Johanna Welsh, pargeter
Suffolk-based pargeter Johanna Welsh has won the 2022 President’s Award for Endangered Crafts. The prestigious award, and £3,000 bursary, was initiated by Heritage Crafts’ President The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, before his Accession as HM King Charles III.
Heritage Crafts was set up 13 years ago as a national charity to support and safeguard heritage crafts skills, and has become well known for its Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank traditional crafts in the UK by the likelihood they would survive the next generation.
The President’s Award trophy was presented to Johanna at a special presentation at the House of Lords on Monday 30 January 2023, after the original announcement, due to take place at Dumfries House (home of The Prince’s Foundation) was postponed during the period of national mourning following the passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Pargeting is the application of ornamental lime plasterwork or stucco relief work to a flat surface. It is believed to have been introduced to England in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII who imported Italian plasterers to decorate Nonsuch Palace. The craft was referred to as ‘stucco’ in Italy, but became known as ‘pargeting’ in England.
Heritage Crafts President’s Award
Johanna is one of around five full-time pargeters in the UK. A third-generation Suffolk practitioner incorporating nearly 60 years of craftsmanship passed down through the family, she is experienced in many aspects of decorative and ornamental plasterwork, including the freehand modelled relief work associated with the Tudor and Elizabethan periods.
Johanna plans to use the prize to set up a workshop teaching space, equip it with tools, buy materials, and advertise short courses in the history, practice and materials of this craft, delivering a hands-on experience with specialist tools of the trade. As well as teaching new entrants to the craft she will also provide technical advice to industry-related businesses, providing an all-round introduction to the basic theory and practices.
Judges for the Award included Heritage Crafts Co-Chair Jay Blades MBE, Kate Hobhouse (Chair of Fortnum and Mason), Patricia Lovett MBE, Simon Sadinsky (Executive Director of The Prince’s Foundation), and Dr Rebecca Struthers (2021 President’s Award winner).
Winner Johanna Welsh said:
“I am absolutely thrilled to have won such a prestigious award! The prize money will allow me to run small group workshops in a region rich with historic and modern examples of the craft, and provide huge scope to promote understanding and awareness of the craft.”
Heritage Crafts Executive Director Daniel Carpenter said:
“Many people know the former Prince of Wales as a long-time supporter and champion of traditional craft skills, and his passion is all too evident through initiatives such as the Heritage Crafts President’s Award. Johanna is an immensely deserving winner and we know that in her hands the prize will provide a massive boost to the outlook of this endangered craft.”
The two other finalists for the 2022 President’s Award were Lorna Singleton and Emily Johnson. Lorna is one of only two full-time oak spelk basket makers in the UK, and also a split hazel basket maker (both of which feature on the Red List of Endangered Crafts). Emily is the Director of 1882 Ltd, a design-led ceramics brand produced in Stoke-on-Trent, formed by fourth and fifth generations of the Johnson family. Read more about Lorna and Emily here.
Click here to read more about the President’s Award trophies.
A pargeter, a shoe maker, reverse glass sign makers and a passementerier are the recipients of the latest round of grants awarded to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.
Heritage Crafts, which is currently working on the fourth edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded a further five grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.
This round of the Endangered Crafts Fund has been offered with the generous support of the Pilgrim Trust. The five successful recipients are:
- Elizabeth Ashdown, from London, to enhance her existing practice by learning high-level passementerie skills from expert Clare Hedges.
- Paul Chamberlain, from Norfolk, to create short films to support the teaching of the craft of reverse-glass sign making.
- Michelle Dawson, from Dorset, to supplement her glass restoration practice by learning high-level reverse-glass sign making skills from David A Smith MBE.
- Stephanie Firth, from Derbyshire, to start up a business specialising in handmade bespoke orthopaedic shoes.
- Anna Kettle, from Bedfordshire, to create short films to support the teaching of the craft of pargeting.
These five projects follow 42 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as type founding, wallpaper block printing, clockmaking, tinsmithing, kiltmaking and many more.
As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and Heritage Crafts hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.
Heritage Crafts Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis said:
“The pressures facing practitioners of the UK’s most at-risk skills have only been exacerbated by the succession of crises that have included COVID-19, the energy crisis and inflation. These projects will provide future generations with opportunities that they might not otherwise have, to pursue fulfilling careers while safeguarding this important part of our national heritage.”
