University of Lincoln uses virtual reality to provide experience of heritage crafts

The University of Lincoln has developed a new system to use virtual reality technology to train young blacksmiths, saying that it wants to get more people involved in trades that are in danger of disappearing. Using their virtual blacksmith’s forge, users can experience the basic principles behind blacksmithing, and the hope is that young people might go on to take it up for real.

Click on the video below to play (UK only)

iPlayer story on University of Lincoln

 

Eventually the university hopes to develop a virtual village that will allow users to experience a whole range of traditional crafts, and even receive one-to-one training from experts all over the world. The Heritage Crafts Alliance (set up in North Yorkshire in 2011 to focus on building crafts, and not to be confused with us) are quoted in the Look North report as supporting the project.

Heritage crafts need to embrace technology and new sections of society if they are to survive and this development look very interesting, though for me the sensation of actually being present in the environment and the interaction with the materials are vital factors in the lure of heritage crafts, and it will be a long time before technology can replicate this. If this is to become a teaching tool, is it even possible to convey the types of tacit knowledge that make up these craft skills without these sensuous factors present?

Life is a gym for head, hand and heart

It seems to me that the life many people aspire to at the moment involves spending the working day in important meetings or at a computer or doing similar cerebral work, then in the morning or evening jogging or pumping iron at the gym to get that perfect body.

These gyms seem bizarre places to me, I have walked past them in London full of folk pounding away like so many hamsters on wheels. The bizarre thing is that all those machines are consuming electricity, I’d like to see a gym that generated electricity or better see those folk out carrying shopping for old ladies or some  other useful physical activity. Besides that I struggle with the idea of pounding away just to get the current trendy body shape. I think far better to live a balanced life that involves a mix of cerebral and physical activity. At the moment I am converting my ex village police station into a holiday cottage, there is a lot of hard labouring work which a hard nosed business annalist would say I should pay a labourer £50 a day to do whilst I got on with more lucrative work. I earn an average of £80 a day so I can’t argue with the economics but there is something more important than economics to me. By doing the labouring myself I get a feeling of empowerment, and also a good workout which would cost my cerebral friends a hefty gym fee. Here I am starting to demolish the old wall separating the old garage from the police station office, I reckon you could charge for this it was such fun.

Why is it that doing this stuff as part of the working day is looked down upon whilst paying to sweat in the gym is viewed as a good thing? This is all part of my philosophy of living a balanced life with work involving hand, head and heart.

Balvenie Masters of Craft awards

Last night a select group of craftsfolk from around the UK left their workshops and headed to a very posh hotel in London’s Mayfair (yes the one with the most expensive houses on the monopoly board and in real life too) We were at the Connaught to celebrate the winners of the Balvenie Masters of Craft Awards, I had the honour of being one of the judges and presenting some of the awards. We had a great judging team but craftsfolk are most likely to know Kevin McCloud off the TV and Nick Hand wonderful crafts photographer.

Well it was a wonderful evening, hosted by warm friendly folk from the Balvenie. The stars of the show though were the craftspeople so lets announce the winners.

Wood winner and overall Balvenie Master of Craft 2011: Christoph Gotting, violin maker

Christoph Gotting spent 20 years renovating the best 17th century instruments made by the like of Stadivari followed by another 20 making new instruments of the best possible quality. Apparently the ground and varnish are play a major part in the difference between a good violin and a great one. Christoph has undertaken 800 meticulously recorded varnish tests to produce instruments that are the probably the closest currently available alternative to an original Strad.

Emily Ruth Davey, shoemaker

Ruth operates a shoemaking business from her workshop on the mid-Wales coast. She says her customers range from dukes to dustbin men, from young to old, yoga teachers, artists, poets, doctors and even the odd film star. Testament to her success is her current search for an apprentice

Glass and ceramics winner: Stuart Hearn, glass blower

Stewart has been blowing glass for 28 years and runs London Glassworks. While his pieces celebrate traditional craft, they also have a strong contemporary aesthetic. Stuart is passionate about passing on skills and provides regular training and workshops

Textiles winner: Iain Finlay McLeod, weaver

Iain is the fourth-generation weaver in his family. On the Isle of Lewis, he and his team of five weavers create high-quality cloth on traditional looms over 70 years old. They sell their cloth to some of the best tailors and fashion houses in Tokyo, London and Beverley Hills

Stone winner: Jacqueline Cullen, jeweller

Jacqueline is a jeweller working with Whitby jet. Specialising in Victorian mourning jewellery, Jacqueline has developed innovative processes and formats that celebrate rather than disguise the inherent flaws of Whitby jet, allowing the natural beauty of the material to speak for itself

 
Leather winner: Deborah Carre, shoemaker

Deborah is a hand-sewn shoemaker. She is currently building a business that focuses on making bespoke men’s shoes by hand and has a new workshop on the shop floor at Gieves & Hawkes, 1 Savile Row, London

 
Metal winner: Wayne Victor Meeten, precious metalworker

Wayne is a silversmith, goldsmith and precious metalworker, who aims to push the boundaries of traditional smithing by using 21st century technology. His designs are contemporary with wonderful form, line, texture and structure

After the food and the awards we enjoyed some very fine whisky, my favourite of the evening being the 21 yr old Balvenie portwood, rather out of my budget but delightful to experience. It was quite moving to see how touched Christoph particularly was to receive his award and I hope this helps shine the light on these folks dedication and skills and raises the profile of craftsmanship generally.

