Craftsmanship" I have ordered it and await eagerly.


This is a speech he gave at the Crafts Study Centre 7 May 2009

"I was at a seminar the other day – at no. 11 Downing Street – on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration Artists Project, part of the New Deal – of the mid-1930s, and its possible lessons for the arts and arts education in Britain during a deep recession. There were presentations about how far-sighted President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been, and about the resulting public works created by visual artists – craft-works from many traditions, murals, photographic surveys, paintings of social life – at that time. The ensuing discussion focused on the arts as morale-boosters, as statements of confidence, as contributions to national reputations at a time when these reputations had/have been severely dented, as employment and as stimulants of the creative economy. The discussion irritated me, though, because it assumed that the public sector for the arts and arts education in Britain had everything to learn from FDR and the American example when its real significance is that it happened at all in the context of minimal public investment either before and since. Actually, the British system of public funding of the arts/arts education still remains the envy of the world. A ‘mixed economy’ system, rather than all private or all state. We should be less defensive about saying so.

And then, the discussion at the seminar turned to public support for the arts and arts education during a recession – and the general view was that support for them was particularly important in difficult times. For all the reasons the ‘New Deal’ was significant in the mid-1930s, and many more besides – including the relationship between the arts and the creative industries. One or two people talked about leaky garrets and how art thrives on adversity and how the recession will purge the excesses of the art scene: you always get that sort of talk, from people who never get to meet artists. But the consensus was that the arts should be encouraged to move centre stage at this time – and especially the up-and-coming generation of artists. The biggest legacies of the Works Progress Administration Artists Project of the mid-1930s have names such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Orson Welles and Walker Evans.

A speech I gave, as Chair of the Crafts Study Centre in June 2004, five years ago, took place in very different economic circumstances. In those days, Design and Technology in schools still involved a strong measure of making – the ‘C’ had only recently been dropped from ‘D’ and ‘T’. There were many books still in print about the importance of the crafts in general education. Craft or applied art courses at undergraduate level – teaching the students recently coming off those programmes in schools – were thriving. The Crafts had become a category of its own within the government’s mapping documents of the creative industries. And their contribution to the economy was in the process of being measured.

This turned into the Crafts Council pioneering survey Making It in the 21st Century – which looked at the life and work of 32,000 makers – and it concluded that craft is a booming industry that was at the time worth over £800 million: up to then, its scale had been based on out-of-date figures dating from the 1980s; now that was put right. And the crafts had definitively joined the lifestyle pages of magazines and newspapers (and sometimes even ‘makeover’ programmes on mid-evening television – for better or worse), and critics had started writing in books and articles about how the crafts – their ‘aesthetic added value’ – had moved beyond traditional forms of tacit knowledge to playing a full part in the wider culture and society. The stand-up comedian Johnny Vegas had said that was much more proud of having a teapot in the V&A than of winning major awards for being a comedian. And Turner prize-winner Grayson Perry was shortly to offer the very challenging thought “I think the art world had more trouble coming to terms with me being a potter than with my choice of frocks … If you call your pot ‘art’ you are being pretentious; but if you call your shark ‘art’ you are being philosophical”.

So, my speech in June 2004 was optimistic. Since then, some things have got worse, some better. ‘Making’ has seriously declined in schools – you can now go from the end of primary school to the beginning of university without experiencing any 3D making at all. The art room, yes. The craft room, no. And yet, as many education specialists have written, the crafts are particularly – maybe uniquely – good at developing ‘the intelligence of feeling’, a fusion of head, hand and heart. Some wonderful courses – especially in the post-1992 universities – have been closed or threatened with closure, most recently Harrow – to make room for more screens, less teaching, less resources, more research – sometimes a euphemism for bad art and craft – and above all more students crammed into the vacated space. The transition from polytechnics to universities, and their rapid expansion, was not very good for the crafts which are difficult to theorise and impossible to mass-produce. I sometimes fantasise about a Victorian-style tableau of a young person standing in front of a fearsome-looking examination board and being asked “And when did you last see your tutor?” And some good ideas for contemporary craft galleries around the country have not come to fruition. I can remember the optimistic discussions about this at the Arts Council, when the lottery still supported big capital projects. And now the golden age of the lottery has gone.

