50 years of craft skills at the Weald & Downland Living Museum

by Lucy Hockley

Museum“Celebrating 50 years since the first opening of the Weald & Downland Living Museum was not as originally planned, as 2020 changed for everyone. The Museum team had to adjust arrangements for this anniversary weekend last September, yet we were very grateful to be open and mark this milestone. Central to the Museum’s mission from its earliest days to today has been the objective ‘to stimulate public interest in ancient crafts, trades and manufactures’. This happens in a huge variety of ways, and is also the reason from first hearing about the formation of the HCA, over a decade ago, the Museum team has been keen to collaborate and support this likeminded organisation.

“The simple point of raising awareness can be powerful in so many ways. It may be a child seeing a skilled craftsperson at work with the chance to ask their question directly and, when possible, have a go. Charcoal burningIt is always exciting to hear from adult whose craft work choices were sparked by a Museum visit. When we had low-level thatching frames for school groups alongside thatchers working on two roofs at the Museum, young people clearly did see the skill in a different light due to their hands-on experience. One lad even offering to go up to help the thatchers out! Around the same time, the Museum hosted an ‘alternative careers forum’ focussed on the heritage sector and craft skills, which was quickly fully subscribed by adults, with a strand for secondary age pupils woven into the day. In a normal year the Museum has well over 120,000 visitors each year, with many opportunities for connection on-site as well as in outreach work.

“Our artefact collection is an inspiration as well as a reference point for tools, particularly those of our region and rural occupations. Of course the historic buildings themselves tell of so many crafts skills in the past and today, both from the activity of workshops and also in the construction of the buildings themselves. WDLM WheelwrightingThroughout the year, and particularly in a series of Historic Life Weekends, we also have demonstrators at the Museum who share their own craft skills.

We understand the value of informal conversations with depth of knowledge sharing that comes from them, for the demonstrators amongst themselves also. Topics in the Historic Life Weekend series vary each year, with our Heritage Crafts and Skills at Risk weekend planned (again) this August. This is in collaboration with the HCA and will also have a linked exhibition.

WDLM Sarah Goss“Beyond sparking interest and conversations, the Museum has offered, for over 25 years, the next steps – workshops in a vast variety of skills. These range from 1 day to 5 day courses, including many skills on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, to University masters programmes in Timber Building Conservation or Building Conservation. Perhaps therefore also no surprise that when the producers of The Repair Shop were looking for a venue, the Museum was on their shortlist and filming continues in Court Barn today.

“The Museum experience is not static; experiences will change daily and we try to ensure that essential maintenance and building conservation work happens in visitor view and with discussion whenever possible. This season work is underway on the House from North Cray, a 15th century hall house, which stands in the market square. As with each exhibit building, this house is only at the Museum as there was no future for it where it originally stood and was faced with demolition. In fact, in this case it has already been dismantled by the local council and lay in storage for some years, before it was offered to the Museum in its very early years.

WDLM House from North Cray“Over the years the Museum has been open, there has both been a growth in interest in heritage craft skills and an awareness number of craft skills at risk.HCA members will be only too aware of this also. The many benefits of traditional skills are being recognised rightly for their contribution to an urgently needed sustainable future, as well as their wellbeing aspect. That inspiration needs to continue with many individuals and organisations coming together to raise awareness of heritage crafts skills, their uses today and for the future.”

The Weald & Downland Living Museum is an independent museum and educational charity located in West Sussex, just north of Chichester. More details about the Museum can be found on the website www.wealddown.co.uk or via social media.

A resource that might be of interest are articles in the Museum magazines, which can all be found online here, with a few recent examples mentioned below:

Why I joined the HCA as an overseas member

by HCA member Katherine Dimancescu (www.theforgottenchapters.com)

Kate Dimancescu“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.”

Trustee diversity statement

Bobbins photo by Nick HandLike 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.

1,000th member Louise Altman

We are delighted to have recently welcomed our 1,000th member of the Heritage Crafts Association, wallpaper maker Louise Altman – www.outofbounds.org.uk/hand-printed-wallpapers. Here, Louise tells us a little bit about her work and why she chose to join the HCA. if you’re not already a member, click here to find out more about joining up.