Craft, work and the Luddites at 200

Should we the craft community be celebrating the bicentenary of the 1811 Luddite rebellions?

In modern usage in the UK to call someone a Luddite can be a slightly derogatory term used to imply someone is against all change and blindly rejects any complex modern technology in favour of older simpler technology.  Some people on the other hand are proud to describe themselves as Luddites and feel that it is about valuing the things that are important in life.

A very brief history of the Luddites; in the late 1700’s a host of new inventions threatened to transform the textile industry which up to then had been a skilled hand craft undertaken by self employed artisans. 1764 the spinning jenny, then Arkwright’s  water frame 1769 installed in the first real factories just down the road from me at Cromford Mill. The mill started employing 200 people mostly women and children the youngest being aged just 7 years old.

At this time weaving was undertaken by highly skilled and respected craftspeople who served a minimum 7 year apprenticeship. 1785 the first power loom appeared, by 1850 there would be 260,000 in operation in England and in 1811 the writing was on the wall.

The change in lifestyle is hard to imagine, the hand loom weavers worked from home with their families around them. The looms tended to be upstairs in front of long windows since before electric light, natural light regulated work. This is Edward Eccles the last handloom weaver in Darwen, Lancs.

The weavers cottages are instantly recognisable today by the rows of upstairs windows.

Would you rather work in the home above as a self employed skilled professional or in the factory below as an unskilled machine minder with low wages and few employment rights?

History is often taught as if this change was a positive development as it helped UK Plc on its road to world domination and produced goods that could be sold for less money. I feel differently but will try to stay dispassionate. From the Luddites point of view it was not about being against all technology it was about working conditions, the replacement of highly skilled work with low skilled and clearly lower wages.

My personal view is that the loss of social status and the difference between doing a job that is valued, which you trained for years to be good at and valued for are as important as the money. It was about power, in the craft model the artisan was empowered, in factory production all power lay with the factory owner. So the Luddites rebelled. Violence against machines was not their first move but the last resort. As early as 1778 the stockingers had attempted but failed to get an act through parliament regulating the “art and mystery of framework knitting”. The Luddites were highly organised, they nicknamed their fictional leader Nedd Ludd to protect their anonymity. On 11th March 1811 they broke wide knitting frames at a workshop in the village of Arnold in Nottinghamshire, they claimed the frames made poor products devaluing the craft and the owner was employing workers who had not completed the 7 year apprenticeship required by law.

The actions spread to surrounding villages and across the neighboring counties of Derbyshire, Liecestershire and then into the cotton mills of Manchester. Social historians see this is a crucial turning point in the development of a “working class” who became organised and exercised some power. It can be seen as the first step toward trade unions and workers rights. Framebreaking continued for several years, some concessions were made in terms of wages, rights, and release of prisoners accused of being ringleaders and attacks decreased after 1814.

So how does this relate to our situation today? If I choose to use a technology that demands high skill level rather than capital investment and I value self determination in my work, working for myself from home rather than for someone else as an unskilled machine minder then perhaps I do owe something to Nedd Ludd whoever he was. How remarkably similar this all sounds to the words of William Morris 100 years ago, both the honour of handwork and the social effects of labour management. How similar also to the recent books by Richard Sennett and particularly Mathew Crawford, “The case for working with your hands, or why office work is bad for you and fixing things feels good”

If we do choose to celebrate craft and Luddism though I feel it is very important that we do not blindly reject new technology and we are not perceived as backward looking. The internet has enabled many people to take that step away from working in the office to working from home, new technology can be be a change for good or bad, it is up to us to choose an appropriate technology and look hard at who benefits and who looses out of the different options available. Today is little different in many ways to 1811, we have to choose how we want to work, we spend a significant proportion of our lives and energy in our work, it is important that it should be empowering, life affirming, useful and productive.

Lots of info on Luddites on the web but this is better than most.

Raising the status of art and craft?

How do we raise the status of studying artistic rather than pure academic subjects? There has been much discussion recently about how society values academic vs tacit knowledge, skills minister John Hayes said “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. Matt Crawford’s book ‘The case for working with your hands’ made a similar case but how do we convince parents and bright kids that a career in the arts, crafts or trades is a viable choice and not something for academic low achievers?

I just came across this wonderful witty ad campaign for the College for Creative Studies in Detroit mimicking anti drugs campaigns. Entertaining and makes the point but does it reinforce the image, challenge it or change it?

Talk to your kids about art school

1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art
I found this in your room. We need to talk
Doodling is a gateway to illustration
How long have you been Photoshopping?
Your son has been sculpting again
Know the warning signs of art

Your mother and I raised you better than this

 

Information / Credits
1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art. Talk to your kids about art school.

Advertising Agency: Team Detroit, Dearborn, MI USA Chief Creative Officer: Toby Barlow Creative Director: Gary Pascoe Art Director: Vic Quattrin Copywriter: Joel Wescott Published: October, 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 5,600 pounds!]

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.