“As travel is currently restricted and as I am an author, when asked to share why I joined The HCA as an overseas member I decided to share my thoughts in a written testimonial. Being a new HCA member has been a tremendously rewarding experience thus far. The HCA newsletter, emails, and Instagram updates have made it delightful and easy to learn about HCA members and their crafts. Outside of HCA communications, I noted as 2020 progressed that via both print publications and media outlets in southern New England where I live and, in the UK too, there was increasing coverage of heritage crafts and their makers.
“My interest, engagement with, and exposure to heritage crafts is likely somewhat different than the majority of current HCA members as I am an author and not a practicing craftsman. As I consider now why I joined the HCA last summer (2020) I can identify some early cultural, social, and educational influences which in hindsight helped later inspire me to become an overseas HCA member.
“Growing up in a small historic town outside of Boston, Massachusetts was an enriching experience as the town’s fellow citizens included physicists, astronomers, writers, musicians, and historians who taught at colleges in the Boston area. Our circle of family friends and acquaintances included print makers, basket weavers, a friend who was born and raised on the Isle of Man who shared stories of island traditions, friends who were closely involved with the formation and organization of The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife which is ‘a continuing series of conferences, exhibitions, and publications whose purpose is to explore everyday life, work, and culture in New England’s past. Founded on the premise that traditional lore and material folk culture are rapidly disappearing in New England, the series focuses attention on emerging areas of folk studies, regional and local history, cultural geography, historical archaeology, and vernacular and antiquarian studies’ (https://www.historic-deerfield.org/the-dublin-seminar-for-new-england-folklife), and several friends who in 1977 established The Trust for Native American Cultures and Crafts. One of these friends is Henri Vaillancourt, who has been, as visitors to his website (http://www.birchbarkcanoe.net) will learn, ‘Since 1965. . .involved in the building and research of traditional Indian birchbark canoes and other aspects of Native material culture. His handmade canoes are built along the lines of the birchbark canoes once used by the Malecite, Abnaki, and Algonquin tribes, as well as those developed by the French during the Fur Trade period. They are sought after by museums and collectors throughout the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan and are known for their elegance of line and fineness of construction. He also makes scale model birch bark canoes, as well as traditional hand carved paddles with incised line decoration in the Malecite tradition.’ Spending time immersed in this community setting where ideas about crafts past and present were shared and pieces were made following traditional patterns and methods fostered an ongoing interest in and appreciation for heritage crafts.
“Outside of Massachusetts additional opportunities presented themselves to learn about heritage craftsmanship in a larger New England context (not yet a UK setting) during summers spent with my maternal grandparents in a small coastal Maine town. The town had initially been settled in the mid-18th Century when what is now the state of Maine was still part of Massachusetts (Maine became a separate state in 1820). Descendants of the town’s founding families still resided in and around the town; some made and took great pride in the items they created and sold such as hooked rugs and warm sweaters (some of which were incredibly soft due to the use of angora rabbit wool). Summer excursions included visits to The Blue Hill Fair which was the inspiration for the fair in author E B White’s beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web and where, as I recall, some handmade crafts were displayed including angora sweaters with their makers and their angora rabbits beside them. There were tours of The Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine where the work of resident craftsmen could be seen and also the grounds of an artistic haven we knew as Haystack (its official name is The Haystack Mountain School of Crafts) on Mount Desert Island, Maine. These outings were complimented by time spent exploring Hancock County’s back roads and small towns. My grandmother would stop to converse with local artisans and farmers before on occasion purchasing a handmade sweater one of them had made. Each outing involved stops to buy delectable edible delights freshly pulled from the soil or plucked from the trees or blueberry bushes somewhere nearby on the farm whose stand we were visiting. My grandmother’s approach to selecting food and items to purchase differed vastly from that of some friends back home in the Boston area whose parents primarily shopped in fluorescently lit grocery stores and in sprawling shopping malls. Meeting the artisans who made the items one was purchasing and learning about the process of that item’s creation and the history of the skills and knowledge behind its creation was eye-opening and wonderful.
“I became a history major at university and after graduation I moved to London to attend graduate school. While living and studying in London I enjoyed visiting museums and historic houses both in the city and also in various parts of England as much as I could. To be able to see places and artefacts I had previously studied gave them new relevance and placed them in a broader context. One summer I visited The National Museum Wales for the first time. I was delighted to learn about Welsh Love Spoons and to see modern day renditions of Love Spoons too. I began to wonder what other crafts in the United Kingdom might also have heritage stories like the Love Spoons did. It would be some time before I began to more deeply explore this line of thought.
