Sunday, 31 July 2011

80 percent of success is just showing up

Today I am cutting winter firewood in the Derbyshire hills, tomorrow I'll be at Clarance House, home of HRH The Prince of Wales, Tuesday at Department of Culture Media and Sport DCMS all to support traditional crafts skills.

First meeting at Clarance House is with Emily Cherrington.

Emily is Assistant Private Secretary to The Prince of Wales. The Prince has been a keen supporter of traditional crafts and is president of the Heritage Crafts Association. Emily is our new contact so we need to brief her on the work of HCA and discus ways in which we hope the Prince can support our work in the future, we have some exciting things in the this space.

Then on Tuesday we meet Helen Williams Head of Heritage at DCMS,

Helen's is a new role created after considerable restructuring at DCMS. We have met before with a previous heritage adviser and Mick Elliot previous director of culture. Advocacy work has to be ongoing, people and roles change and it is people that make a difference so we keep meeting with key people in key roles to let them know early on about the position of traditional crafts in the UK. Woody Allen said "80 percent of success is just showing up' we show up a lot.

We will be pointing out how traditional crafts have not been recognised as arts or heritage so have fallen outside the remits of all support and promotion agencies. This has been a tremendous lost opportunity, with good promotion the traditional crafts can thrive and be a great asset to the UK arts, tourism and heritage, generate income and provide worthwhile jobs.

On all London trips I fit in as many meetings as possible so I'll also be meeting Guy Salter, a long time champion of craftsmanship in the luxury sector. I'll also be visiting a couple of workshops, first a tailor and haberdasher I met at Art in Action Jeremy Morgan

I have a suite I bought at a charity shop, nice Merino wool, sadly Italian not English but it was good quality and was £25 which is about what I can afford for a suit. Jeremy told me for a further £25 he can take the jacket apart and make it fit (it's currently a little loose) so I'll give it a go. I have also never been inside a traditional tailors workshop so hope to take some pics. Another visit which I hope to do if time allows is to a new London tweed weavers workshop London clothworks. And the final meeting is with Catherine Large director of Creative and Cultural skills.

By Tuesday night a few more folk will have a better picture of the state of traditional crafts in the UK and if Woody Allen is right then maybe it will make a difference.

good news for supporters of living heritage.

Richmond dock was built at Appledore on the mouth of the River Torridge in 1856 and was said to have been the largest dry dock in all the Bristol Channel ports at that time. By the early nineteenth century much of the timber for shipbuilding in Britain was being imported from North America, the traditional supply from the Baltic Ports being interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars. Appledore was excellently sited to use the North American trade economically, but the business became more sophisticated when ships were rough built on Prince Edward Island and sailed over to Appledore for finishing. Its exceptional importance in the history of North Devon shipbuilding has been recognised by its designated Grade 2* listed status. That puts it in the most important 5% of all listed buildings.

William Yeo and Richard Williams master of Yeo's "British Lady"The dock was built by William Yeo who had 5 large ships that were engaged in the emigration trade. A diary was kept by a passenger emigrating on the Ocean Queen. Sailing from Appledore to Quebec, William Gliddon, says: "About half past four, we got under way with a good breeze, having on board a fine crew of 20, Mr Yeo, the pilot, 22 passengers, a pig, a cat, and a dog. Half past five, safe over the bar, the pilot and the owner took leave amid the cheers of all of board." 

Today the dry dock lies unused and as you can imagine property developers have moved in with the intention of putting lots of posh houses here by the sea.
Appledore's Richmond Dry Dock 2006

In 2005 a local group called Celebrating Appledore's Shipping Heritage started campaigning to use the dock as a local maritime heritage centre including restoring the dock to working condition and using it for shipbuilding, fitting and repair. The Heritage Crafts Association support this groups vision and have contributed to helping oppose the planning application. The application was turned down in 2010 and we are delighted that the appeal has also just been turned down. This decision means that it would now be virtually impossible to build any residential development on the dock.

What is most pleasing is the wording of the decision written by independent planning inspector Olivia Spencer

"Appledore retains a strong working relationship with the river and the sea. It is clear not just from the written historic evidence but also from the submissions of local residents, many of whom worked or whos families worked at the dock, that it has played a very major part in the economic and social history of Appledore. It lies both physically and culturally at the heart of the community. The working history of the dock thus has considerable significance nationally and locally."