But there’s good news too. Good news that people have at last begun to realise again the importance of making at all levels of education – and reports by educationalists are beginning to reflect this. Good news that there has been some fabulous work exhibited in ‘Collect’ and in exhibitions which emphasise ‘the industry of one’ – the overlap of the crafts and high-end design. Good news that there’s a new seriousness in the air again – rather than always producing knick-knacks for rich people. And above all, there’s been the general realisation that the crafts are about today and tomorrow as well as yesterday.

The first Bauhaus manifesto of 1919, the one with the Feininger woodcut of a cathedral on the cover, began with a clarion-call to artists, architects and designers: “we must all turn to the crafts”. British translations of this manifesto almost invariably translate the phrase as “we must all return to the crafts” – as if Walter Gropius saw the future as lying in the past. Up until the 1960s, when the Crafts Study Centre was first mooted, the word “return” seemed the right one to use of the crafts. Their image, in the public imagination, was one of nostalgia, ruralism and a pre-industrial world. Amongst professional craftspeople, the Arts and Crafts Movement cast a very long shadow indeed.

Now all that has changed. The word “return” has definitively made way for the word “turn”. Crafts are now associated with urban living, interior design, with the shifting borders of art at one end of the spectrum and design at the other, with all colours of the rainbow and with the outer limits of function – to use Alison Britton’s famous phrase. What distinguishes them, makes them highly visible, is the care with which they have been made, the fact that they have been made by one human being for another, the individual ‘take’, the use of materials and the thoughtfulness of their design: design with attitude. They can represent an ethical statement, but they needn’t. And so the things that held the crafts back have largely gone.

There are still debates about the word ‘crafts’ and parallel muddles about where the crafts ‘sit’ exactly – with a proliferation of subdivisions which would make even Polonius dizzy: the crafts, the decorative arts, the applied arts, makers, designer-makers, artist-craftspeople. Closer to design or closer to art? But these are now seen, I think, as a range of possibilities rather than as inhibitors which is how they used to be seen. The crafts are a spectrum, and the more inclusive and varied and versatile the better. It has become more important than ever to draw attention to this, at a time when crafts and materials-based courses in colleges and universities are seen as too heavy on resources and at a time of recession, like that seminar about FDR I mentioned. Actually, there are fascinating and important cross-overs to be explored between the crafts and digital technologies – a way of reuniting the crafts, maybe, with manufacturing and with ‘industries of one’, where they also touch the design world. But it doesn’t always happen that way. When the ‘C’ was dropped from ‘D and T’, something important may have been lost. We’ll see."

20 May 2009

I don't know why but I have never visited the Crafts Study Centre or been very aware of it's work. Edmund De Waal just retired as Chair to be replaced by my friend Glen Adamson so I must pay a visit.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

minister to speak at heritage crafts skills meeting

The Heritage Crafts Association have been working with government as part of the BIS Craft Skills Advisory Board developing a strategy to ensure craft skills are encouraged and thrive in the future. We have now facilitated a meeting at which all crafts organisations can come together to discus skills training issues, tell us about training schemes that are working well, difficulties that need to be overcome and see if we can work together to present a strong and cohesive voice and plan for the future.

The skills minister John Hayes will be present, he really is passionate about the crafts and very keen to address issues facing the sector. Jo Reilly who leads on skills at the Heritage Lottery Fund will also speak about the £17m skills for the future project and other successful skills training schemes.

The main focus of the day though will be facilitated discussion groups in which you can have your say, discuss the issues with others with a keen interest in skills training and help determine how we can work together to support these skills in the future.

This sort of event is not cheap to put on but for delegates it will be free thanks to very generous sponsorship by the Balvenie, the most handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky.
They are even paying for delegates to have a free lunch and after the business part of the day and the ministers speech there will be an optional whisky tasting of some very special bottles of the Balvenie.

There are limited places and these have been offered first to the chairs and representatives of the various craft associations as we want all crafts to be represented. HCA members/friends get second call and then if there are free spaces on Tuseday 6th we will open up for anyone else. Contact Sally Dodson at the info HCA email address if you would like to come. The event takes place in London on May 11th
more details here

nice article in Permaculture magazine

Very nice article in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine by Beth Tilston who also volunteered to film at the HCA conference. Thanks Beth. Click on the images and hopefully they will appear large enough to read.

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.