The Art of Craft with LOUISA HUNT
From weaving to woodworking, everyone’s talking about craft. Oh, you’re not? Don’t worry, you will be soon. In this column, I want to share with you my obsession for design and craft throughout art history up to present day. Think the Arts and Crafts movement combined with contemporary Japanese ceramics and throw a little bit of interior design in there for good measure. The Art of Craft not only celebrates makers and objects, but also hopes to reframe the definition of ‘craft’ as it gains more and more interest in today’s society. I hope The Art of Craft can act as a vessel to explore lesser-known and more diverse stories in our culture and question our desire to make and collect craft. Mostly, I want to celebrate the beauty and use of craft while I not-so-secretly plan my dream wooden home filled to the brim with pots and tapestries and woven baskets.
Craft Comes to Life at Collect Art Fair
Friday, February 25th
Since I was last at Collect Art Fair in February 2020, the world has turned upside down. Two years and a pandemic later, Collect Art Fair returns and it has been no mean feat for the Fair Director, Isobel Dennis, to turn it around and stage the fair we see this year. Collect Art Fair showcases contemporary craft and galleries that support contemporary and living artists, which means it always has a feeling of new energy that can often be amiss at art fairs. Yet this year, Collect felt especially full of life.
Collect Art Fair Image credit: Louisa Hunt
Sharing its location with our very own Courtauld Gallery, Collect did not neglect its physical return to Somerset House in its programme. Candida Stevens Gallery stood out for her cleverly curated stand that celebrated the Somerset House location. On display were works by Alice Kettle, whose use of stitches and textiles formed abstract portraits of the queens that once lived at Somerset House. The layers of thread and colours in Kettle’s works immediately catch one’s eye that is followed by an unveiling of the storytelling found in her artworks. Chris Keenen made a collection of ceramic works inspired by the Thames, the iconic river. However, the highlight was Cecilia Charlton, with her magnificent woven works responding to the architectural history of Somerset House with uplifting, bright and modern colours. The way Charlton’s artworks interact with light is something special to behold. Using gold leaf, the artworks pick up different colours depending on the time of the day or the lighting; it becomes a living artwork that shapeshifts through the passage of time. The works have been acquired by St Thomas Hospital and will supply this sense of calm to visitors of the hospital into the future. Cecilia Charlton’s works are just one of the many pieces in the fair that straddle the traditional threshold of art and craft. In fact, nearly every piece in Collect debunks a long-standing canonical separation of art and craft. Woven canvases are hung on walls. Leather is stitched together to make large-scale sculptures. The fair accentuates craft as art. All these pieces celebrate the craftsmanship and materiality of objects while also representing artistic theologies and philosophies. Effectively, a categorisation of “art”, “craft” and “design” is thrown in the air as you wander around the elegant rooms of Collect and the viewer is faced with objects of beauty from which you can interpret your own meaning. The diversity of materials on display at Collect is vast. And this year it was all about glass. A special work by Dawn Bendick, Time Rock Stack VI, set out to acknowledge the United Nations International year of Glass. The work highlighted the various colours of stone that occur in natural light. Loewe Foundation’s Craft Prize pieces are sprinkled across the fair, including a rather special cabinet of curiosities by Steffen Dam, made up of glass jars filled with liquid and specimens, encouraging the viewer to “fine-tune your inner clock and understand what glass actually is” as Dam told Crafts Magazine in 2017. Dam’s work evoked themes that popped up again and again in all guises across the fair: curiosity to look closely and the consideration of objects’ relationship to light, the passing of time and to the natural world. The fair does well to promote galleries from across the UK and some international galleries, straying from a London-centric representation of craft. Collect Open showcased solo artists, Line Nilsen and Robert George especially stood out. The former, a Norwegian textile artist based in Nottingham whose works reminisce on her relationship with her home country, responding to the landscapes and light of Norway. The latter, a wood artist and arborist, who lives and breathes his material, and this quality materialises in his bodily sculptures that pay respect to the trees he has taken to tell stories of the new world we live in. The fair does not explicitly deal with issues of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, the climate crisis or political unrest but does acknowledge these as defining facets of the society we live in today, curating a selection of galleries and exhibits that respond to these matters. One could argue that the fair could do more to tackle these issues however Collect successfully provides a space for conversations on our new world while also facilitating the celebration of creativity and letting the artists and their art to do the talking. I found myself returning to Bloomsbury, as I often do, with Max Rollitt’s beautifully designed VIP lounge, a place of sanctuary filled with unique pieces of furniture set against the background of a magnificent blue hue that covers the walls, reminiscent of Charleston House or the Bloomsbury room at the Courtauld Gallery. Rollitt’s design and colour combinations set the tone for what is a joyful and lively Collect Art Fair in 2022 – do not miss it this weekend.
