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The Wonderful Craft Community

Having worked in the Craft sector now for 12 years it is noticeable just how wonderful this community of makers is!

For many years I found it really difficult to make friends and find ‘my’ people. It was very isolating and it was only when I started to get involved with the local arts scene in Shrewsbury that I started to meet people who were on the same wavelength.

Between 2007 and 2008 I got involved in the organising of an arts and music night called Platform Alteration at a local pub in town. There was a projection of peoples artwork with a different theme each month and there was a mix of music and dance acts and various other activities.

After a short time I ended up doing the majority of the organising with help on the night to set up. It was great to get people together and have a good time and we managed to get some great acts to come and play. There were a few fancy dress nights too and I even dressed up as a witch for halloween once! There’s evidence on facebook somewhere! It was good whilst it lasted but after a couple of years I left and it kind of fizzled out.

Once I had the shared studio with Helen, my sister, I organised some networking events to connect local creatives up as well as a photography one at my friends cafe. Bringing people together and connecting people felt good and it was a chance to meet people.

Having been to lots of different Craft shows over the years either helping my sister set up or just visiting it has always been noticeable the camaraderie there is at them. Being part of that has become important to me and the longer I’ve been working in the Craft sector the more people I’ve got to know and the bigger my network.

During R&A times we’d been working on a project with the Institute of Making at UCL in London called Light Touch Matters, bringing material scientists and designers together from across Europe. They have a fantastic materials library and workshop space.

We’d been away filming in Milan and started speaking to Sarah Wilkes who we were with, basically saying ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get a bunch of Crafts people into your amazing space for the day?’.

This is how I met their then events manager Olivia Clements and we ended up running two Making Matters events there, putting it out there to makers we knew. People came from all over the country to join us and it was a wonderfully inspiring day. Zoe Laughlin, one of the directors is great, the science teacher you wish you’d had at school!

It was amazing to look around those rooms and see all these talented people enjoying each other's company and just playing! The lunch was pretty damn good if I remember rightly too.

We ran a couple of similar events with Olivia after she’d left there, one in a village hall in deepest Herefordshire, just up the road from my sister's studio after she’d moved from Shrewsbury, and at the Phoenix Centre in Brighton. Both had very different vibes but it was again great to bring people together and connect in a less formal way whilst being able to play.

As an individual maker it can be very isolating working alone most of the time and then overwhelming when you do come out of your studio to do a show. Usually you are tired from all the build up but the camaraderie gets you through especially if it is quiet and as the days wear on.

This is when the community is important!

This was most noticeable during the pandemic when we were stuck at home and unable to meet people. I’d never heard of Zoom until march 2020 but love it or hate it it became a life line. Debbie at Clayhill Arts got in touch quite early on into the first lockdown to see if there was anything we could do together and we ended up setting up Craft Coffee Morning, a weekly two hour Tuesday meetup. We’re still so thankful to Debbie for letting us use her Zoom account for that time.

I remember the very first one we had 30 to 40 people join and it was total chaos. We ended up devising a theme for each week which made it more manageable. The numbers went down over time but for almost 3 years we had a really close knit group where we had a safe space to talk about all sorts. There was laughter, tears and everything in between. Those that attended became like an extra family.

We finished running them in March of this year and whilst I do miss them at some level the World opened up again and I’ve made it my mission to try and meet up people at every opportunity, at shows or if I’m passing by. This community is deep!

A few things have happened this year and conversations have been had that have changed my perspective on life. It’s been a tricky few years for my family and turning 47 this year and pushing 50 makes you realise time is passing rather quickly.

There’s also seemingly been a lot more people with illnesses recently and some have sadly left us. It highlights the fragility of life and the need to make the most of it and take opportunities when they arise.

I want to just share a few stories with you about some of those who have sadly we’ve lost from the Craft Community.

Firstly the wonderful Louise Gardiner, an amazingly talented machine embroiderer.

I first met Lou at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair some years ago, I think it was the first year my sister did the show after Hothouse. Lou did a talk about her work and we got chatting afterwards. She had an infectious energy and enthusiasm!

We ended up doing some filming with Lou a short time later at the family farm near Style. It was a great old place with many barns and outbuildings, one of which was her studio. She got us on the Sherry and we listened to loud electronic music sharing different songs. She had an amplifier connected to her stereo and that's one of the reasons I ended up getting one myself as the sound was so much richer from it!

Lou had some of her huge embroideries there that I think had not long been exhibited at Collect and I remember filming her working on her sewing machine. Wow! A combination of the speed she worked at and the wobbly table she had, it was hard to tell what was going on!

We had a good time with her but just a brief glimpse into her world you could sense not everything was well, her dad was ill and there was the threat of having to leave the farm. This I know was a lot to deal with and fed into the main theme of her work, the fragility of life.

I last saw her in 2019 as we’d bumped into her at Collect just before the pandemic hit. I feel lucky to have known her, drunk Sherry with her, captured her work on film and spent time at Oak Farm.

I met the lovely Lubna Din at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in 2019, the last show my sister did before having children. I remember having a good chat with her there about her work. Although primarily a textile artist I was drawn to some concrete pieces she had on show with orange printed patterns on. I pointed out a piece to my parents who were in need of a Christmas present idea, so I am lucky enough to have one of her pieces. Orange of course!

I saw her again last year at Victoria Baths and also met her brother who I remember having a good chat with up on the viewing balcony overlooking Pool C. I saw him again at this year's show as he was still wanting to come and connect with this wonderful community. I spoke to him, gave him a hug and burst into tears, I’m an emotional guy!

Catherine Mahé was a participant in one of the film making workshops that R&A ran for Design Nation during the pandemic. I met her in person at GNCCF a couple of years ago and it was great to meet her, chat about her work and see the vibrant colours in her glass. I didn’t know her so well but my dear friend Hannah Gibson had not long ago made some of her Sweet Nothing figures from Catherine’s glass.

I know several other people who have lost family, friends or partners recently which is very sad but the consoling thing that is noticeable is the wonderfully supportive Craft Community that helps each other through things like this. I feel honoured to be part of this!

With the tricky financial times we are living through and all the uncertainty that that brings, it's more important than ever to stick together to provide mutual support and friendship. It’s been a privilege to get to know so many wonderful people over the years and it’s been great to be able to catch up with so many of you lately at various shows. I do get about a bit, but more of that in another post.

Until next time, mind how you go 🧡

13 Nov 23

In memory of

Lou Gardiner

Lubna Din

Catherine Mahé

And those who have lost someone special recently


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