Saturday, 21 January 2012

can we define what craft is?

Yesterday I was a meeting in London of the steering group for a major piece of government funded research into the state of heritage crafts in England. The first and perhaps most difficult task is to define very precisely what heritage crafts are in such a way as the research company can go away and start counting and measuring.

Crafts consultant Hillary Jennings had prepared us a draft discussion paper which runs to about 15 pages, we hope to be able to make this document public in due course but for now I can share a few of the most important points.

It was felt that heritage craft could be defined as practice which encompassed these points
  • Knowledge and use of traditional materials
  • Skilled use of hand tools and hand operated machinery
  • Knowledge and application of traditional, often functional designs
Then this was boiled down into an even more concise version for when we need a one line definition.

"Practices which employ skilled use of hand tools and an understanding of material and have their roots in traditional functional design."

It's not easy to define traditional craft, how would you do it? can you come up with anything better? One thing we were sure about was that heritage is not the same as old, it is more a question of what we value and wish to pass on to future generations.

To make the most of my London trip I also got to meet two people I have been corresponding with for a while. First was Adam Thompson who writes the excellent "manufacture and industry" blog here 
We only had time for a quick coffee and chat but it was good to meet, his blog is well worth following.

Then last thing I visited potter Kate Malone. Folk who know Kate's work may be surprised as she is very much a high end art potter making pieces which sell for thousands of pounds, she does have very strong roots in traditional practice however and believes that it is crucial that ceramicists learn basic craft skills first before considering any sort of innovative self expression. Here is a lovely film of her studio.

I am in London next Tuesday and Wednesday for more meetings including John Hayes skills minister, Martina Milburn CEO of the Princes Trust, the BBC to discuss potential craft TV programs, Baroness Garden at the Lords and I am particularly pleased to be able to meet up with Betsy Greer, craft activist who is over from the US.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

craft conference at the V&A "evolving craft communities"

This year's Heritage Crafts Association conference at the V&A has the theme "Evolving Craft Communities"

Since you are reading this on the web and presumably have an interest in craft you are part of an online craft community which did not exist 20 years ago. At the same time many of us are also part of other craft communities whether local, regional or national with a particular craft theme. I am quite involved with the Association of pole lathe turners and greenwoodworkers who have a good online forum here  but also an annual meeting where we all get together to exchange skills and ideas.

We are live in exciting times as we can exchange and source information freely across the web,  how does this change our craft practice and how does it compare to past practices of passing skills?  Is it possible to feel connected to other folk we have never met who live in other continents and what sort of meaning does that bring to our lives? How do we make the best use of changes that are happening and new opportunities available to us?

Speakers at the conference will include Professor Richard Sennett, talking about "Making and thinking". Richard is author of the well-received book The Craftsman, and professor of sociology at  New York University and LSE. He popularised the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft skill, he also talks from personal experience of hand skills having put those hours in training as a cellist.

Lida Kindersley runs the highly successful Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in  Cambridge. Lida was trained by David Kindersley who was himself trained by Eric Gill. She wrote a nice book on apprenticeship  Her workshop practices solidly "old school" with apprentices learning letter-cutting alongside the team of experienced craftspeople.

Ele Carpenter is a curator, artist and researcher working within the field of visual arts and new media. She will talk about the open source embroidered digital commons

Stuart Mitchell's apprenticeship in the Sheffield cutlery industry was very traditional. He started at the bottom and worked all hours until eventually even his father took pride in the knives that he built. His workshop, and indeed work ethic, is still steeped in the traditions of Sheffield of old, but things have changed.

And then I will be talking about how I feel to be part of a global online woodworking community but how I still value physical get togethers and particularly working on craft projects together alongside other people whether sharing my knowledge through courses or learning from others.

Here is the full program, you can book here and this year we are offering an £5 early bird discount to save us having the stress of last minute bookings. It will be a great day, hope you can join us.
  • 10.15am - Registration in the Lecture Theatre.
  • 10.45am - Conference starts. Welcome from Patricia Lovett, Vice-Chair of the HCA.
  • 10.55am - Professor Richard Sennett - 'Making and Thinking'.
  • 11.55am - Lida Kindersley, lettercutter in stone - 'Learning by Doing'
  • 1.00pm - HCA Annual General Meeting - all welcome.
  • 2.30pm - Afternoon session begins. Patricia Lovett.
  • 2.35pm - Presentation of Marsh Awards for trainer and volunteer in Heritage Crafts by Alex Langlands
  • 3.00pm - Ele Carpenter, 'Open Source Embroidery Project - the embroidered digital commons'
  • 3.25pm - Robin Wood, wood turner and Chair of the HCA - 'Bringing Craft out of the Woods'
  • 3.50pm - Stuart Mitchell, knifemaker - 'Web Mester'
  • 4.15pm - Closing remarks and HCA updates
  • 4.30pm - Conference ends

Sunday, 8 January 2012

lettercarving in stone

Memorial Arts are a charity set up to help folk find artists making memorials, particularly letter-cutting in stone. They promote excellence in lettercarving in various ways including running a successful apprentice scheme. They are affiliated members of HCA. Whether you are looking for a special piece of artwork or just interested in the craft their website is well worth a visit also see their linked website Memorials by Artists.

Crisp beautiful letters take time to produce by hand, this video shows the process start to finish in real time.

and lets finish with some lovely pics of lettercutting from their site.