The Art of Collecting Craft: The Collector at Christie’s Wednesday, February 9th
This week, Christie’s host the latest edition of The Collector. On view at Kings Street in London, the auction includes over 250 lots comprising English and European furniture, sculpture, ceramics and decorative objects from the 16th to 20th century. As the name suggests, the auction offers an interesting collection of objects that consider what it really means to be a collector of craft. The auction certainly places an emphasis on the importance of the interior. Christie’s Head of Creative, Leon St-Amour, collaborated with Stylist Olly Mason, Interior Designer Charlotte Taylor and Architectural Designer Alin T. Stoica to create three visually engaging digital environments in which to display the collection of objects on offer. These sumptuous digital environments are aesthetically pleasing and achieve their mission to highlight the elegance of the objects within the auction. In both the digitally created images and the Kings Street exhibition, two Chinese lacquered vases immediately stand out against a deep green wall, showcasing how the simple act of marrying a wall colour with an object can create an exuberant effect in highlighting both craft and interior design. I find the best collections are ones that are carefully curated xand I admire the attention to detail that has gone into designing this edition of The Collector. This undoubtedly reflects the unique relationship craft collections share with the interiors they are situated in compared to collections of other genres of art. In this sale, the works inevitably speak for themselves, shrouded with history from glass, clocks, silver, gold boxes to a pair of magnificent library globes. But not only that, the display of these works also addresses the provenance of the objects. Some pieces derive from landmark collectors such as William Beckford and Baron Gustave de Rothchild, as well as from houses like Ickworth, Castle Howard, Port Eliot and Brynkinalt. What soon becomes clear is the relationship between the collector and the craftsmen, and what it is that draws collectors to beautifully crafted objects. Luxurious, elegant and incredibly beautiful objects stand out in this auction. A set of three Louis XV Gobelins ‘Portieres des Dieux’ tapestries circa 1726 are breath-taking. Originally from a series of twelve, these tapestries were designed in 1708 and 1709 while the artist, Clause Audran le Jeune, was executing the decoration of the apartments of the Dauphin, later King Louis XV, at the château de Meudon. Woven in silks and wools and lined with linen, each depict the sign of the zodiac in incredible detail, including Hermes, Apollo and Aphrodite alongside architectural elements, foliage, scrolls and symbols. As well as large scale objects, some smaller yet fascinating objects are surprising highlights. I am especially drawn to the four Italian maiolica albarelli. From 1530 and decorated with a blue flowerhead motifs. The albarelli are a type of maiolica jar originally designed to hold apothecaries’ ointments such as basilicon to promote the healing of wounds; Comitissae made from melars, bilberries and other ingredients and Ambra, an amber resin. Whatever your taste, each object has a unique history and exemplifies the craftsmanship of its maker. The Collector at Christie’s not only projects the ideal of what a collection of craft should look like in its interior setting but defines the collector of craft as someone who appreciates the making, craftsmanship and history of objects.
