Update on Manchester School of Art’s Endangered Crafts project

Tuesday 20th March was the ‘Big Crit’ day for students involved in the Endangered Crafts Unit X project at Manchester School of Art, which has been inspired by the HCA’s Red List. First and second year students on the Textiles in Practice (TIP) and Three Dimensional Design (3DD) programmes, as well as students joining the project from fine art, film making and interactive arts came together to share their findings so far.

Students have had inspiring input from Steve Dixon, professor of Craft, Alice Kettle, professor of Textiles Arts, Martyn Evans, professor of Design, as well as talks and workshops by designers Silo Studio and artists Hwa Young Jung, Brendan Dawes, Zoe Robertson and Ismini Samanidou. It’s been a fruitful three weeks with much discussion and debate around what and why a craft is on the ‘Red’ list and how the students want to develop their ideas using the research they have generated so far to inform the next stage of the project. The Big Crit saw students proposing ideas and presenting prototypes and test pieces to demonstrate their thinking.

A wide variety of work has been produced so far – from marbled paper to samurai sword making at first year level, and from proposing new applications for endangered practices to inventing new ways of thinking about the production of craft products at second year level. A very positive and interesting day for all, and a great start to the project.

Students are looking forward to the start of the summer term where groups will materialise their thinking through making in preparation for the Unit X Festival and opening night at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre on Wednesday 9 May at 5:30pm.

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Once in a lifetime opportunity to become the next in a historic line of chair makers

Once in a lifetime opportunity to become the next in a historic line of chair makers

An amazing opportunity has come up for two people to learn from one of the country’s top traditional craftspeople and carry forward an important traditional craft.

Lawrence Neal has spent his life making rush seated chairs, a trade he learned from his father Neville, who in turn learned from Edward Gardiner. Gardiner had learned from the famous architect and designer Ernest Gimson who had was taught by country chairmaker Philip Clissett. Lawrence is now approaching retirement and is looking to pass on his skills, knowledge and tools many of which were originally owned by Gimson.

Heritage Crafts Association supporter Hugo Burge has taken a personal interest in Lawrence’s chairs and is going to fund the training process for Lawrence to pass his skills on. Not only that but once the successful new chairmakers are trained he can provide a workshop and subsidised accommodation on the Marchmont Estate in Scotland… all-in-all a once in a lifetime opportunity for the right person.

Hugo said:

“I fell in love with the Ernest Gimson’s Bedales Library and its chairs over 20 years ago when I bought six Bedales chairs from Lawrence Neal in 1994. Much more recently, I have been working with Lawrence Neal, who continues to make rush seated chairs today in a 100 year tradition from Ernest Gimson, still using Gimson’s tools. We are now looking for two individuals to learn from Lawrence directly (as apprentices), in Stockton, Warwickshire for one to two years, before moving the whole workshop up to Marchmont House stables in Berwickshire to let Lawrence retire and take the business forwards within a charitable structure.

The business will generate a good living and offers the opportunity to grow and evolve, with an incredible lineage, using the actual tools of Ernest Gimson from Daneway – one of Britain’s greatest architect designers and pioneers of The Arts and Crafts Movement. There will be a base salary and the opportunity to grow your income, taking subsidised accommodation on the Marchmont Estate when you establish the workshop. This is a unique opportunity to build and create a new legacy; a new chapter of chairmaking – it will require commitment and long term dedication, so will be highly selective and not for everyone, but for two people with a real passion for taking the legacy of this traditional process into the twenty first century…..it will be ideal”

If you think this may suit you, download the application form here (deadline for applications 31 March 2018).

Introducing the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

Delivered by Greta Bertram, HCA Secretary, at the launch of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts, 3 May 2017 at the House of Lords:

Greta Bertram

Photo by Lesley Butterworth

In Cambridge, where I’m lucky enough to live, we are surrounded by beautiful and historic buildings, many of which are unique. If just one of them was threatened with demolition or was allowed to fall into disrepair, people would be up in arms. There would be protests, demonstrations and it would no doubt make the national news.

