Three of the best heritage craftspeople from across the UK have been awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours List 2020, in recognition of their unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring their skills are passed on to current and future generations.
The three were nominated by the Heritage Crafts Association in this year’s New Year Honours, following 16 previously successful nominations since 2013. Earlier this year, the charitable organisation – which was set up ten years ago to support and champion traditional craft skills – published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first report of its kind to rank endangered craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.
The three recipients of the MBE are:
- David A Smith MBE, for services to reverse glass ornamental artistry – David, from Torquay in Devon, is world-renowned for his high quality reverse glass lettering and artistry – which encompasses all the skills historically done by an array of craftspeople, including design, lettering, acid etching, brilliant cutting, silvering and angel gilding – having revived many of these skills from the point of extinction in the UK. He has had many high-profile commissions in the UK and abroad, including John Meyer, Sony Music, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Disney.
- Wendy Shorter-Blake MBE, for services to upholstery – Wendy, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, is not only a highly skilled craftswoman herself but she has devoted her life to ensuring that the skills of upholstery are passed on. Over the last 13 years she has set up a multi-award winning training centre providing the very best possible standards of teaching based on her meticulous research of traditional techniques and the history of furniture. Wendy has also worked closely with the charity Fine Cell Work which offers craft training within prison and ongoing support and training for ex-offenders. In 2020 she will become the third female Master of the Worshipful Company of Upholders.
- Brian Crossley MBE, for services to chair caning – Brian, from Tattenhall in Cheshire, has been involved in the endangered craft of chair caning for over 50 years – initially in his spare time, and now full time – having been taught by his mother. He has devoted himself to perfecting and passing on the skills, and is now one of the most revered practitioners in the world, regarded as an expert and ambassador in his field. Brian’s previous career was in civil engineering, and he has provided decades of mentoring and developing others through the Institution of Civil Engineers. He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bolton for his outstanding contribution to the field of construction.
HCA Chair Patricia Lovett MBE said:
“While countries like Japan and Korea have National Living Treasures schemes to celebrate master craftspeople, the UK as yet has no equivalent way of recognising our most highly skilled makers – and is one of only 15 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage. We are delighted therefore that these talented individuals, who give so much of themselves to ensure that their crafts continue, have been recognised through the honours system, putting traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life.”
The HCA encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become HCA members. It has set up an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide small grants to projects that increase the likelihood of endangered craft skills surviving into the next generation, and is currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion – www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf.
More details about each recipient
David A Smith MBE, for services to reverse glass ornamental artistry
David, from Torquay in Devon, is world-renowned for his high quality reverse glass lettering and artistry – which encompasses all the skills historically done by an array of craftspeople, including design, lettering, acid etching, brilliant cutting, silvering and angel gilding – having revived many of these skills from the point of extinction in the UK. He has had many high-profile commissions in the UK and abroad, including John Meyer, Sony Music, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Disney.
David has taught over 800 students (500 from abroad) and is the only practitioner able to teach such a broad range of skills, hence his craft being categorised as critically endangered in the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts. Many hundreds of students have been able to benefit directly from the classes he teaches, both in his studio and in other countries. Many thousands more benefit from his regular online presence, where he shows examples of his work in process and gives pointers, advice and, most of all, provides encouragement to students and design enthusiasts worldwide.
David’s knowledge is extensive, and yet he still seeks out obscure processes from days gone by to enrich his craft and pass the information on to others, inspiring a new generation to the value of craftsmanship and artistry.
Wendy Shorter-Blake MBE, for services to upholstery
Wendy, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, is not only a highly skilled craftswoman herself but she has devoted her life to ensuring that the skills of upholstery are passed on. Over the last 13 years she has set up a multi-award winning training centre providing the very best possible standards of teaching based on her meticulous research of traditional techniques and the history of furniture.
Wendy was appointed Director of Training (a voluntary position) for the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF) in 2008, putting her at the forefront of training provision and development of the Association’s qualification standards. In the last three years she has developed those standards into the current Diploma course, thus ensuring that hundreds of students can attain the highest level of qualification in the craft. She promoted a schools programme where sixth-formers from local schools were given the opportunity to train for an upholstery qualification, and personally sponsored one school leaver for more advanced training.