Craft Council’s Gallery We Gather Exhibition Elevates Black and Asian Female Artists Wednesday, January 26th
Not often enough does a gallery or institution give full agency to women artists of colour. It is even rarer that a gallery will offer the opportunity to explore the perspectives of Black and Asian women artists in a highly researched, collaborative and uplifting manner. The We Gather exhibition at Crafts Council Gallery has done just that. It is an exhibition that showcases the works of Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings, Lorna Hamilton-Brown, Shaheen Ahmed, Onome Otite and Francisca Onumah and it is only a short walk away from Vernon Square campus. Set in one room, the Crafts Council Gallery’s mission is all but small. We Gather sheds light on the individual experiences of the makers on show, displaying artworks reflective of the adversities frequently faced by Black and Asian female artists. The title We Gather refers to the gathering of ideas, skills and emotions towards communities who gathered their courage, bodies and voices in support of justice for Black lives, which instigated deeper conversations between the UK’s Black makers. The Crafts Council have been central to this discussion. This is made clear with the first artworks seen as you enter the gallery being Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s knitted magazine cover, full of symbolism with a central figure inspired by political activist Angela Davis and with her watch set to 9.25, the time that George Floyd lost his life to police brutality. The exhibition highlights and draws upon the research by Dr Karen Patel, who has been a key player in raising awareness of racial inequalities in craft. This mission is made apparent in the exhibition, from the beautiful vessels made by Francisca Onumah to the textile work by Onome Otite and the knitted works by Lorna Hamilton-Brown. Hamilton-Brown’s ethereal knitted lacework is hung delicately and captured my attention for its calming qualities. Upon getting closer to the work, named Woman Blue – Elevate, I understood the detailed and well-thought process behind making these objects. Inspired by old blues songs, Hamilton-Brown used punch cards to programme the knitting machine in response to blues songs in order to consider the irregular syncopation and rhythms of jazz and blues while honouring the unknown Black women originally singing the song. The Crafts Council Gallery do an excellent job of making the makers opinions heard through extensive quotes and video materials. I was very drawn to Shaheen Ahmed’s Fortress Displaced, which uses maps to reflect a narrative of statelessness and disparagement. The artist wore a blindfold while making the maps as a way to connect with the experiences of those afflicted with suffering against their will. It is somewhat of a contradiction that crafted objects, demonstrating layers of technique, calligraphic motifs and Islamic geometry, have the ability to represent both beauty and pain. But it was Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings’ warmly lit tent in bright colours that in my opinion became the central focus of the room. The light installation invites you to walk through the exhibition towards the fabrics that incorporate the craft of dyeing, screen-printing and devoré. A video accompanying the artwork refers to the artists’ Sudanese heritage: “We want to bring attention to people within our culture whose voices have been silenced.” Ultimately, I believe the artwork summarises the exhibition as a whole, speaking powerfully and fearlessly of womanhood and elevating the importance of gathering, community and heritage. How successful is the gallery in reaching its mission? The gallery claims to be a site for learning and reflection designed to encourage visitors to engage with discussion around visibility. In my opinion it is successful in meeting its goal. What makes the Craft Council Gallery truly unique and refreshing is the small but insightful library where you can read the research papers that have inspired the art. It is indeed one of the finest examples of social change being translated into material and visual culture in a contemporary setting that I have seen for a long time. It is a wonderful opportunity to understand the experiences of Black and Asian women via the medium of craft. If you want to feel hopeful that the craft world can make real change, We Gather does not disappoint. We Gather runs through to 12 March, Open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm.
Victorian Angels: Women of the Arts and Crafts Movement Wednesday, November 17th
May Morris in the tapestry room at Kelmscott Manor by Mary Annie Sloane (Image: William Morris Gallery) “I have a guest, who is painting just now, my colleague on the Women’s Guild of Arts. She is doing me a picture … of this room with me half in the picture, at work – her idea,” said May Morris of Mary Annie Sloane’s painting of the Tapestry Room at Kelmscott Manor in a letter to John Quinn in 1912. May Morris was the daughter of William Morris, the British designer and revolutionary, famed for his role in the Arts and Crafts movement. The Arts and Crafts movement was one of the most prominent craft movements in art history. Founded in response to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, the movement aimed to create a new approach in applied arts and design against the mechanising and mass-manufacturing of objects. Yet, however much the movement was socially and artistically radical, it also reflected the dominant patriarchal ideologies of Victorian Britain. Left: May Morris, (Image: William Morris Society) Right: May Morris, Honeysuckle wallpaper, (Image: FT, William Morris Gallery) May Morris was a textile and wallpaper designer. She trained in South Kensington, at the National Art Training School. At the age of 23 in 1885, May