"The form and structure of the dock has value as a rare and interesting object but the dock is a tool, a machine for building and repairing ships. It's operation as a dry dock is thus fundamental to its significance. For this reason and and in view of its role in the working life of the community, I consider development that would prevent or seriously curtail the operation of the dock as a dry dock for the building and repair of of boats would therefore amount to substantial harm to the significance of the listed structure."

What is important about this wording is how well it recognises the living heritage aspects as well as the physicality of the site, this sets a great precedent which we can use in future cases. Often in the UK heritage is managed as if it was dead and people were not part of it.  HCA have been involved over the last 2 years in 4 important sites where there are linked physical and living heritage, we now feel to have seen 3 wins and one loss. 

Farnham Pottery has now been purchased by the Farnham Pottery Trust thus securing it's use as a community pottery and avoiding the risk of development.
Portland Works in Sheffield successfully opposed planning for conversion to flats and the craftspeople tenants have formed a company to attempt to buy the building and run it is a community venture, you can even buy a share in the building here 
Sadly the story at Standard Quay was different. The local council and local English Heritage officer did not recognise the living heritage aspects of the site. The craftspeople have been evicted including Colin Frake one of only two ships blockmakers in the country (he rigged Nelson's flagship Victory) 
The story at JW Evans silversmiths was different with the fabric and contents of the building saved but the business of making silverware gone.
We have just heard of a new case, the living looms project which aims to preserve the heritage of carpet making in Kidderminster, lets hope this one reaches a happy ending.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Art in Action

Last weekend I attended Art in Action a most wonderful show near Oxford. We were offered a free HCA stand after the organisers attended our spring conference at the V&A, we had the usual range of traditional craft items on display with voluntary staff telling visitors the stories behind how they were made. I also did a talk each day in the lecture rooms on the work of the HCA.

 I was demonstrating spooncarving and daughter Jojo made everlasting gypsy flowers from willow.
 It is a huge show of primarily skill based arts and crafts, so much to see it takes a whole day. Sadly I was so busy on the stand I had little time to look around or take photos but here are a couple fo snaps taken en route for lunch. Gail McGarva with her wonderful Lyme Lerret.
 An incredibly detailed carving of a mallard drake. This one is worth clicking to expand the image.
 One of the beauties of Art in Action is that most of the artists and craftspeople are given space to set up a workshop and demonstrate their work. You can see anything from artists painting proper portraits, grinding their own pigments to weaving, glassblowing and blacksmithing, the quality is all excellent.

The ethos of the event is lovely too. It centres around giving and service, the volunteers that run the event are kind and helpful and I know no other event where all the stand holders are continually supplied with tea and biscuits served with a smile. This is the campsite with the poshest portaloos and showers I have seen.
We hope to be invited again next year and will ask for space for more traditional craft demonstrators.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

please send a quick message to your MP

The Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group is being spearheaded by Vince Cable 

It has been designed to celebrate the UK’s manufacturing sector by asking MPs to nominate a product made in their constituency – with the ultimate aim of producing an ‘Great Exhibition’ showcasing these products.

It would be really nice if some of those products were craft made items or at least local traditional manufacturing that somehow represented what was good in the MPs constituency. Please let Stoke's MPs choose  pots Sheffield's MPs choose cutlery and Walsall saddles.

It is very easy to recommend an item to your MP
First have a look here, put in your postcode to see if your MP has already done it (only 52 of 650 have so far)

Decide the Made in Britain product or business you want to recommend then drop your MP a line either here
or if you don't know your MP (not many do) stick your postcode in here up pops your MP and top of the list of options is send a message to your MP, type away and send. Once you send you get an email and you have to click the link to confirm the message goes to your MP. Simple and it could result in your craft business or one you recommend getting some much needed publicity.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

JW Evans silversmiths, saved or lost?

When a craft business that has a special part in our history is in danger of closing what should we do? How about buy it and spend large sums of public money on preserving the building, artifacts and accumulated detritus whilst letting the last skilled artisans stop work and walk away?

Two years ago I blogged about JW Evans Silversmiths in Birmingham. It had just been saved for the nation by English Heritage and at the time they said "at the heart of this decision is the desire to safeguard a skilled craft which is seriously under threat."