Wendy has also worked closely with the charity Fine Cell Work which offers craft training within prison and ongoing support and training for ex-offenders. In 2020 she will become the third female Master of the Worshipful Company of Upholders.
Brian Crossley MBE, for services to chair caning
Brian, from Tattenhall in Cheshire, has been involved in the endangered craft of chair caning for over 50 years – initially in his spare time, and now full time – having been taught by his mother. He has devoted himself to perfecting and passing on the skills, and is now one of the most revered practitioners in the world, regarded as an expert and ambassador in his field. He is the go-to craftsman for prestigious museums and antique collectors to repair and re-cane their furniture, including the Ruskin Museum where he re-caned John Ruskin’s very own high chair.
Brian was a founder Trustee of the Heritage Crafts Association nine years ago, and its first Secretary, setting up the Association such that it had sound governance and a solid foundation for the future. He is a strong advocate for craft, being a great ambassador for both chair caning and heritage crafts in general. His unique skills as a maker, teacher and researcher have been recognised by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, of which he is a Yeoman.
Brian’s previous career was in civil engineering, and he has provided decades of mentoring and developing others through the Institution of Civil Engineers. He rose from Chair of a regional committee to eventually Vice President of the Institution for four years, responsible for standards of civil engineering in many countries. From 2002 to 2013 he volunteered for the Historical Engineering Group, researching and preserving unique past engineering works. In 2001 he won the Garth Watson medal, the highest award for service to the Institute. He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bolton for his outstanding contribution to the field of construction.
The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) is delighted to announce that it has received a grant of £12,000 from Allchurches Trust to help save endangered heritage crafts from extinction.
Steve Roche, stonemason and lettercutter (photo by Mark Shenton)
In March 2019, the HCA published the second edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank the UK’s traditional crafts by the likelihood that they will survive into the next generation. The report assessed 212 crafts to ascertain those which are at greatest risk of disappearing, of which four were classified as extinct, 36 as critically endangered, 70 as endangered and 102 as currently viable.
The Allchurches Trust project will be administered through the HCA’s Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in July 2019. The first beneficiaries were announced in September. Craftspeople with a proposal for increasing the likelihood of a Red List endangered craft surviving into the next generation can apply at www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf-apply by 29 February 2020. The chosen proposals will receive funds plus mentoring from the HCA’s Endangered Crafts Officer to help make them a reality.
Patricia Lovett MBE, Chair of the HCA, said:
“The UK has a world-class reputation for conserving and restoring historic buildings and objects. However, we believe that it is equally important to support the skills and knowledge that will not only allow this conservation and restoration to continue, but allow us to make new buildings and objects that will become the heirlooms of the future. We are thrilled to be working with Allchurches Trust to help realise our shared passion for preserving endangered heritage crafts.”
The HCA is one of five partners selected by Allchurches Trust to benefit from its new heritage grants funding programme, which is helping to build and protect sustainable skills to care for the UK and Ireland’s historic environment.
Rachel Whittington, Director of Allchurches Trust, said:
“We’re delighted to provide funding that will help ensure that at-risk traditional crafts can be handed down through the generations, enabling the protection of our past and future heritage. These talented craftspeople are an investment in the future of the sector and we look forward to hearing more about their progress and helping to tell their story.”
For more information about the fund, email HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deadline: 1 December 2019
Millwrighting has been identified by the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts as a critically endangered skill, and the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) recognises the urgent need both to train new millwrights, and to encourage and equip experienced craftspeople to work on mills.
Therefore, SPAB is inviting applications for one place on its Craft Fellowship scheme from a craftsperson in any relevant trade who has an interest in mills, and in using and extending their skills to repair and maintain them.
The scheme will follow the existing format of the Craft Fellowship scheme, comprising learning and placements across the country. This is not a complete millwright training programme or apprenticeship, but a way for an experienced craftsperson to acquire specific additional skills to enable them to work on mills. Training extends over a period of nine months and is offered with a bursary to help cover travel and other costs.
Richard Wheater teaching the craft of neon bending. Photo © Richard Wheater.