took charge of the Morris embroidery firm. Women were indeed a large part of this movement but very few women gained the same recognition or influence as May Morris. She said herself, in a letter to the playwright George Bernard Shaw in 1936: “I’m a remarkable woman, always was, although none of you seemed to think so”. This again tells us the patriarchal ideals that shaped the Arts and Crafts movement. So, how were women woven into the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1870s to the 1930s? In the Mary Annie Sloane painting, May is depicted working on textile designed in the tapestry room at home. The crafts were an extension of suitable pastimes for Victorian ladies and at the start of the movement in the 1870s, work at home was the easiest for women to practice their craft. May Morris, Orange Tree embroidery (Image: FT) The role of middle-class women in the Victorian era is encapsulated by the term “Angel of the House”. John Ruskin, a significant figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, viewed the home as a secular temple. Women were meant to act as the guardian of this temple while being protected by the turbulence of the commercial world. Women only earnt ‘pin’ money for their labour. Now, work by women of the Arts and Craft movement can fetch a fair price. Take Margaret MacDonald’s The White and Red Rose that sold for £1.7 million at Christie’s in 2008. The scene of May Morris in her tapestry room reflects the relationship between the home and work for Victorian craftswomen. This, in turn, reveals the sexual division of labour. This is an idea explored by Anthea Callen: “The sexual division of labour is one of the key factors in the oppression and exploitation of women in a capitalist society.” Although many women did take part in the Arts and Crafts Movement, it is important to remember that the crafts, applied arts and design were divided into male and female crafts. Men typically engaged with printing, metalwork and carpentry while women could engage in china painting, book making, textiles and jewellery. Art and Handicraft in woman's building of the World Columbian Exposition, Maud How Elliott, Chicago, 1893 (Image: University of Radford Digital Library) There were of course exceptions to this rule, such as women from across the Atlantic, furniture maker and metal worker Madelaine Yale Wynne and Candace Wheeler who had her own decorating and textile company. Perhaps one of the most important roles of women in the Arts and Crafts movement was to make social change, with the aim of saving women from factory work or extreme poverty. In 1907, May set up the Women’s Guild of Arts to encourage women to design, make and collaborate and take on more of a presence in the Arts and Crafts movement. Mary Seaton Watts was one of the founder members of the Women’s Guild of Arts, believing that ‘art for all’ was a way of enriching life. The Arts and Crafts movement professionalised women’s work in the home such as needlework and embroidery. This emancipated women, enabling them to follow creative endeavours. However, crafts such as embroidery suffered from being characterised as women’s work. “As society “progresses” embroidery became an almost exclusively female activity, and over the centuries this relationship has been mutually destructive” said Rozsika Parker. She continues: “The same characteristic were ascribed to both women and embroidery: they were seen as mindless, decorative and delicate – like the icing on the cake, good to look at adding taste and status, but devoid of significant content.” Wall hanging designed by William Morris. Made by Ada Phoebe Godman (Image: V&A) At one stage, textile design was an exclusively male domain whilst women were assigned the needlework, such as in this wall hanging, designed by William Morris and made by Ada Phoebe Goodman in 1877. Women’s work and creativity were defined and limited by the Victorian male dominant ideology. For me, this makes the stories of women who found their own autonomy and agency over their craft within the confines of Victorian societies even more inspiring. Annie Garnett from Bowness-on-Windermere, a middle-class girl who craved a creative path learned how to spin, weave and embroider and then set up her own business in 1891. Jessie Newbery, an influential textile artist, married to “Fra” Newbery of the Glasgow Art School, headed the embroidery department of the school, celebrating the use of inexpensive materials. Phyllis Barron and her partner Dorothy Larcher worked together in London and in the 1930s, they moved to Gloucestershire where they produced textiles which used their home-grown plants for dyes and inspiration. In the technological revolution we live through today, it is no surprise that craft is having a revival. It is easy to compare this revival to the Arts and Craft Movement over 100 years ago. I only hope in our society today that a revived desire for craft is not tainted by confining or “othering” women, lower classes or any minority group for that matter. Sources: Anthea Callen, Sexual Division of Labor in the Arts and Crafts Movement - https://www.jstor.org/stable/1357958 Arts & Crafts Tours - https://artsandcraftstours.com/the-women-of-the-arts-and-crafts-movement/ FT - https://www.ft.com/content/344542be-be33-11e7-823b-ed31693349d3 Homes & Antiques - https://www.homesandantiques.com/antiques/the-forgotten-women-of-arts-and-crafts/ Widewalls - https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/arts-and-crafts-movement-women-artists William Morris Gallery - https://www.wmgallery.org.uk/collection/search-the-collection-65/may-morris-in-the-tapestry-room-at-kelmscott-manor-w158-1912/search/morris/page/9 V&A - https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/arts-and-crafts-an-introduction
The Revival of Korean Craft Wednesday, November 3rd
