Monday, 29 August 2011

"Handmade in Britain" BBC TV

My first post of 2011 said "I believe this year will see an explosion of traditional crafts in the media" a couple of weeks ago I was filmed for John Cravens BBC "Britan at Risk" series and today the BBC announce "Handmade in Britain." All great news.

The BBC and V&A today announce Handmade In Britain, a year-long season of programming that will be the most wide-ranging and ambitious exploration of decorative arts ever to be undertaken on British television.
Ceramics, metalwork, stained glass, textiles and woodwork are some of the most beautiful and treasured objects with pride of place in British palaces, churches, stately houses and family homes. Handmade In Britain brings these fascinating, functional and often forgotten works of art to the fore in a major new season of programming which will explore the history of British artistry and craftsmanship.
Furthering the BBC's commitment to building partnerships with the arts sector that go beyond broadcast, from sharing expertise to widening public engagement in UK arts, from Autumn 2011 to Autumn 2012, Handmade In Britain will present three, three-part series and a selection of individual hour-long films, focusing on a wide variety of art and design disciplines: ceramics, wood, metalwork, textiles, stained glass and paper.
The programmes will follow the development of each of these media, unveiling stories about the objects that tell us about the social, political and cultural climate of Britain at the time in which they were made. They will also reveal why, throughout the nation's history, makers have created objects that are beautiful as well as functional.
BBC Four Controller Richard Klein said: "BBC Four is the home of in-depth, expert led content and the channel for arts and culture. Handmade In Britain will provide a new perspective and a deeper understanding of the decorative arts. Our partnership with the V&A will celebrate these often overlooked treasures of British culture, giving viewers access to one of the world's finest art and design collections."
Damien Whitmore, V&A Director of Public Affairs and Programming, said: "This is an exciting opportunity to bring the V&A's collections and the stories behind them to a national audience. We are delighted to be collaborating with the BBC on this important partnership."
Handmade In Britain will draw on the collections and expertise of the V&A, one of the world's greatest museums of art and design. V&A objects will be used to tell particular stories, highlight ground-breaking technical innovations and illustrate how the story of artistic development in Britain is one of multiculturalism and globalisation. Contributors to the programmes will include V&A curators as well as collectors such as David Attenborough and contemporary practitioners including Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal.
The series begins this autumn with a three-part series on ceramics and two single 60-minute programmes on stained glass and Chinese porcelain (1).
To complement the Handmade In Britain season, the V&A will host a series of events and will create online content and an in-gallery mobile experience. Using smart phones, visitors to the Museum will be able to locate and learn more about key objects featured in the programmes that are on display in the V&A's permanent galleries.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

stained glass courses in London

Looking for an interesting way to spend the weekend? an unusual gift? or to learn a new skill? Some folk will have seen Sophie Hussain as the tutor on Monty Don's BBC Mastercrafts program last year. Now you have the chance to learn the skill yourself.
Sophie is offering 2 day weekend courses for a maximum of 4 students, a real masterclass. You'll get to run through the whole process of making a glass panel from cutting glass and lead to designing the piece and making it up to take home. You'll work in Sophie's Woolwich studio so also get a glimpse into the real working world of a skilled professional craftsperson. Cost is just £200 plus cost of materials used (normally around £20) Sophie has worked with stained glass for over 20 years gaining much experience at the world renowned Goddard and Gibbs workshop, she is also a great and fun teacher.

There are 2 course dates booked for October 8th 9th and October 29th 30th. To book email Sophie here or phone 07946 511639

More details here

Thursday, 18 August 2011

craft notes from Japan

HCA trustee Greta Bertram shares her first notes from Japan

I`ve been in Japan for 2 weeks now (with another 4 to go) and have already seen plenty of wonderful Japanese crafts. Although it is hot in August, I have to admit I`m a fan of hot weather so I`m having a great time. I`ve so far been to Yokohama, Tokyo, Nagoya (inlcuding Tokoname for pottery and Arimatsu for shibori `tie-dyeing`) and Kanazawa (gold leaf and kaga-yuzen dyeing). Tomorrow I`m off on a day trip to Wajima, famous for it`s lacquerware. The past few days have been a bit tricky, as many things have been closed for O-Bon - a bit national holiday for honouring the spirits of the ancestors.

Here`s a very brief introduction to some of the things I`ve seen so far. It`s amazing how widely exhibited crafts are, everywhere. I began my crafts exploration with a trip to the Japan Traditional Craft Centre in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. It`s essentially a salesroom/exhibition space - all the objects are exhibited beautifully, and all of them are for sale. I tried to make a list of every type of craft on display, but there were just too many to count and I had to give up! The temporary display changes every two weeks, and there was also space for a crafts-person-in-residence. Unfortunately, photos weren`t allowed.

