03.02.14

February 3, 2014 § 4 Comments

I’ve been wanting to conclude my thoughts about Tanya Harrod’s book ‘The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century’ for some time, especially because of something she wrote on the last page. I need to quote a short passage:

“In the course of this book I have written a good deal about the crafts’ uncertain and fragile identity and their constructedness. This might irritate a maker, immersed in a discipline, making up slip or preparing to cut letters in stone or, even, grappling with computer software. No one disputes that individual crafts have strong identities and standards but these often operate within a closed circle of makers and their collectors and patrons.”

Well, it did and does irritate me. It did pretty much the whole way through the book, as Harrod wrote about crafts’ marginalisation or second-ratedness. I found her analysis negative and unsupportive. I kept asking myself why she was taking this approach and whether the lack that she wrote about was necessary or, indeed, present.

But now I am wondering whether she is right and I am just a protective, partisan maker. My interest in this comes from my background in Fine Art. I moved away from making art into making craft precisely because the arts ‘often operate within a closed circle of artists and their collectors and patrons’. It was the need to find a medium that was more egalitarian, more approachable, less intellectually elitist. The experience of engaging with a painting or a sculpture is primarily a cerebral one. You stand back, you cogitate, you digest but you never touch or hold. You are kept at a distance and the object becomes deified.

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This wasn’t what I wanted when I began to make pots. The crafts are corporal. By necessity, you engage physically with them. Textiles are worn; furniture is sat upon; cutlery is held in the hand and so is pottery. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to use handmade, to experience handmade as part of their everyday lives, on their kitchen table. That was why I was so delighted when my first workshop was a disused shop, part of a parade of shops, in my local town centre. It had floor to ceiling windows right across its front and my wheel was situated just inside, there for all to see. People, going about their daily business, would stop and look in and I would hear the wonder in their voices as they expressed their joy at seeing a potter at work. People would drop in; I’d get regulars. One teenager came in and sat on the window sill watching me throw as she waited for her lift. This wasn’t operating within a closed circle of makers and their collectors and patrons. This was normal, everyday life.

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The workshop was a ‘meanwhile’ let, meaning that if another business wanted to rent the space, I had to move out. I hoped beyond hope that I might be there for a couple of years, although in the end it was six months. A man knocked on the door and told me I had two days to be out. Now, I have a much more secure tenancy but I am away from the hubbub of community life. I am selling my pots mostly at high-end fairs and independent shops and galleries. The circle is closing in.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. What people loved about the shop front was seeing a maker at work. It doesn’t happen. Where is the connection between the object and maker? The object and how it is made? This wasn’t a maker in a seaside resort, away from life, a souvenir. This was seeing something being made on the way to the supermarket, the laundrette, the bank.

I miss my shop front.

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§ 4 Responses to 03.02.14

  • You can never compete on price with manufactured tableware. Handmade tableware will always be expensive. But there are enough people who can still afford it and love it.

  • But I think the manufacturing process of tableware made in China is even more mysterious but many people only care about the end price

    • Indeed, Linda, many people only care about the end price and are losing their relationship to any made object. As a maker, I feel very lucky that my relationship to objects is necessarily much more about knowing ‘how’ not just ‘of’ something. I’m reading a great book by Peter Dormer, called ‘The Art of the Maker’, on this very subject.

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