Well after 2 years JW Evans is now open to the public for pre booked tours, it looks fantastic and well worth a visit but how well do you think they have done at safeguarding a skilled craft? Seems that they have preserved all the fabric but lost the living heritage of the skills that made the place important. I feel we need a new way to look after this part of our heritage, apart from anything else turning businesses into museums is incredibly expensive. We could learn from the Spanish, I visited the knife making town of Taramundi where many small artisan workshops are open to the public on a sort of heritage tourist trail. This means they get lots of business which keeps the heritage truly alive rather than some preserved in aspic snap shot of how it used to be done.

More info and book your tour here

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Marcel Duchamp and a prediction about art and craft

We are approaching a very important centenary in the art world, the creation of Marcel Duchamp's "fountain", arguably the most important work of art of the 20th century. Was he taking the piss? and why should craftspeople have any interest in it?

The point of fountain was that Duschamp was arguing that aesthetics and skill were not what made art, it was the artists idea that mattered.

Under the guise of an assumed name R Mutt, Duchamp submitted a porcelain urinal as an entry for an open exhibition in New York in 1917. With this work Duchamp metaphorically urinated on the bourgeois art institution and its adoration of what he referred to disparagingly as ‘retinal art’. "Fountain" was "misplaced" for the duration of the exhibition and lost soon afterward yet years later it achieved seminal status. It was not the worlds first ready-made, Duschamp showed "bicycle wheel" in 1913 but it is fountain that became iconic.

So what is the relevance today? Well trace Duschamps ideas forward 100 years and we see a century of art where skill and aesthetics were not seen as important and where ready-mades and installation art were where it was at. That century is coming to an end and personally I feel that the current art world is as self obsessed and out of touch as the one which Duschamp so successfully took the piss out of 100 years ago. Frankly there is only so much navel gazing and exposing to public view the least pleasant aspects of your past that the public want to see and after a while does it have any relevance or serious message?

So who will be the new Duschamp? Who will challenge the current ideas of where artistic merit lies? And where will that merit be found? Personally I fancy we will see a return to or perhaps some new form of appreciation of aesthetics and skill. I think we will again appreciate an artist who can create something of great beauty more than one who presents ready-mades or installations with some art speak justification. Why will this happen? Well in part what we have always admired and valued throughout history has been rarity and today there are not many folk that can grind pigments, mix oils and paint a decent picture, nor carve a stone for a cathedral window, nor make a basket, nor forge a gate hinge, yet conceptual art is taught to tens of thousands of university graduates every year.

Satchi et al have huge vested interest in maintaining the artistic status quo and will rubbish any suggestion that these things have as much merit as Emin's latest but I genuinely feel they have more to say of importance to today's world than most conceptual art. They comment on how we make the stuff of everyday life, on working conditions and waste and sustainability. It will be a few years coming but my prediction is that we are approaching the time when someone who makes humble functional craftwork will be valued as much as someone who makes art installations. And the funny thing is that I reckon if Duschamp was around today he would be rebelling against today's art institution as much as he did in 1917.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

ministers support for crafts

Yesterday I was in Westminster again for a meeting with John Hayes the skills minister.
It is difficult to put into words how positive things are for traditional crafts at the moment. After years of being the poor relation to the innovative artistic end of the craft spectrum it seems things are really changing.

The ministers officials are working on a plan with various key points to help and support traditional crafts. First and most important there will be a mapping project which will identify how many traditional craftspeople are out there, which crafts are healthy, which in danger of dying out and which offer good opportunities for growth. This will also look at training provision and entry routes to the crafts, we have a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that once established traditional crafts businesses are doing quite nicely with strong consumer demand but it is difficult to get established and get funding for training.

This will be a second strand of the ministers work looking at apprenticeships and the best and most appropriate ways of addressing the issues the research highlights.
A third and equally important strand will be the development of a high profile craft award to truly recognise the contribution of dedicated craftspeople make to our cultural heritage.

This will all take a long time to filter down to show benefits to individual craftspeople in their workshops but it will happen and it will make a difference. Another thing that will make a difference in the shorter term is there seem to be a plethora of TV shows in the pipeline at the moment. Barely a week goes by without the Heritage Crafts Association being contacted for information about potential craftspeople to feature in new series. The pitches vary quite a lot but one we heard about today sounds a real winner and we are hoping it will make it through the commissioning process. Can't share details at this stage but there is no doubt in 6-12 months time there will be a whole lot of craft on your TV.