Tomorrow the Crafts Council launches Make: Shift, a conference taking place in London exploring the emerging relationship between crafts and technology. This follows an eventful few months where craft and craftsmanship have been (rightly) making headlines.
It all started sometime last year when the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) proposed dropping crafts from its list of recognised creative industries. Of course, this is crazy talk and it immediately produced a backlash.
New research from the Crafts Council shows that last year craft skills generated £3.4bn for the UK economy, with 150,000 people employed in businesses driven by craft skills, in engineering, science, design, architecture, fashion and film. The figure is far larger than expected and includes the value that craftspeople bring to different industries including science and technology. Examples include the glass artist Matt Durran’s work at the Royal Free Hospital to develop glass moulds for growing bio-engineered organs such as noses; and jeweller Lynne Murray’s pioneering work in augmented reality through her company Holition, which develops interfaces through which customers can virtually try on jewellery.
So craft is important (I never doubted it anyway!) and just over a week ago the Crafts Council launched their brilliant new manifesto at the House of Commons which aims to reinstate craft skills as a core part of the UK’s education curriculum.
Making develops creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving, yet strangely it is gradually being dropped from schools and universities. “Between 2007 and 2012 following changes in educational policies, student participation in craft-related GCSEs fell by 25 per cent,” says the Crafts Council. “In higher education, craft courses fell by 46 per cent.” This comes at a time when elsewhere around the globe investment in creative education is rising.
The Craft Council’s manifesto makes five calls for change, including putting craft and making at the heart of education, building more routes into craft careers, bringing the entrepreneurial attitude of makers into education, investing in craft skills throughout careers and promoting higher education and artistic and scientific research in craft.
Change is needed – a number of leading education courses for craft skills have faced closure over the past five years. These include the celebrated Harrow Ceramics course, Bucks New University in High Wycombe, whose excellent Furniture Design course focused partially on traditional craft skills and now Falmouth University has just announced that it is closing its Contemporary Crafts degree to make way for Digital Gaming and Business Entrepreneurship. The Contemporary Crafts degree, with historic roots in Cornwall’s creative culture, is considered a vital part of the Cornish economy. Living in Cornwall myself, I find it misjudged of them to close this course. Transforming it would be a far better option – and if they want ideas of how – I’ve got plenty!
An online petition has been launched to try and save the Contemporary Crafts degree at Falmouth. You can sign the petition here. As the Crafts Council’s manifesto says, “Our future is in the making. It is in our hands”.
This week I’d like to share one of my all-time favourite books. It’s not new or Modern, but it’s bloody good and that’s all that counts.
The Quilts of Gee’s Bend: Masterpieces from a Lost Place, was published in 2002 in association with an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It profiles the women of Gee’s Bend – a small, remote community in Alabama who create incredible quilt masterpieces, carrying forward the fine old tradition of making textiles for the home and family. The designs reference American quilt traditions, however these pieces differ in that they are composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work, clothes, dresses, feed sacks and fabric remnants. The geographical isolation of these women enforces a freedom and originality on them that leads to extraordinary combinations of colour and composition. I wonder if this kind of spontaneous originality is even still possible now that we all have the internet in our homes and everybody can see the same things, all of the time?
We are having a major book clear-out at the moment, as we have far too many for our small house, but this is one book that I will never part with. If you are interested in textiles and don’t already have The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, I thoroughly recommend adding it to your library.
Pia Wüstenberg is well known for her mixed-material Stacking Vessels, combining blown glass, ceramic, turned wood and metal. They come in lots of different variations, all with wonderful bloated forms and are a brilliant exercise in mixing different craft skills.
Pia recently introduced a new evolution of the Stacking Vessel called Branch Bowls, which pairs a hand-blown glass bowl with a lid formed from a tree branch. There is a great video filmed by James Maiki called A Tale of Two Halves which gives a glimpse into how they are made. The film shows the mesmerising process of the two separate pieces being made and fitted together and highlights the craftsmanship that goes into making the work. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the video, although I confess that I love glass blowing and could happily watch it all day.
I interviewed Pia for a book project recently and thought I would include some extracts from the interview here. We were discussing her work and inspirations…
How did you get involved in design?
I studied a Foundation in Glass, Metal and Ceramic Design at SIAD in Farnham and a BA in Furniture Design and Craftsmanship at Bucks New University. I chose Furniture Design as I believe it is a versatile product requiring the most technical and material knowledge. Later I studied in London on the MA Design Products course at the Royal College of Arts. I set up my own studio following graduation.
How would you describe your style?
It is all about contrast. Everything I do is mixed-media, and the process and materiality of each media supports the other. All my work is handmade. I use traditional craft skills and traditional raw materials, such as wood, ceramic, glass and paper. The resulting objects contain the stories of their making and the traces of the materials origin. This makes them objects of desire.
What materials and techniques do you use?
I work with very raw and pure materials such as glass, ceramic, copper, wood and paper. These are processed using traditional craft techniques.
Are there any particular designer/artists/things that inspire you?
I really respect the work and philosophy of Kaj Franck and Jurgen Bey. I get inspiration from many things I see, it just depends on the mind frame I am in.
What are you working on at the moment and what do you hope to work on in the future?
At the moment, I am working on a collection of glass jewellery to hold scent. In the future, I hope to work more with glass, to challenge its application and the ways in which we normally find it used.
Have you noticed any particular trends in design lately?
I have noticed my friends investing in objects for life, rather than going for cheap, quick solutions.
What materials or techniques do you think we’ll be seeing more of in the future?
I believe there will be a return to pure materials and traditional skills. Mainly because I think we want fewer things, and for the things we do want , we have to be considered and durable.
What is your favourite piece of design by another designer?
The sewing needle, paperclip, can opener, fork and scissors. There are so many simple, clever things that do not have a shining name or famous designer behind them, and they are the most durable designs that we live with. These are the designs that move something in me, that challenge me to think, innovate and feel desire for objects.
Thank you Pia!
I’m not sure when it became proper practice to refer to hippie tie dye as the rather more fancy sounding shibori, but that I will do. In truth, I think there is a subtle difference; 60’s-inspired tie dye tends to be quicker with more immediate and colourful results, whereas shibori is controlled, and looks directly to intricate (and ancient) Japanese binding, stitching and folding techniques. Shibori is often dyed using natural indigo – but by no means always – and the boundaries between the two techniques are definitely faint and blurry!
These photographs are from a shibori workshop I went to in the summer, led by textile artist Janice Gunner at the beautiful Cowslip Workshops in Launceston, Cornwall. Cowslip is based in several converted barns on a dairy farm, so while you are at work, you can hear the cows mooing and enjoy the view across bright green fields.
I spent two days making samples and trying out different techniques. First stitching, twisting and tying the cloth to create various resist patterns, before immersing the fabrics in buckets of deep indigo and lighter woad. When the indigo-dyed fabric is exposed to air, it is transformed from iridescent scarab beetle green to that perfect shade of deep, deep blue. It is almost a magical process and the reason many people get hooked on blues.