Within the last ten years, we have lost four of our heritage crafts in the UK. These didn’t hit the headlines, yet these crafts are just as much a part of our rich heritage as our historical buildings. These extinct crafts include gold beating and sieve and riddle making. Only last month the Heritage Crafts Association was asked where British hand-made sieves could be bought, and the answer was, sadly, nowhere.

Historic England has a listing system for historic buildings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has a red list for endangered species. But this is the first time that anyone has looked at traditional crafts in the UK and identified those most at risk. Generously funded by The Radcliffe Trust, the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts looks at every single heritage craft taking place in the UK today, focusing on those where there is a significant reliance on hand-work and with high levels of hand skill.

We have looked at 169 crafts in total (although we’re bound to have missed some) and, after careful consideration, have assigned each craft to one of four categories: extinct, critically endangered, endangered and currently viable. Where we didn’t have enough information to make a classification, we put them into a data deficient category.

Seventeen crafts have been identified as critically endangered – this means that they’re at serious risk of becoming extinct. These crafts have very few practitioners, generally spread across just one or two businesses, and usually with no trainees learning the skills. We sincerely hope that none of these seventeen join the four that have already gone.

There is one skilled master vellum and parchment maker in the whole of the UK. There are two skilled clog makers (and there’s currently a revival in clog dancing), and four skilled horse collar makers. There are two businesses making coaches and wagons, one person making fans, and two businesses making hat blocks. There are three people marbling paper (indeed, we heard only heard about the third one last week), and only one piano manufacturer. And there are just a handful of trainees across these seventeen crafts! (All of this information is in your booklets).

So, what are the problems and challenges? Well, they are, typically, many and varied, and often connected. For some crafts it’s an ageing workforce, a shortage of training opportunities or difficulties in recruiting trainees. For others it’s a fluctuating market, competition from overseas or the unwillingness of customers to pay that little bit more for handmade British items. Some crafts have problems with the supply of raw materials and tools (think of all the timber diseases we keep hearing about) and others point out that people just don’t know they still exist. For yet more it’s the myriad obstacles that have to be overcome if you are self-employed (which nearly 80% of craftspeople are) or running a microbusiness.

Sadly there isn’t a magic bullet cure-all solution, but the research has highlighted how precarious the future of all heritage crafts are when they are in the hands of only a few skilled craftspeople.

So, now that we have identified the most critically endangered crafts, and understand more about the challenges they, along with all crafts, are facing, what next?

We feel it’s crucial for the government to clarify the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in supporting heritage crafts, as they do for contemporary crafts, and to make the necessary changes. For too long we have been bounced between heritage – which means historic buildings and museums – and arts – things that you can put on a shelf and admire.

In 2003 UNESCO produced a Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This focuses not on the physical things like buildings, monuments, and artefacts, but on the non-physical aspects of our heritage like traditional performing arts, festivals, and, importantly for us, craft skills. The UK is one of only 22 countries out of 194 that haven’t ratified the convention, the government saying only that ‘it isn’t their priority’.

We would like to be pro-active in ensuring those seventeen critically endangered crafts don’t become extinct, and also in preventing any other crafts from entering that category. For that, the broader issues of the heritage crafts sector need to be addressed, particularly relating to training, recruitment, and market issues. And that requires proper funding and support.

Finally, this is a significant piece of research which should not be shelved and forgotten. Like Historic England’s listed buildings register, or the red list of endangered species, The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts needs to be regularly monitored and a thorough (and funded) review conducted every 3–5 years.

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supplied information about the crafts, and cannot thank the Radcliffe Trust enough for funding this research, which has enabled us to shine a light on this important part of our shared cultural fabric. We sincerely hope that the Red List will serve as a starting point to encourage future interest and research into heritage crafts, and to ensure that these rich and diverse craft skills carry on into the future.

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.