Friday I went to London again and had a day of meetings, first with Kathryn Hollingsworth director of Aawaz communications PR company and a basketmaker. Kathryn and her friend Andrea are happy to help the Heritage Crafts Association with our PR work and bring a wealth of experience.
Next stop was DCMS to meet with Annabel Houghton the adviser on heritage. This was a precurser to a meeting with Mick Elliot director of DCMS on 12th Feb when we will be hoping to highlight the fact that traditional crafts do not currently fit in any of the support organisations. We are not recognised as “arts” because arts funding prioritises the innovative over the traditional and we are not recognised as heritage because that is defined as building, monuments and artefacts. We need to gain acceptance that the skills that have been passed down for many generations are part of our heritage and should have an area within DCMS and one of their NGPBs such as English Heritage should have living heritage included in their remit.
Last meeting of the day was supper with Tanya Harrod. I am slightly in awe of Tanya’s writing she is a towering figure in the world of academic study of the crafts and I did not know what to expect. She is the author of the prize-winning (and highly recommended) The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press 1999) visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, editor of the Journal of Modern Craft etc. http://www.thinktank04.eu/page.php?2,41,92
It could be easy for someone who has lectured so widely and studied so deeply to be aloof but Tanya is warm and welcoming. She has been working for a while on a biography of Micheal Cardew and is very much at home with traditional as well as contemporary crafts. In fact we talked about the way in which one major element which was always a part of crafts seems to have been forgotten. That element is what is sometimes called the politics of work. The whole debate about whether work should be fulfilling and wholesome was a key to the arts and crafts movement in the 19th century and many of those involved in the crafts into the 1960s but seems to have been lost from the studio crafts more recently.
I am particularly interested in this area. I am a big fan of EF Schumacher’s books “small is beautiful, economics as if people mattered” and “good work”, as well as all the earlier writings by Ruskin, Morris, Gill etc. What I like about Schumacher though is that he does not limit his ideas to idyllic country crafts and turn his back on all industrial production in the way that Ruskin did. Tanya and husband Henry showed me a couple of lovely films shot between the wars to bolster national pride. I forget the names but one was about pride in work and looked at the skills and honour involved in skilled industrial production from coal-mining and glass blowing to making components for aircraft engines.
The conversation echoed the thoughts of Mark Jones director of the V&A when he said that we pay to much attention in the art world to innovation and not enough to excellence. I think pride in skills and a job well done are about to have rather a resurgence.