Traditional Craft Industry is a status designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and to be designated as such a craft must fulfill the following criteria.
1.  The article must be used mainly in everyday life.
2.  The article must be primarily manufactured by hand.
3.  The article must be manufactured using traditional techniques.
4.  The materials should be mainly those which have been traditionally employed.
5.  The industry must be of a regional nature.

Japan also has a traditional crafts mark which is administered by each local craft association according to the criteria set by the Ministry. According to the Centre, the mark `guarantees quality and authenticity and they are indeed the pride of the craftspeople`.

I found the 5th criteria really interesting. I would say that Japan has very strong regional identities, with crafts, theatre, food etc. being associated with different places. Every prefecture in Japan has a traditional crafts centre with an exhibition facility (as do many of the craft associations, and these often have resident craftspeople demonstrating their work to visitors). I found a map showing all of the crafts and where in Japan they come from, and the variety is incredible. Today I visited the Ishikawa Traditional Craft Centre in Kanazawa, which displays the 36 crafts of the region (including lacquerware, kutani ceramics, kaga-yuzen dyeing, butsdan-making (Buddhist altars), paper lanterns, umbrellas, candles, lion-masks and kaga-embroidery! Is there anything like this in the UK? I can`t think of anywhere, even in London...

Yuzen dyeing is a bit like batik - a resist is created using rice paste, the design is painted in with colour and then covered with another layer of rice paste before being dyed.]

[Photo Photo IMG_4603 and IMG_4602. Caption: Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for both its lacquerware and its gold leaf. The gold leaf is repeatedly pounded and pounded between sheets of special paper made from a plant that I`ve forgotten the name of until the gold is only 0.0001mm thick (I think). What`s interesting about these bowls is that they`re replicas of the top 100 lacquer bowls in Japan. I was amazed that there`s actually a list of the top bowls!
Another place for displaying traditional crafts is in department stores. The big stores (like Takashimaya, Sogo, Mitsukoshi etc.) often have one floor dedicated to traditional Japanese products (porcelain, kimono, household goods etc.) and another floor which serves as a gallery space. I was lucky enough to visit the Sogo department store in Yokohama when they had several days of craftspeople from around the country demonstrating and selling their work.

A basketmaker at work in Sogo department store. These baskets are made out of Japanese Rose.

[Photo IMG_4423. Caption: Some of the prices were incredible - the little knife at the bottom was no more than about 5cm and costs about 150 pounds.]

While this obi costs about 5600 punds!]
Japanese `traditional` crafts are by no means stuck in the past - this technique was developed by the maker, and involves putting hundreds and hundreds of tiny pieces of opal onto the lacquer and sanding them down until smooth. The amazing thing was how the opal changed from red to green as you moved it in the light.
And it`s not only the techniques that are new - it`s the objects too, like this Iphone case!]

From what I`ve seen so far, traditional crafts really are much more a part of people`s lives in Japan then they are in the UK. Hope to be able to update again soon, with a few more photos.

production and consumtion, London riots and craft

As the London riots were kicking off last week most commentators were going on about lack of respect, broken Britain and the breakdown of moral values, the proposed solution is normally increased discipline by home and state. I was blogging about my take on it, that being that these folk were just doing what we had trained them to do.

In the last week there have been some interesting articles one of my favourites titled The Politics of Desire and Looting and even a facebook group formed to explore how craft can be a stronger and more focussed force for positive social change. They aim to develop a "Makers' Manifesto" to draw attention to positive practical examples and set out the case for craft as a force for empowerment and hope." Grayson Perry's blog was as good as ever on the subject.

Clearly crimes have been committed and justice needs to be served but I feel we also need to do some soul searching as a society. Today the news says youth unemployment reached record levels in the UK with over 20% of 16-24 yr olds out of work, I don't have figures for the chances of a black man in South London getting a job before the age of 24 but suspect his chances in life are rather less than I was privileged to expect.
How do we turn this around? How do we motivate and incentivise folk? This entertaining youtube discusses what motivates us to work and comes up with surprising answers.

Of those looters we saw how many I wonder have ever been offered any opportunity that offered them the chance to achieve Challenge, Mastery and the sense of Making a Contribution? What a waste that we did not offer them that.

Does craft have anything to say about these issues? I believe the root cause of the problem is not lack of discipline but the avarice and lust for goods that we want, rather than need. This is coupled with the lack of meaningful work to achieve those desires.
This gives craftspeople a dilema, as a county we consume way too much stuff and send it to landfill, how do we convince people that happiness is not a new pair of trainers, plasma screen or BMW? What is craft going to contribute to that debate? As folk who market work as luxury products to aspiring consumers are we part of the solution or the problem?