Since 2019, the Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including the Pilgrim Trust. Past funders have included the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, the Swire Charitable Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Benefact Trust, and the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.
About the Pilgrim Trust
The Pilgrim Trust is an independent charitable trust that was set up in 1930 by Edward Harkness to support the urgent and future needs of the UK. Over the decades, it has supported a wide range of causes, adapting to the changing circumstances and needs in the UK. It gives around £3 million in grants each year to charities and other public bodies that focus on preserving the UK’s heritage or bringing about social change. Its aims are to improve the life chances of the most vulnerable and preserve the best of our past for the public to enjoy.
Plaster worker Geoffrey Preston, basket maker Hilary Burns, and coppice worker Rebecca Oaks have been awarded MBEs in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021, 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 for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 20 previously successful nominations since 2013. Last month, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 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 craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.
Geoffrey Preston MBE spearheaded the reintroduction of the endangered craft of stucco to the UK, a style of pargeting whereby designs are moulded directly onto a wall or ceiling, and is categorised as endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.
He has been a sculptor and decorative plaster worker for fifty years, after being apprenticed as a stonemason in London, working as a carver on the West Front of Exeter Cathedral in the 1980s, and being trained in modelling under Professor Robert Baker. Francis Terry, one of the UK’s leading classical architects, called him: “England’s best modeller of architectural detail in stucco and moulded plaster”.
HCA Maker of the Year 2018 and Yeoman of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, Hilary Burns MBE is a craftswoman, teacher, writer, researcher and advocate with a passion for passing on her skills. Working with humble materials, she produces stunning functional and sculptural pieces inspired by her study of traditional basketry techniques.
An instigator of the largest international basketmaking conference held in the UK in 2013, Hilary has continued to promote the craft globally, with her own work exhibited in New York and Japan, as well as organising skills exchanges to countries such as the Azores and Cyprus.
Rebecca Oaks MBE is the founder and driving force behind the Bill Hogarth Memorial Apprenticeship Trust, set up in 2001 in honour of her mentor, to provide training in sustainable woodland management that benefits biodiversity and wider society. She developed a structured three-year apprenticeship that has awarded diplomas to 18 apprentices, most of whom now run their own coppice craft businesses.
Rebecca went on to develop a partnership with the Small Woods Association to run the National Coppice Apprenticeship Scheme, and was a founder director of the National Coppice Federation, which gives a national, unified voice to regional coppice groups.
HCA Operations Director Daniel Carpenter said:
“We are extremely delighted that Geoffrey, Hilary and Rebecca have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Having traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life in this way is vitally important, as unlike countries such as Japan and Korea we have no Living National Treasures scheme to celebrate master craftspeople, and the UK is one of only 13 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.”
The Heritage Crafts Association encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become members. The charity 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 – visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf to find out more and to donate.
Pargeting and stucco (hand-modelled plaster)
The application of ornamental lime plasterwork or stucco relief work to a flat surface.
|Historic area of significance
|Pargetting – England
Stucco – UK
|Area currently practised
|Pargetting – East of England, mostly Suffolk and Essex; Devon
Stucco – Devon
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|6-10 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
Pargeting is believed to have been introduced to England in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII who imported Italian plasterers to decorate Nonsuch Palace. The craft was referred to as ‘stucco’ in Italy, but became known as ‘pargeting’ in England. Either patterns were stamped or scratched into the surface of wet plaster, and the most skilled pargeters created their own designs which they then modelled directly onto the wall using their fingers and a spatula to create designs in high or low relief.
Pargeting was highly fashionable from the Restoration until it dropped out of favour during the Industrial Revolution. If became fashionable again during the Arts and Crafts period, and popular again in the last 20-30 years with several people taking an interest in the trade (although some are plaster sculptors doing small panels which aren’t integral to a building, rather than entire elevations).
While the craft is mainly associated with East Anglia and particularly Suffolk and Essex, historically it was much more widely employed and examples can be found in the West Country, Kent (Maidstone), Cheshire (Chester), Wirral peninsular (Port Sunlight) and Staffordshire (Stoke on Trent). Examples of early pargetting also exist in Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire, although in these areas it is much more common to find internal work.
