The February Edition of countryman magazine features several articles on traditional crafts. I bought it because there is a 4 page feature on my bowlturning work with some nice discussion about the Heritage Crafts Association. There is also a nice feature on the work of Paul Felix who has been photographing traditional craftspeople for 20 years. He has a wonderful online archive of images on his website here and more here
I first came across Paul’s work 10 years ago when he published a great book called “last of the line” about endangered crafts. I have to confess to have been a little disappointed not to be in the book but I had only been bowlturning 5 years when it came out and he didn’t know of me, lots of great craftsfolk are in there though and I heartily recommend it. Buy it second hand here
Paul has just collaborated on a new book on crafts which will accompany the BBC mastercrafts series, I currently have the proofs of that book for review which will be coming soon.
Two articles on traditional craft in a magazine is unusual but in this issue of the Countryman there are also articles on traditional woodmanship and blacksmithing. “Country crafts”perhaps get more good publicity than “town crafts” perhaps because the latter are mistakenly viewed as being somehow less skilled due to the influence of industrialisation. Perhaps it is a hangover of the influence of Morris and Ruskin who both regarded the industrial crafts with distrust and the rural idyll through rose tinted spectacles. Personally I am very interested in both.
Rather than differentiating between town and country I would look at what is sometimes called “the politics of work” how much skill is involved, how much autonomy does the worker have, how much pride in a job well done? Morris felt these things were impossible in a factory though perhaps working conditions have improved rather since the worst days of the industrial revolution. From my own experience I would say that it is certainly possible to take great pride in work and have a very rewarding job whilst being a small cog in a big machine. It is a bit like the difference between team sports and individual maybe. Of course there are a great many mind numbing jobs where all skill has gone into making the machine which can be run by a soulless, skilless operative.There are many old industrial crafts however where each stage involves great hand skill, practice, dedication and the perfection of these skills tends to give pride in a job. The Sheffield cutlery trade is a good example where many workers continued in the trade long after there were cleaner, better paid, more highly regarded jobs on offer and the pride in the tradition of the job and the skills they had developed is often given as the reason.Herbert Housleys “back to the grindstone” documents this nicely.link