“What further moved me along on the path towards HCA membership was research for my third non-fiction historical narrative which I am in process of writing. I began to research the professions of my maternal ancestors before they came to New England in the 1620s and 1630s. When research for this book began there were already plans in the works to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyage of The Mayflower. This meant I suddenly had access to new stories surrounding the lives, professions, and backgrounds of The Mayflower’s passengers and this included stories about my Mayflower ancestors Priscilla Mullins, her father William Mullins, who had been a cordwainer in Dorking before the voyage, and Priscilla’s future husband John Alden who was a cooper. Soon I was also learning more about other 17th Century maternal English forebears and how some of their professions connected them to Livery Companies in the City of London of which they became members. As 2020 dawned and a new 21st Century decade began, my focus was starting to shift from solely researching what my ancestors created centuries ago to also learning about present-day heritage crafts and their makers.
“The penultimate moment of inspiration to join The HCA came late last spring (2020) when I read an article about a 1,000-year-old English mill, which was once again providing flour to communities around it. I found myself eager to learn if there were other heritage buildings unexpectedly being used for their original purposes and how 2020 was shaping and impacting the work of current heritage crafts makers in the United Kingdom. It was through the subsequent research I did after reading about the mill that I discovered The Heritage Craft Association and decided to become a member.”
The Heritage Crafts Association has been recognised by the Ruskin Society with a special award for its contribution to supporting and safeguarding heritage crafts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ruskin Society exists to bring together people who are interested in the life and work of John Ruskin and to promote understanding of Ruskin and his legacy. John Ruskin was one of the most important art critics and social thinkers of the nineteenth century. His ideas inspired William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement and had profound political implications regarding the effect of industrialisation and free markets on the ability of people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives
At the Ruskin Society Annual General Meeting, held to coincide with the celebration of the 202nd anniversary of Ruskin’s birth, the Society’s Chair, Professor Francis O’Gorman, said:
“What is special for us [about the Heritage Crafts Association], apart from the obvious Ruskinian activity of preserving endangered crafts, is that the HCA set up a COVID-19 fund earlier in the pandemic offering small, but possibly extremely valuable, grants to sole traders and small businesses to help their activities become sustainable during the pandemic, which of course has gone on far, far longer than we anticipated. Thank you from the Ruskin Society, and our thanks and prize under these exceptional circumstances go your Association.”
Heritage Crafts Association Operations Director Daniel Carpenter, who was presented with the award, said:
“We would be honoured and delighted to be receiving this award in any circumstances, but there are two reasons that make this particularly special. Firstly, because it has been given in recognition of the work we have been doing to support heritage craftspeople during this difficult pandemic year. Secondly, because it’s in the name of John Ruskin, whose thinking on the importance of meaningful work and his influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement lives on today, and we ponder how more difficult it might be to resist what often seem like overwhelming forces of consumer capitalism and the erasure of craftsmanship, were it not for his legacy.”
This year many of these skills, and the craftspeople who embody them, have been pushed to the brink, and the future of many of the at-risk crafts featured on our HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts have become even more precarious. In response to this we have been proactive, in increasing our support through hardship grants and our Endangered Crafts Fund, offering the inaugural President’s Award for Endangered Crafts set up by HCA President HRH The Prince of Wales, and reaching out to our members through online events and peer-support networks, accelerating our programme of work thanks to the dedicated efforts of our fantastic staff and Trustee teams, and with the support of the Dulverton Trust, the Swire Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust, the Radcliffe Trust, Allchurches Trust and the Marsh Christian Trust.
The presentation was followed by a fantastic talk by Dr Rachel Dickinson entitled ‘Ruskinian Wealth Today: living well in the wake of COVID-19’.
Like many other organisations, the Heritage Crafts Association has made a commitment to increase diversity and representation within the charity – in our staff team, our Trustee Board and our critical friends (Vice-Presidents, Ambassadors, Advisors) – to be able to better serve and represent our members, those engaging with us and those who do not yet engage with us.
We want the HCA to be the best charity it can be for everyone who practices, values and loves crafts as we do. We know this includes a huge range of ages, ethnicities, sexualities, backgrounds, religions and economic statuses all across the country and the world; we want to be better at representing as many of these as possible within our teams.
Our recent advert for new Trustees has been a chance to reflect on this. For some years we have included the line ‘The Heritage Crafts Association is an equal opportunities organisation and welcomes applications from people of all backgrounds’ on all communications about recruitment. We felt it was long overdue that we are more proactive and do more to encourage the representation that we currently lack in the organisation to apply.