 

Louise Altman“I studied a Print Media (Book Arts) degree at the LCP (London College of Printing). The course had a very creative element but was equally technically focused on bookbinding and printmaking skills. I was always trying to make more time to get in the print rooms! After uni, I was fortunate enough to work at Book Works Studio with Rob Hadrill. It was here that I learned much finer bookbinding and making techniques that have informed all of my creative practices. I spent a few years working as a resident artist in schools where we pioneered a unique creative initiative in education, working with students and staff to promote creative thinking. Alongside this more formal career, I maintained a studio and continued to create prints, limited edition artists’ books and patterns.

“I first heard of HCA whilst reading an article on The Guardian website and was really excited to know that there was an association championing heritage crafts… Then several friends and artists have pointed out to me that wallpaper printing was an endangered skill and that I ought to let you know that I’m out here working in this medium. I’m fairly new to wallpaper printing but my designs have already been enjoyed by many and I intend to continue and develop this wonderful skill. Luckily I have been printmaking for many years so it’s just an additional learning curve to the skills I have been practising for over 20 years.”

Louise AltmanI spent some years visiting India (and still do, pandemic aside) and was lucky enough to be invited to a traditional block printing studio. This ancient art of block printing patterns onto fabrics became a huge interest. I spent some time on several trips with the artisans learning the techniques, despite the huge language barrier. I altered my studio at home and adapted a large table into one similar to the one I’d been using in India. I began printing onto fabric with half a mind to eventually print wallpaper. I joined a weekend course with Hugh Dunford Wood and learned the basics of printing wallpapers. The passion was ignited!

“It’s more important than ever before to support heritage crafts. I am an early adopter when it comes to tech and innovation but I also know that if we lose these skills we will be unable to retrieve a very unique tradition of making by hand.  I always think back to cave handprints and how we hold those early human marks in high regard. The mark of a human is impossible to replicate and we must protect it or future generations will lament our oversight.”

Louise Altman“Continuing to develop my wallpaper printing skills alongside my day job, suddenly the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown. It was being on furlough that gave me the time and space to develop a series of patterned papers which I am now producing for clients. My future plans are to develop several collections and to continue to promote this beautiful craft. It would be easier to develop these patterns for a digital wallpaper market but I want to remain a purist and hand print everything myself. I am in my element whilst printing and really enjoy interactions with clients who appreciate the work and mark of the artist’s hand.

“My process is to sketch from nature, I then turn these drawings into a repeat pattern design. This gets transferred onto a specially prepared block which I carve into to create the pattern. This block then gets handprinted onto prepared wallpapers using my adapted block printing table. Mostly I use my feet to print as you’ll see from the images. It’s a truly physical practice and I love listening to podcasts whilst I print.”

Photos by Anna Lukala – www.lukala.com

Deborah White, damask weaver

In 2019, Deborah was awarded £2,000 from the Endangered Craft Fund to help restore the Royal Loom. She aims to be designing and weaving her own linen damask on the loom when the restoration project is complete.

This project was generously supported by Allchurches Trust.

Deborah WhiteStopping in on his way home from school at his father’s workplace was an everyday occurrence for the young Vincent Green. What was not quite so everyday was the factory itself, nor indeed the work that his father James undertook. More than sixty years on he still vividly recalls the dimly-lit factory, the single bare lightbulb dangled above his father’s head, the cumbrous, almost primeval wooden loom with its mysterious complex of cords and lead weights, and the race of the shuttle and the rhythmic beat of the sley. On occasion his father would stop off from his work, dismount the seat board and sit himself on a concrete block to have a quick cup of tea and a chat with his son. Any curiosity the young Vincent displayed for the craft was, however, promptly dampened by his father. Though a third generation hand-loom weaver, James remained adamant that none of his seven children would continue the tradition. And in spite of his evident pride in weaving for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II he remained firm in his conviction that weaving was ‘a dead-end street.’ The 1950s held the promise of better education and jobs, and that was the future he wished for his children.

