Mastercrafts with Monty Don

Over the last week I have been looking over prooofs of the book that accompanies the Mastercrafts series.

I guess the first thing folk will want to know is “is it worth buying” and I would say if you can pre-order it at £14 it looks like a bargain. It’s a lovely looking coffee table book with nice photographs and well designed and presented. Each of the 6 crafts covered starts with a section about the craft then has a biography of the mastercraftsperson followed by another section on the “tradition” of the craft. There is plenty of background information though I think it would have benefited from a bit more time in the production process, no doubt it was a rush to hit the deadline. I found the “craft” and “tradition” sections rather difficult to pin down and not clearly defined or structured, they pull references from traditions all over the world and throughout the ages where I think a tighter focus may have been more productive. The strongest sections I thought were the portraits of the craftspeople and the montages of photos of the apprentices.

For folk that are interested there is quite an active facebook group run by the publishers D&C and they are clearly committed to future publications in this area.

It’s just over a year since the Heritage Crafts Association were approached by Richochet TV who were developing the program which first airs Friday 12th 9pm BBC2

Will it be good for the crafts? or is it just one more production to satisfy our seeming insatiable desire for reality tv programs?

When I first heard that they were going to put apprentices with top crafts people and film the learning process it sounded fantastic. If you film a skilled craftsperson at work you do not see the tacit skills involved, generally complex actions which took years to learn are so internalised that they happen without being noticed. Having a semi skilled learner alongside teases out these skills so we can see what is involved. It is a technique used by my wife Nicola in her PhD research into the transfer of tacit craft knowledge.

I imagined that the apprentices would be there for at least a year with filming over time maybe a little like the Victorian farm program and that we would see the skills gradually develop. Actually three apprentices worked with each craftsperson for just 6 weeks and at the end there is some sort of judgment as to who did best. At first I thought this was very sad, almost as if the producers did not believe that the material would be of sufficient interest without introducing the circus that is standard fodder of reality tv programs. Maybe it will be handled more sympathetically. My views have changed now though, this sort of tv show is the medium of our time and people of all ages will watch this and be inspired.

I remember as a child watching and being inspired by “The Good Life” which was all about entertainment not message. I wonder if dedicated campaigners for a self sufficient lifestyle at the time complained that it dumbed the message down to put it in a sit com. That was the medium of its time and I thought it was a good one. Anyway back to Mastercrafts I shall be watching on Friday as Guy Mallinson takes on 3 apprentices and they get to grips with the basics of green woodwork. I expect everyone who runs green wood courses to get a lot of hits on their websites next week, mine are all pretty well full for this year already but I have no doubt it will generate new interest and take what has been a rather alternative activity more mainstream.

So what do folk think? Is it going to be great for crafts or is it sad that they had to do the reality tv show format?

7 Responses to Mastercrafts with Monty Don

  1. dk579 February 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    It's always a tricky predicament trying to bring something that is inherently a niche interest to a wider audience. My gut reaction, not being a huge fan of television, is that the material is strong enough to stand on its own and doesn't need the "circus" format you alluded to in order to be interesting. But if I take a step back and really think about it, maybe it's not all that bad. The most important thing is that this program is not the totality of information available on the subject of heritage crafts and traditional skills. That's exactly what sites like yours and others accomplish: those who really get something from the superficial overview the show provides can tap into the wealth of knowledge craft masters now make available on the internet an in person through their classes. It's sad that worthwhile things often can't stand on their own now without advertising, but I suppose it's a worthy sacrifice to keep interest alive.

  2. Rob. N February 7, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    i would say that it is good. ok yes there isn't the amount of depth of the victorian farm but as you say this medium is the one of our time.This could be the first of many shows on this subject to come which could start a ball rolling if it is successful.or it may be a complete flop but it puts the message out there on a large scale format which a lot of people use. And as long it puts the message out there then thats the main thing i think.

  3. Dec February 13, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    I think Monty pulls off the sometimes tricky task of presenting a show such as this. It is modern TV, let's remember, so there was always going to be an element of competition, and the time frame was going to be short. But it should promote a new-found interest in crafts, and that can only be a good thing. Monty's job of liaising with the crafts people and the 'apprentices' is nicely balanced with his occasional piece-to-camera where he gets the chance to give us the important 'message' about crafts and their place in the world. I am looking forward to the rest of the series, and the book might make a handy Christmas present!

  4. thehighlandpeoplesseebankproject February 16, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    I agree with all the comments regarding the modern media way of doing things, and I do believe it will inspire a wave of interest, even if much of it falls by the wayside over time. The important thing is that more people will be aware of the crafts, which in itself will help keep them alive and the businesses that use them.For me, a practising hobbyist/pole lathe turner, and one who tries very hard to be self-sufficient at everything, the program was both interesting and frustrating, but if I had ONE major criticism……why talk about old crafts and use a horse to drag the trees out of the wood if your going to use a chainsaw!!!!!! That’s like switching off one’s fossil fuel fired central heating to cut co2 emissions then flying off on holiday.

  5. Dec February 17, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Further to that last comment about horses and chainsaws, I think it was pity Monty delivered one of his profound thoughts on the subject of the woods whilst the chainsaw was blasting away in the background. They could have cut it out for those few moments. But that's one small criticism on an otherwise enjoyable show.

  6. Robin Wood February 17, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    I find it interesting that folk have questioned the use of chainsaws, electric drills etc. in the program. I guess this poses the question about why folk are working this way? Are we trying to present a picture of a pre-industrial past? Or a potential post industrial future? Or simply enjoying the pleasures of using a choice of technologies. I personally like the mix of old and new technologies and feel there is an honesty in the way the program was presented. There are many folk in the country using horses to extract timber felled by chainsaws professionally only know of two folk that ran a commercial timber operation with cross cut saws for one winter. Horse logging is viable today, hand sawing is not other than as a hobby.

  7. Dec February 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Hi Rob,Not questioning the use of chainsaws… I have one myself, and they are very handy. And indeed if woodlands are to be viable businesses in the future then no doubt all sorts of modern technology will be used to that end. It was more the incongruity of the moment. But it was a brief one!I think it's valid to ask some of these questions. My wife and I watched the programme and she asked me how they would have drilled holes in the past without electricity, so I explained brace and bits, and spoon bits and augers prior to that technology. I imagine a lot of non-craft folk watching would have assumed that all the work would have been done 'manually'. I don't see chainsaws as 'cheating' but I reckon a lot of hobbyist green woodworkers do. Ironically a lot of us hobbyists get our timber as logs, ready to cleave, so don't need to go back to the source for our timber, and so rarely need to break out the chainsaws.