We have done a short, easy audit of all of our existing Trustees and below you can see some stats on who currently sits on our Board:
82% of our Trustees identify as female and 19% identify as male.
There is fairly equal representation of ages between 26 and 65. 19% are aged 26-35 but there are no Trustees under the age of 26.
There is a fairly equal geographical spread across England alone, with the small majority of our Trustees living in London (36%). We do not currently have any Trustees who live in other parts of the UK – Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
82% of Trustees identify as white, and 19% as Asian / Asian British.
82% of our Trustees identify as heterosexual.
82% do not identify as having a disability, with 28% identifying as having a long term health problem.
90% have no religion or faith, with 10% identifying as Jewish.
36% of Trustees have caring responsibilities.
Trustees were asked to describe their current social class and the vast majority identify as middle class (82%).
We are happy to note that almost all of our Board are younger than the average age of a Trustee for UK charities (which is 61 years old), and that we buck the national trend of 64% of all Trustees being male. However, as you can see, other stats show a real lack of breadth in key areas such as ethnicity, social class, sexuality, disability, faith and geographical location. We recognise that this is sadly not surprising or uncommon for many Trustee Boards, but this is no excuse. As above, we are committed to changing this and moving towards better representation on the Board, and across the whole charity.
We make this statement knowing that we’ve got a long way to go, but in the hope it will be a small step to helping us get to where we want to be. We also hope it is open and clear signal to any would-be Trustees reading this that we really want to hear from diverse candidates – and will truly value and welcome them on the Board if appointed.
In 2019 the highly skilled scissor maker Grace Horne received funding from the Endangered Craft Fund to develop an experimental approach to scissor making that combines the modern technology of water jet cutting with the older technology of drop forging. The aim was to create cheaper but high-quality scissor blanks that could be used to teach scissor making to a wider range of people and to make small runs of blanks for manufacture.
The initial stages of the project went to plan. A die was made by Footprint Tools Ltd and tested by Josh Burrell with his Massey drop hammer. The unusual requirements of a piece of machinery that is no longer industry standard (and hasn’t been for a generation) required a learning process and the first blanks were nearly, but not quite, good enough for production. More tweaks were required… but then Covid 19 hit and work ground to a halt.
The impact on Grace’s business was dramatic. She was forced to put her professional practice on hold for a year and took on unrelated work to pay the bills. She describes the frustration of trying to run a craft business during lockdown:
“I don’t get the feedback, support and the feeling of community that I used to. It is much harder to engage with people, such as engineers, in order to make refinements to the design. This is worse when they are people that you haven’t worked with before. The process of innovation and developing ideas is much slower because it is difficult to maintain a dialogue and to communicate the subtleties. Ultimately, sharing online and through images just doesn’t replace handling the objects and communicating directly.”
Despite attempts to refine the process using images and videos, Josh and Grace found it impossible to deal with the issues without getting together to test it and resolve the problems.
It isn’t all bad news though! Grace is confident that the issues will be easy to overcome when restrictions are lifted and the die will work. She is looking forward to being able to teach regular scissor making courses in partnership with Owen Bush at Bushfire Forge and she has also been approached by Hereford College to run blacksmithing masterclasses in scissor making, which will mean that many more people will have access to the exacting and skilled craft of scissor making.
When asked if the Endangered Craft Fund had helped Grace with her craft business, Grace replied: “the project has happened, and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise”. More people will be able to make scissors and more scissors will be manufactured.
“The fact that I received the money and committed to the project was a stimulus to get it done. But it’s not just the injection of cash that is important, it is the fact that someone else is interested that validates the idea. It has given me the space to do something that could have failed.”
Grace also commented that the support and verbal reporting process of the project gave her an opportunity for reflection and evaluation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
“This is something that many craftspeople won’t take the time to do, and would probably resent taking the time to do. It is great that the HCA take the written evaluation part out of the process, whilst still offering an opportunity for reflection. I am not a paper person. The reflective process is so valuable but we (craftspeople) wouldn’t usually do it because we wouldn’t want to write it. This is a barrier to many creative people.”
Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
Project aim: To develop a process for scissor making that will reduce costs and make it more accessible to trainees.
Top photo: Grace Horne
Middle photo: One of Grace’s scissor designs
Bottom photo: Massey drop hammer with test scissor blank
Hat block maker Owen @hatblockmaker was our first Maker of the Year in 2015. You have until next Friday to nominate someone for this year’s and put them in with a chance of winning £1,000. Also categories for Trainer, Trainee and Volunteer. Nominate at http://awards.heritagecrafts.org.uk.