K-Pop, Kimchi and of course, Squid Game are all Korean culture bites that many of us have enjoyed. It was lockdown when I discovered Korean dramas such as Crash Landing on You and 100 Days my Prince – I highly recommend – they will nourish the soul. This led to an intent discovery into the art, culture, fashion and food of Korea. So, what about Korean craft? There is currently a huge revival of craft in Korea. From 1392 to 1920, during the Joseon dynasty, the government held ideals such as frugality, honesty, and simplicity. Therefore, craft was not about producing something perfect or astounding but instead about balance. Craftspeople strove to make objects of elegance that were also practical and used materials economically. Craft was central to Joseon daily life, but the traumatic colonial and post-colonial periods of the 20th century saw craft’s existence diminish. In recent times, new craft movements have emerged as a generation of makers want craft to become a central part of Korean life again. Some artists have discovered new ways of making craft and experimented with materials while others have embraced traditional techniques and recovered long-lost skills. A Visit to the V&A On a perfect autumn afternoon, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pursuing a moment of calm and reflection, I happily stumbled across the Korean gallery by chance. I soon discovered how much there is to devour and learn from the craft of Korea. In 1888, the V&A museum received its first groups of Korean objects. The V&A has a very particular collecting history, and this coupled with recent discussions on whether it will reorganise its curation by material have been areas of controversy. When it comes to the Korean collection today, many of the objects have been acquired through funding from Samsung. The collection spans the fourth century to the present day. In 1992, the V&A opened the Korean gallery. It was the first permanent gallery devoted to Korean art in London. What is currently on display is small, concise and carefully curated. It offers a wide-ranging selection of Korean objects, especially celebrating craft and fashion with special attention on how contemporary makers are reviving traditional techniques. The gallery is long and thin, in the form of a corridor that connects the Medieval and Renaissance room to the Cast Courts. It is potentially easy to bypass but don’t miss it next time you find yourself there – it is well worth the visit. Next year, the V&A will host the exhibition Hallyu! The Korean Wave opening in September 2022, exploring Korean Wave’s impact on creative industries. With the current exhibition banner showcasing an image from PSY’s Gangnam Style music video (remember that old chestnut?), it looks to be a sensational showcase. I hope the V&A will celebrate the craft objects they already have in their collection and bring attention to the importance of Korean craft. 5 Things Korean Craft at the V&A Taught Me 1. Upcycle, Upcycle, Upcycle Jogakbo is a Korean wrapping cloth. It is traditionally made from stitching together left-over fabrics from clothing and bedding in the household. Scraps of fabric are upcycled since the Joseon dynasty and many Korean artists embrace this sentiment when making objects today. Patchworking fabrics is all the rage in contemporary Korean craft. Hurray for upcycling! 2. Hats are Key Straw, bamboo, horse or human hair, woven silk, leather and oiled lacquered paper were all materials used to make hats. In the Joseon Dynasty, no one would leave the house without donning a hat. Hats indicated the wearer’s gender, age, occupation and social status and there were many wonderful hats for significant occasions. In the late 19th Century, travellers to the Korean peninsula described the nation as ‘the land of hats.’ 3. Never Underestimate a Ceramic Bottle During the Joseon dynasty, a sophisticated drinking culture developed. Therefore, ceramics bottles became popular liquor bottles and ceremonial wares. Now, these iconic bottles inspire artists to create sculptural ceramic works. 4. Dress to Impress Until recently, women in Korea would wear specific colours to reflect their marital status. Engaged women would often wear pink whereas married women would wear indigo. The curved sleeves of the Jeogori (jacket) in the V&A are typical style of the late 20th century. You’ll see me in a 90s Jeogori in no time. 5. Learn from the Best In the V&A, you will find a silver inlaid bronze jar. It is incredibly detailed and made with such fine craftsmanship. It is made by Kim Yongwoon, a Living National Treasure. He champions the kkium ipsa technique of the Goryeo dynasty (918 – 1392) and he trained from the master craftsmen Song Jae Hwan. I find that the best and most extraordinary crafts are always those passed on from generation to generation. Notes on Collecting Contemporary Korean Craft A few favourite Korean artists that you should be keeping an out in Craft right now. Kim Yikyung – Ceramicist Kim Yikyung is the “mother” of modern Korean ceramics and renowned for her moon jars, a distinctive shape to Korea. No jar is the same, setting them apart from standardised shapes in Chinese and Japanese ceramics and the upper and lower parts of the moon jar have to be made separately because of their scale. Her moon jars are just pure magic. Master Lee Sang Jae – Basket Weaver Lee Sang Jae uses sedges, rushes and reed to create beautiful baskets and mats. He learnt the art of weaving from his family and Lee Sang Jar’s mission is to keep tradition sedge weaving alive. Lee So-ra – Textile designer Lee So-ra is a self-taught artist who uses fine hand stitching to make Jogakbo. Her beautiful patch work wall hanging are made using “Oksa” – a natural silk known for its translucent properties. She hand-dyes the silk using botanical ingredients and has shown at Collect fair and has collaborated with interior designer, Rose Uniacke.