The Royal LoomNone of his children ever did follow him into hand-loom linen damask weaving. Indeed, the industry came to a complete end soon after in 1968, closing a tradition that had spanned nearly three centuries in the Lurgan region of Ulster. The factory was abandoned and the loom itself dismantled, many of the point-paper designs and the Jacquard punch-cards heaped into piles and burnt, or left to rot in the open. The craft had indeed reached a dead-end. Fifty years later, however, a remarkable turn of events has shone a beam of hope for the craft. “Would I like to have a look at an old loom that has been lying in a barn” was a question that did not have to be asked twice. It proved to be a ten-quarter broad loom, and the owner was anxious that as a hand- loom linen damask weaver I take it into my care. Countless hours trawling through archival records, interviewing those involved in the last days of hand-loom weaving, opening up a past that had been mostly forgotten led to the realisation that the loom was in fact the ‘Royal loom’ that James Green wove on all those years ago, his name lightly scratched into the frame.

Allchurches TrustThe Heritage Crafts Association was quick to recognise its significance and its Endangered Crafts Fund grant has sparked a remarkable journey. Once supported by a network of ancillary crafts, hand-loom linen damask weaving now stands alone, the restoration of the loom necessarily drawing on a range of local artisans to make bespoke components, from Mark Hanvey, an exceptionally gifted cabinet maker to James Adair, a saddler with commissions from the Queen. Another, Andrew Hilary, a tool maker, works from the very factory in which the loom last stood! The scale of works and its complexity means it will be a long journey but one that will lead to the first broad-loom linen damask weaving in Ulster for over sixty years. It also affords a platform for my AHRC/NBC funded doctoral study of Irish hand-woven linen damask, and without the encouragement and support of the HCA none of this may have happened. So, it is thanks to them that a new pathway is being forged, an escape from the ‘dead-end’ that James Green had predicted all those years ago. How apt that it is his loom that has given us the chance.

 

Project outline

  • Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
  • Project aim: To bring a historic linen damask handloom back into working order so that Lecale Looms can start production of damask linen in Northern Ireland.

This project was supported by Allchurches Trust.

 

  • Main photo: Examining the Royal Arms centrepiece of a tablecloth woven by James Green on the loom for Buckingham Palace in 1956.
  • Second photo: The main frame in the course of being re-built in the workshop.

Taking Heritage Crafts International

by Innan Sasaki, Warwick Business School, and Davide Ravasi, UCL School of Management

Heritage and heritage crafts are sometimes misunderstood as part of a purely nostalgic and inward-looking industry. But those who work in the industry know that heritage crafters don’t simply preserve the past; they revive it, bringing it to new audiences and in many cases, encouraging it to evolve with the times. Just think of the Chinese-Scottish tartan created by the Scottish Tartans Authority in 2006. Incorporating the colours of both the Chinese and Scottish flags, the new design was a forward-looking product that embraced international links between the two countries and took advantage of the Chinese affinity for quality tartan. The culturally-specific nature of real, woven tartan, usually reserved for traditional Scottish celebrations, has found new customers in adapting itself for an international market.

In recent years, we have been studying how heritage crafts industries have made themselves more adaptable, responding to external influences on the way they do business and the way their products are received. We studied, in particular, how small traditional crafts producers in Japan have marketed products that typically only native Japanese customers would fully connect with, to customers from many other countries. Historically, the Japanese crafts industry produced materials for the court and imperial or religious ceremonies, such as kimonos, lacquerware, and Buddhist altars. In an age when hand-made products are less-economical than their mass-produced counterparts, producers have endeavoured to find new ways or marketing and selling their wares. Regardless of how alien their products were to the cultures of foreign customers, the firms we studied all experimented with a variety of different ways of marketing products to new customers with varying degrees of success.

We observed three distinct ways in which Kyotoite heritage craft producers had expanded their marketing methods to target customers from entirely different cultures. Although the reception to heritage industries will inevitably vary from country to country, we believe that the strategies outlined below can provide inspiration to producers around the world in finding new customers for not only for their products, but also for their country’s culture.