Pargeting is most frequently seen on the outside of houses, particularly in areas where there is no good building stone. However, pargetting can be found in areas where good building stone is present. It is most commonly found on timber framed properties (more prone to fire damage than brick or stone built) but it was not necessarily a substitute. It can also be found indoors on overmantels and ceilings.
The term ‘stucco’ or ‘hand modelled plaster’ is commonly used to refer to indoor decorative lime plasterwork. As with pargeting it was brought to the UK by Italian craftspeople and it has remained a much more common skill in Italy.
Stucco was a lost craft in the UK until it was researched by Geoffrey Preston in order to restore the fire damaged historic buildings of Uppark and Windsor Castle. Some conservators will also have knowledge of the craft.
It is usually found indoors on overmantels and ceilings.
Freehand modelling of plaster, either in high or low relief. Pargeting can be found in a number of finishes and is not restricted to lime plaster, although this is the most common. Simple repeating panels can be combed or stamped.
Lime plaster applied and modelled by hand using plastering tools and a variety of home made implements and tools. Specific pargeting tools are not available so home-made versions are the order of the day. Repeat decorative patterns may be made with wooden stamps or by scratching or impressing the wet plaster. The finest pargeting is hand-modelled bas-relief motifs like coats of arms, fruits, animals, green men etc.
The techniques are very similar to pargeting although the ingredients in the plaster (lime based putty, aggregate, animal glue and a small amount of gypsum plaster) are slightly different.
Different plasters are used in different areas e.g. sand and lime, chalk and lime. Also patterns tended to be grouped in certain areas, although maybe the local pargeter/plasterer had a particular stamp he was fond of. There seems to be no such demarcation today.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Lack of awareness: Few people have heard of pargeting so don’t think to ask for it.
Lack of awareness: Little awareness outside of the heritage building sector, and little is being done to continue traditional plastering skills, which incorporate some of the decorative elements. However, pargeting is being taught at the annual Summer School of the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to bring awareness to architects, planners and designers as well as crafts/trades people with an interest in heritage building techniques.
Lack of awareness: Pargeting is perceived to be very expensive, so if someone sees something they like they would feel that it wouldn’t be something they could afford and therefore wouldn’t even ask the cost
Market issues: Small jobs are quite expensive – there are good economies of scale, but most people want a pargeted panel rather than a whole wall.
Market issues: Strongly connected to changing tastes in housing design/architectural style, so not always desirable. There is a growing interest in pargeting for interiors in large houses for games rooms, home cinemas etc.
Labour intensive job – doesn’t suit everybody, and also requires considerable artistic talent.
A major impediment to promoting the trade is that pargeting is done directly onto the building so it is not easy to show a range of works in an exhibition space – even small panels are heavy.
Market issues: There is not always enough work to make pargeting a full-time occupation. Most pargeters also have other skills to earn their living, such as plastering or sculpting.
Legislation: The lack of work is partly due to the strict conservation regulations.
Market issues: Shortage of work due to strict conservation regulations, lack of suitable buildings, lack of awareness by the public, and also to the high cost of pargeting.
Training issues: Aspects of plastering which were taught as commonplace some 50-60 years ago as part of apprenticeships have been whittled out in modern tech colleges and courses to make way for a much more ‘universal’ approach.
- Market issues: Strongly connected to changing tastes in housing design/architectural style, so not always desirable. There is a growing interest in pargeting for interiors in large houses for games rooms, home cinemas etc.
- Loss of skills: Most skills are held by conservators and there is only a very small demand for new stucco
There is no guild of pargeters.
Craftspeople currently known
While the minimum number of craftspeople required for pargeting to be sustainable is believed to be 5-6, this is believed to be about the maximum number the craft can support.
There are about 6 highly-skilled professional pargeters. However, within East Anglia it is believed that there are probably about 100 plasterers who do simple pargeting with stamps and combs. Bill Sargent has trained 26 plasterers over 45 years, 9 of whom have done a full apprenticeship and the others who have trained for between six months and several years, all of whom have been trained to some extent in pargeting.
Buxbaum, Tim. Pargeting.
Penoyre, John and Jane, Decorative Plasterwork in the Houses of Somerset.
Essex County Council, Pargetting.
Beard, Geoffrey, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain.
Beard, Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe.
Bankart, George, The Art of the Plasterer.