This year’s Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen’s summer show at the Town Hall, Chipping Campden, was opened by authors Peter and Charlotte Fiell.
Peter had this inspiring message for makers on craftmanship:
• It is fantastic to see such a variety of work and skills on display.
• My wife, Charlotte, and I have been writing books on design for over 25 years.
• What we find so interesting is that the more we research and write about design the more we believe in the importance of craft – by which I mean artisanal handcraftsmanship.
• And we are not the only ones.
• Recently, Jony Ive, the Head of Design at Apple (who, as you may know, is British) said this:
“Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made. I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft.”
• And even more recently, as reported in the Sunday Times last week, the famous outdoor clothing brand L.L. Bean has begun winning vital new customers by reminding them of the values of craft and quality it has always stood for, through a billboard campaign in major American cities that asks:
“When did we stop valuing things that get better over time?”
• This is all extremely interesting. So what is going on?
• Clearly, traditional craft skills are a vital link between the past and the present – but what is perhaps even more important is what they have to offer us today in terms of industrial mass-produced objects.
• A lot of people might think the link is tenuous. But I don’t. Because I believe it has to do with one very important thing – and that is morality.
• Morality is implicit in the timeless ideals of artisanal handcraftsmanship. And they are shared with Modern design ideals. I am sure you are very familiar with all of them. But here they are anyway:
Durability – meaning timelessness in terms of both function and aesthetics
Unity – meaning wholeness or holism, i.e. thinking of the object in its entirety through use over its complete lifecycle
Integrity – meaning honesty or truthfulness, best understood in terms of “truth to materials” and a deep commitment to the quality of how well an object is made
Fitness for Purpose – meaning thoughtfulness i.e. that the object fulfils the reason for its existence as appropriately as possible, and strives to bring joy through use
Beauty – meaning a concern for not only how well an object looks, but how well it serves the purpose for which it exists
• But what is special to craft – one could say, the “extra ingredient” – is the very particular moral engagement that exists in practicing a craft through caring very deeply about what you do and how the object of your labour, skill and concern will live on beyond the workshop, bringing joy and utility to other people’s lives.
• That does not really exist, to anything like the same extent, in the world of design, engineering and industrial production.
• But it certainly should do. Indeed, needs to. Because that is the main moral dimension I’m talking about.
• Understanding how something is exactly made at a very high level is absolutely essential to artisanal handcraftsmanship – and it is critical that this should also now be the case for industrially designed and manufactured goods – if only for the sake of reducing waste wherever possible, so that things can made and consumed more sustainably.
• The realisation of beautifully handcrafted objects, however, is not the whole story of what needs to be celebrated in the world of craft.
• For, what future generations of prospective craftspeople – like those graduates of Hereford College of Arts, whose work is also on display here – should find most attractive about the professional practice of craft is that it is holistic. It is a way of life that can lead to living a good life.
• To me, the key idea is this: In a mass-produced, digitalized world of ever-increasing banality craft brings authenticity, meaning and personal fulfilment.
• So keep up the good work, and I hope you have a super-successful show!
Below are photos taken at the show, which is open until 4pm on Wednesday, 24 August.