Strategy 1: Selective Targeting

The first of these strategies observed the cardinal rule of business; knowing your customer. Many of the firms we studied knew the importance of identifying, targeting, and selling products to international communities that would appreciate Japanese culture and the hand-made products in their original form. After a decline in domestic demand, some of the producers with whom we spoke decided that they were keen to expand the reach of their marketing efforts to other countries.

For example, Kyoto Maimu, a firm making bags and other accessories made of kimono fabric, was struggling to sell their products internationally despite adjusting their design to suit what they perceived to be the tastes of western consumers. The firm eventually shifted back to producing a traditional Japanese design and refined their targeting to concentrate on Italian and French markets, which research and test sales indicated as the most receptive to their products. Their outreach was also helped by targeting culturally specific, international events such as conventions on Japanese pop culture and Anime comic contests where visitors were most likely to engage with the products they offered.

This method has its advantages. Selling products that exist only in your own country means that there is little to no competition in the foreign countries you market to. However, sometimes a degree of adaptation may be necessary to better fit local needs and preferences.

Strategy 2: Cultural Adaptation

The second strategy focused on adapting the design and/or presentation of products with foreign customers in mind so that their appeal, and potential customer base, was wider. To do so, firms often sought the help of foreign distributors, serving as ‘cultural intermediaries’, companies in possession of both a knowledge of Japanese culture and the local market, who could guide adaptation of craft products tom local tastes and uses.

This strategy was primarily driven by the idea that while selective targeting can achieve a certain level of success in exporting heritage crafts, making some small but strategic adjustments to the design, packaging, and features of the product may considerably expand the potential appeal to local customers. For example, Maruwa Shougyou offered its furoshiki (a square piece of cloth that, in Japan, had been used to wrap and carry things for hundreds of years) in a larger size, and successfully marketed it as a tablecloth in the US and Europe. Kyobutugu Kobori, a producer of altar fittings for Buddhist temples, modified their products to serve the rapidly diffusing yoga studios in Western countries. These changes often led to double-digit growth of international sales over several years.

Local distributors also helped educate local customers about the unique properties of heritage craft objects, passionately shared stories about the cultural traditions they were part of, and help customers distinguish original, authentic products from cheap imitations. On occasions, they also repositioned objects in ways that made them more relevant for local needs. A Swedish retailer, for instance, offered numerous examples, including the use of hashi [chopsticks] as hair accessory, ochoko [a sake cup] to hold eggs, washi [traditional Japanese paper] as interior design, and kimono fabric and obi [a broad sash worn around the waist of a Japanese kimono] as curtain or table cloth.

Strategy 3: Cultural Transposition

The third and final strategy saw the firms we studied collaborating with foreign designers in order to help further bridge the gap of cultural understanding between consumers and the crafts producers.  We observed the producers working with designers in their target markets to create unique products that were inspired by Japanese craftsmanship but tailored to meet the needs of the foreign consumer. Cultural transposition means applying traditional techniques more flexibly, so that entirely new products are created.

For example, in 2012, the lacquerware producer, Isuke Shouten, began collaborating with foreign designers to propose new products to be marketed in new areas. The firm’s owners invited French designers to Kyoto and asked them to provide designs that they thought might sell well in French and broader European markets. The French designers collaborated with the Japanese craftsmen to develop a new series of products that combined the functionality of modern design with the sophistication of traditional materials. The new products, such as a lacquerware wine cooler, were soon displayed at international trade shows in other countries, reaching the interest of new customers, and also began to sell well domestically in Japan.

Although recently the heritage crafts industry, like many others, has suffered due to the unprecedented circumstances in which we all now find ourselves, imaginative and adaptive thinking can help businesses of all sizes to survive. These strategies can help new customers to see the cultural value of the products that heritage crafts producers have created. Heritage crafts have their part to play in the global economy and with the right planning, international customers can support and enjoy national heritage just as much as local ones.

The study mentioned in the post is reported in Sasaki, I., Nummela, N. & Ravasi, D. Managing cultural specificity and cultural embeddedness when internationalizing: Cultural strategies of Japanese craft firms. Journal of International Business Studies (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-020-00330-0