Sunday, May 05, 2024

Craft comes out of the shadows

 Magdalene Odundo’s vessels of hope The artist is bringing her Kenyan history to Houghton Hall. It’s complicated …

Craft comes out of the shadows

London Craft Week puts the emphasis on education, financial reward and self-respect for artisans, often seen as poor cousins to artists and designers

The 10th edition of London Craft Week, a citywide smorgasbord of craft-related activity, kicks off this year on May 13. From a workshop in screen printing using bacterial pigment technology to an exhibition of traditional Korean craft made from horsehair, lacquer and porcelain — the event opens a window on to myriad specialisms. Since the first LCW in 2015, it has grown to 500 different exhibitions, talks, demonstrations and masterclasses featuring more than 700 makers. 
“I am blown away by what we have achieved,” says founder Guy Salter. He notes an increasing appetite for craft, which has occurred in parallel with a shift in tastes “towards quiet luxury”. Brands with a commitment to craftsmanship, he says, have seen their determination pay off, including LCW sponsors Montblanc and Serapian, a pen-maker and leather goods company. And he is encouraged by the UK’s ratification of Unesco’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which includes heritage craft skills, coming into effect in this country in June. 
There is still, however, he says, “much to be done”. The key difficulty is finding the next generation of artisans when access to craft education has declined and few young people are encouraged to embark on creative careers. “Craft is still regarded as the poor relation by comparison with fine art and design,” Salter says, both in prestige and financial reward — and can frequently require significant upfront investment in equipment, materials and studio space. 
two men with a large round gold leaf embroidered work on a table
Master artisan José Luis Sanchez Exposito teaches Gonzalo Garcia Cuevas, a Homo Faber fellow, gold leaf embroidery © José Luis Sánchez Expósito
Key projects at this year’s LCW tackle these issues. Jay Blades, furniture restorer and advocate for craft skills through his work with young people and appearances on BBC TV programme The Repair Shop, is curating Craftworks, an exhibition in Shoreditch Town Hall (May 15-17). Sponsored by Cox London, whose sculptural homewares are handcrafted in the capital, it features professionals including straw-hat maker Lucy Barlow, current holder of Heritage Crafts’ President’s Award for Endangered Crafts, furniture maker Sofia Karakatsanis, glass artist Lulu Harrison and blacksmith Ian Thackray. 
The show, Blades says, has been achieved by bringing together many organisations — Cockpit Arts, Design-Nation, Heritage Crafts, Crafts Council, The King’s Foundation and The Black Artisans. “We need to say the same thing together,” Blades urges: that craft is a route to self-respect and financial independence and a source of delight for hobby makers; that it aids wellbeing and that the works it generates can be creatively ambitious, beautiful and useful. 
two long tall ceramic vases, one monochrome the other multicoloured
Marylebone gallery SoShiro is exhibiting ‘Secret Ceramics’ © Shannon Tofts
Blades has allies abroad. Alberto Cavalli, executive director of the Geneva-based Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, is bringing Homo Faber: Today’s Masters Meet Tomorrow’s Talents to Cromwell Place from May 14-19. This showcases partnerships between master artisans and recent graduates, under the new Homo Faber Fellowship scheme. Currently in its first year, the programme’s 20 graduates from across Europe have spent six months in the workshop of their mentor — stone carving, bicycle building, cabinetmaking, silversmithing — to produce a joint work inspired by this year’s Art Deco theme. The results include examples of gold thread embroidery and featherworking.
Meanwhile, ceramicist Kate Malone, founder of clay education charity FiredUp4, is bringing her latest fundraising project to Marylebone gallery SoShiro. The exhibition Secret Ceramics will offer the public the chance to buy 100 single-stem vessels, £300 each, in support of a new ceramic studio in White City, west London, that will be open to young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Each piece’s creator will remain anonymous until after the sale. These include established artists such as Hitomi Hosono, Aneta Regel, Frances Priest, Lucille Lewin and Luke Fuller, talented newcomers and designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Kit Kemp and Nina Campbell.
If you want to try your hand yourself, the West Sussex college West Dean is celebrating opening a London base for its schools of art, design and conservation, by offering taster courses in needlelace embroidery, monotype printmaking and passementerie. Principal Francine Norris says she has seen huge growth in interest in areas “from ceramics and book binding to interior design,” but the opportunities to learn these skills have not increased to meet demand. West Dean hopes to change that.
young woman stands next to shelves full of thread on spools and a desk
Lara Pain, winner of last year’s inaugural Heritage Crafts’ Young Weaver of the Year Award  © Thomas Pratt
If offering courses is one encouragement, reward for excellence is another. Interior business Rose Uniacke has invited Lara Pain, winner in 2023 of the inaugural Heritage Crafts’ Young Weaver of the Year Award, to take up residence in the brand’s Pimlico Road fabric shop. Silver specialists Craftmasters Gallery has invited Cartier Award-winning hand-engraver Karen Wallace to show her work at Hedonism Wines. Wallace was apprenticed to the silversmith and engraver Malcolm Appleby MBE, and will be accompanied by her apprentice, QEST Holberton scholar Annabel Hood. 
While its breadth makes it at times difficult to navigate, LCW provides hope for makers and craft lovers alike. Salter refers to it as just the tip of an iceberg of talent that lies often beneath the surface of British public life, out of sight, waiting to show itself and be counted. 

Five to follow

Chihuly at Chelsea Barracks (May 13-19) The inaugural edition of public art initiative Modern Masters features the colourful, architecturally scaled sculptures of US glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Fine Craft by Soluna, Cromwell Place (May 15-19) Meet the Korean artists — working in glass, metal and horse hair — bringing the country’s cultural traditions into a contemporary context.
A Fine Line: Modern Makers, Pitzhanger Manor (May 8-Aug 4)An exhibition of ceramics and glass inspired by the architect Sir John Soane, curated by Joanna Bird.
V&A Craft Symposium (May 16) Panel discussions and keynote speeches on the topic of craft, as well as demonstrations of goldwork, featherwork, silversmithing and weaving.
Burrow: An Exhibition of New Sculpture by Laura Ellen Bacon, Hignell Gallery (May 13-31) A new architectural installation of woven willow, alongside small sculptures for sale.