A new mobile facility to teach neon bending and the restoration of one of the last surviving damask looms are among the projects that have recently received funds to help ensure a better future for some of the UK’s most endangered crafts.
The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), which earlier this year published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded the first five grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, launched in July 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.
The first five recipients of the HCA Endangered Crafts Fund are:
- Grace Horne, scissor maker – to create dies for the production of hot drop-forged scissor blanks that can be used by Grace and other makers to produce bespoke scissors.
- Deborah White, damask weaver – to restore and use a loom to teach damask weaving to a new generation of weavers.
- Clare Revera, basket maker – to develop and teach a Level 3 City & Guilds course on rare and endangered basket making skills at Westhope College.
- Richard Wheater, neon bender – to build a mobile neon bombarding and vacuum facility to teach neon bending to beginners and intermediate trainees.
- Kate Colin, fan maker – to develop the technical skills of fan making with a view to teaching the craft in future.
The fund was hugely oversubscribed and the HCA hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.
HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis said:
“We have been overwhelmed by so many wonderful applications and while we wish we had the funds to support them all, we are delighted to have been able to choose projects that we hope will provide future generations with an array of craft skills to which they might not otherwise have access.”
The Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up thanks to a number of generous donations from individuals, from as little as £5 right up to several thousands of pounds. The HCA is now seeking further donations to save even more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion.
Donations to the Endangered Crafts Fund are welcome at any time – for more information visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf. Applications for grants are accepted on a rolling basis, with the next deadline for consideration 29 February 2020. For more information about the fund, email HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis at email@example.com.
Coppersmith and HCA member Siân Evans represented the UK heritage crafts sector at the first International Handicrafters Festival in Uzbekistan in September. Siân was invited by The Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in London represent the country and to demonstrate coppersmithing and talk about her work. According to the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts she is one of five known ornamental coppersmiths working in Britain today and the idea of cultural preservation through the language of crafts skills was a core theme at the Festival.
After the flight into Uzbekistan, delegates from seventy-nine countries were taken by train, over the mountains and into the city of Kokand, which had recently been granted the status of Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art by the World Crafts Council. The reception was extraordinary – crowds cheering, bands playing, children dancing – marking the start of a very special event.
The festival itself was held in the grounds of the Palace of Khudoyar-Khan, where a village of yurts, tents, marquees and huts had sprung up, each housing a working craftsperson. All fifteen regions of Uzbekistan were represented and international flags showed where the overseas visitors were based. On the first day there was considerable press interest and as a result, crowds grew each subsequent day.
On Saturday 14th a huge opening ceremony took place, in the presence of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. In his welcoming speech, he spoke of the value of craftsmanship in universal culture and how it “occupies a special place in the life of each nation, shaping its mentality and values”.
He added: “the craftsmanship derives inspiration in harmony with nature” and that in order to “breathe life into an ordinary clay, piece of metal or wood… there will be needed not only scrupulous work, but also the warmth of human soul”.
The final two days of the festival were spent meeting new people, discovering the beautiful work, sharing skills, laughing and dancing! Many craftspeople (especially those in obscure or dying crafts) spend a lot of time working in isolation and so this new sense of a global community was not only profound, it was a revelation.
The generosity of the hosts was overwhelming at times, but the most moving gift was given just as it was time to leave. As the delegates boarded the train to return to Tashkent and fly back to their homes and workshops, they were each given a simple work apron, with the emblem of the festival on it.
QEST and The Prince’s Foundation have launched the Building Arts Programme, focused on the core belief that our built environmental is a collaboration between a vast array of different disciplines which are all fundamentally linked.
Intended for students of architecture, building crafts and decorative and applied arts, this interdisciplinary programme will provide a space for rediscovering shared learning and practice, enabling students to explore the multifaceted nature of the built environment. Graduates will be well positioned to approach their practice in a manner which is both better informed and multidisciplinary, working with others to create a built environment which is more than just the sum of its parts.
Teaching will take place at Dumfries House, Ayrshire, but the course will also include a 12-week individual industry placement, giving students the opportunity to hone their skills within their own trade.
For more details visit the QEST website to download the course overview and application form.
Photo credit: Thom Atkinson