Having worked alongside craftspeople for 20 years I find many, particularly traditional craftspeople, are also committed environmentalists. We mostly get into craft for lifestyle reasons and it goes along with the whole "Good Life" thing of growing your own veg, shopping at the wholefood co-op, buying locally sourced bread and organic meat etc. I suspect that on average craftspeople earn less and consume less of the earths limited resources than the average Westerner. I think perhaps the best we can do is set an example, to show that it is possible to live a really enjoyable, enviable life on less than £20,000 a year, we need to get that message across in the media and in my own little way I try to do my bit, with the blog etc and I'll be filming today for a BBC programme which hopefully may inspire more folk to choose fulfilling work over chasing money and stuff, to be proud of what they do instead of what they earn, of how they help others instead of how many holidays they have.

I suspect my work will not inspire our rioters as much as one of my heros Danny Macaskill, I have no doubt this young man suffered much prejudice as he hung out on street corners in his hoody with his bike, a friend of mine taught him to ride the unicycle and his teachers thought he was wasting his time playing on bikes, if you appreciate hard earned skill enjoy this.

What do we want these kids to do then? It's no use saying we just don't want them rioting. Most of our industrial creative jobs have gone, I think it is sad that there are not wholesome creative jobs that are valued within society but it could change, being a chef or a prep cook 15 years ago would appear menial, today it is sexy. We need to rediscover those values of the things in life that really make our lives happy and worthwhile, forget the expensive stuff, value freedom, achieve challenge, mastery and the sense of making a contribution.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

craft tour of Japan

HCA trustee Greta Bertram is off for 3 weeks traveling in Japan. Greta's first degree was in Japanese and her MA in the intangible heritage of craft, she will be visiting friends in Japan but also doing some traveling and hoping to visit traditional craft workshops. The Japanese have been at the forefront of recognising traditional crafts as part of their heritage for 70 years. The mingei movement was led by Soetsu Yanagi and Shoji Hamada.

This eventually fed into government support, the declaration of "national living treasures" and the formation of The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries
this Japan atlas shows the range of traditional crafts practiced in Japan.

Greta is hoping that whilst traveling and staying in youth hostels she may be able to have web access and update us on her trip but if not I am sure we can look forward to sharing pictures when she is back.

August is perhaps not the best time of year to visit Japan, I was there last August working on an exchange project alongside temple carpenters building a traditional tea house. In August it can be incredibly hot and humid. It is however a real insight into how craft could be regarded differently in the UK and HCA are working hard to bring that change about.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dunhill craftsmanship films

Just wanted to share these gorgeous films. HCA have been working closely with leaders of the UK luxury sector, we share a common belief in the value of craftsmanship and that given good promotion it has a very bright future.

first mens tailoring just got sexy

document case, I think it is the sound of the tools on leather that really get me

no craftsmanship shown in this one except but the filmaking is exquisite

a nice one with wood and leather

and last one on design rather than craftsmanship, I first saw this folding plug a year or two ago and was blown away, great design

Thursday, 4 August 2011

how are cricket balls made?

Well I never knew that Tonbridge was famous for the making of cricket balls. This is a craft process involving a lot of hand skill. I had little idea what was inside a cricket ball, a lump of compressed cork, a tightly wound ball of string....this lovely old Pate news clip shows the process


In the 1960's there were 85 folk making balls in Tonbridge alone, but there was already mention of cheaper balls made in Pakistan and India, I love this 1960's article from the Kent messenger especially the union reps title.

 I am not sure how many ball manufacturers are left in Tonbridge. nor what proportion are hand stitched as against machine made but I do remember watching a guy from Alfred Reader's stitching balls at Art in Action in 1996. This is a vid from their works

Reader's are clearly still the major brand name in cricket balls I just called them to ask about how their balls were made and was told by a wonderfully frank and honest lady that they are all imported and only "finished" here. Bit naughty when they proudly bear the "Made in England" brand, years ago when I worked on a cutting table in Leicester lingerie firm I was told it was legal to put "Made in England" so long as some manufacturing process had taken place....and sewing in a "Made in England" label counted as a manufacturing process. The old Reader factory was sold off for housing development. The more I learn about how we treat our heritage the more I think it is bonkers. Just look at this travesty, clearly the powers that be decided what was important was to keep the factory frontage with it's nice big sign, so they knocked it down and stuck a horrid modern house on the back. I have no doubt this makes great economic sense and was the way to make the most money out of the particular site.

Here are a few interesting links I found, the ballmakers union which "upped stumps and headed for the pavilion" in 2006

Nice page on Tonbridge ball making

So we will be following up the glorious English game with the ECB and hoping that we don't find the sort of story of child labour that was highlighted with footballs a few years ago. If anyone can find us info on any UK made cricket balls I would be pleased to hear and we will give the makers a good plug.