Can Craft Save the World? An Evening with Goldfinger Design Wednesday, October 20th
I arrived in London, ready to take on the city, just as London Craft Week was kicking off. From East to West, North to South, London’s craft scene filled the city with events, talks and workshops. Being the craft obsessive I am, I went along to as many events as possible. Amongst all the potting, quilting, perfumery, fashion, leather tanning, basket weaving, watch making and cocktail making (well, drinking!), there was one question that struck me most: Can Craft Save the World? On Goldborne Road in West London, you’ll find the Trellick Tower. It’s an imposing Grade II listed Brutalist building that inspired Ian Fleming to write his infamous Bond villain Goldfinger. And it’s also home to a craft driven social enterprise: the aptly named Goldfinger Design. View of the Goldfinger Design exhibition space in Trellick Tower (Image: Louisa Hunt) Goldfinger’s mission is to show how high-end design can and should have a positive impact on the planet and on people. The idea for the workshop-come-community project was founded from a desire to make a difference to the world through the production of beautiful objects. CEO, Marie Cudennec Carlisle was in Hong Kong when she witnessed an abandoned fridge floating along the river. It shocked her to see such a substantial object discarded, with no possibility of future use. And so Goldfinger emerged. It’s a neat structure. Their workshop produces wooden furniture that feeds back into the Goldfinger academy and People’s kitchen, providing education to young marginalised people whilst at the same time fighting food waste. Goldfinger Design desk (Image: Louisa Hunt) For London Craft Week, the enterprise welcomed the public to their space for an auction of their new Ayrton collection. The collection adopts circular design, showcasing chairs, desks and benches made from reclaimed teak worktables from Imperial College. The event was tied together with a talk by writer and speaker Katie Treggiden, champion of circular design with a life-mission to answer one question: Can Craft Save the World? It’s an empowering question with a far from simple answer. Treggiden argues that craft can save the world if we consider waste as the raw material for the future. She claims ‘waste doesn’t exist’ and that ‘waste is a man-made concept’. We live in a linear economy. Too often, we consume commodities only for them to be unnecessarily thrown away. There is waste everywhere you look. It begs the question of what purpose does design and craft have if it only contributes to the linear economy and leads to more waste? Treggiden points out that everything in nature is circular. If we could reframe the way we look at waste, we could build a circular economy thereby growing our understanding of materials and ensuring sustainable craft and design. At the centre of this are makers who create objects of beauty that will be treasured and passed down the generations. However, shouldn’t we also question the responsibility placed on art communities to ‘save’ the planet? We are all responsible for the climate crisis but do we place too much onus in our cultural discourse on the creative communities to ‘save’ us and show us the way? All the same, I left Trellick Tower feeling inspired, by the objects, the space and the people. In the end, it was a line from Goldfinger’s manifesto that made me feel that craft does have the potential to save the world but it rests in the hands of the people and the community to make the change happen: “Let’s reset our relationship to the living world. Our everyday choices have power. Choose as if all life depends on it.”