In March 2011 Craft Scotland attended the first Heritage Crafts Association conference in the beautiful surroundings of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Heritage Crafts Association was set up in February 2009 to help safeguard heritage crafts and ensure that makers and their work do not disappear forever.
The conference aimed to put the spotlight on a range of traditional crafts currently practiced in the UK, to put them in context and to look at their future in the UK.
The day got off to a strong start when, in her opening speech, HCA Vice Chair Patricia Lovett announced that the Association’s new president would be HRH Prince Charles.
She talked about how craft had helped form towns, that crafts were very much part of regions and this sense of the interconnectedness of craft and history wove its way throughout the talks given that day.
The first speaker, Mark Henderson, is the Chair of the Savile Row Bespoke Association and chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes tailors. He spoke about his experience of marketing traditional handmade goods within the luxury sector.
The Savile Row Bespoke Association unites tailors to protect and develop a craft practiced in this famous quarter of Mayfair for over two centuries. His speech highlighted the transition of craft to new audiences in our modern day consumer fad-based society.
Many heritage crafts were originally practical objects necessary for daily life used by working class people. In modern Britain some heritage craft has changed its market and moved towards the sphere of luxury goods, purchased by affluent professionals or used in decorative roles removed from their original purpose.
While some may see this move away from the historical uses of craft as a negative one, by finding new audiences for heritage craft we ensure their survival and that of their makers. That craft is now considered a luxury good also suggests that society has come to value and respect makers and their work.
Mark Henderson also spoke of craft as an alternative to the terrible waste endemic in Western consumer societies. This was a central theme in Professor Tanya Harrod’s talk, Craft Matters, and was particularly interesting given craftscotland’s recent exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Conserving Ecologies: Craft and Biodiversity.
Alex Langlands, star of the BBC’s Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm series, also attended the conference and spoke about his experiences learning how to use a range of heritage crafts. The popularity of this series has bolstered a renewed interest in craft and inspired many to buy or take up crafts.
After lunch Sophie Hussain, the stained glass tutor from Monty Don’s Mastercrafts series, presented her work along with chair maker Stewart Linford and boat builder Gail McGarva.
Despite representing very different disciplines the passion they all felt towards their work was evident as was the importance in their pieces of craft acting as a vessel for history. For Stewart Linford this took the form of a Battle of Britain chair, for Sophie Hussain a commemorative pane and for Gail McGarva in her beautiful daughter boats.
The roots of heritage crafts may be found in the past, but it is crucial that these crafts find a place in modern Britain so that they can continue to carry the story of their development and their makers well into the future.
There was an Instant Craft Gallery at the conference showcasing some of the work of those who attended. You can see photos of the work in the flickr slideshow below.
Article by Melanie Paget, Online Assistant, Craft Scotland
Craft Scotland was invited to attend this conference by the Heritage Crafts Association
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