From Blog post

Thoughts on ‘tradition’

treeSince early on in the Design Routes project, I’ve been using ‘tradition’ as a central concept in our research, and one identifying component of what we’re referring to as ‘culturally significant’ designs, products and practices.

However, I’ve become increasingly aware that the meaning of ‘tradition’ isn’t straightforward. The popular understanding is of something pretty static; after all, if we learn a ‘traditional’ dance, eat ‘traditional’ food, or wear ‘traditional’ clothes, we tend to feel that we’re connecting with an established activity, stretching far into the past. While this lack of change might be true for what Eric Hobsbawm calls ‘invented traditions’ (many of which have surprisingly recent origins), I agree with sociologist Edward Shils that genuine traditions actually evolve in the process of transmission - and that it’s precisely this adaptability that enables traditions to remain relevant over time.

(There’s another issue that can be debated here: some people see the word ‘traditional’ as having a different meaning to ‘tradition’ - but I simply see ‘traditional’ as being the adjective linked to the noun, and therefore give it basically the same meaning.)

While reading around the subject, and hearing lots of fascinating talks at various events, I’ve picked up a selection of useful quotes and snippets about tradition and related concepts, which I thought I’d gather together here.

On tradition as looking forward:

Tradition is the creation of the future out of the past. (Henry Glassie, Tradition1995)

Local distinctiveness must be about history continuing through the present (not about the past) and it is about creating the future. There is a great difference in people simply dressing up in Victorian clothes and a festival such as Carnival which builds on gutsy traditions carried forth and back and changed to new circumstances. (Sue Clifford & Angela King, Local Distinctiveness1993)

When vibrant, traditions are always in the process of being recreated… and subject to evaluation in terms of what they bring to a contemporary situation. (Michael Pickering, Stereotyping2001)

If craft is entirely backward-looking, you’re just trying to breathe life into dead tissue. (Sir Christopher Frayling, Heritage Crafts Association conference 2015)

On keeping traditions going:

Tradition is tending a flame, not worshipping the ashes. (Sam Lee, Englishness Rising symposium)

You don’t own the songs but look after them for the next generation. (Sam Lee, Englishness Rising symposium)

On traditions evolving:

From the outside, traditional work can look very static, but the closer you get, the more you realise that it’s experimental. (Joe Hogan, quoted in Craftsissue 248)

To preserve tradition means to continuously develop it. (Adhi Nugraha, Transforming tradition for sustainability through “TCUSM” tool, 2010)

Practice as social action cannot be preserved. It has to change in order to stay the same. (Antonio Arantes, quoted in Design + Craft: the Brazilian path, 2011)

On tradition supporting experimentation:

The deeper the roots, the longer the branches can be before the tree falls down. (Alistair Anderson, Englishness Rising symposium)

If you have any more quotes or thoughts to share on the concept of tradition - particularly in terms of material culture, designs, products and practices - we’d be very interested to hear them!

Photo by Flickr user Jereme Rauckman (see original), used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

Melanie Bowles & The People’s Print

PMW frontWithin the Design Routes project, we in the University of Leeds element of the team have a strong interest in the revitalisation of patterns. Although the project as a whole is looking at many different product types, we have a specialism in fashion and textiles - and traditional patterns, of course, are widely used in this area of design.

We were particularly interested, then, to come across the work of Melanie Bowles and The People’s Print. Melanie is a textile designer and Senior Lecturer at Chelsea College of Art & Design, and Co-director - with Dr Emma Neuberg - of The People’s Print, a creative enterprise based at Makerversity, Somerset House.

I visited Melanie at Makerversity earlier this year to find out more about her work, and get a sneak preview of some of the projects in her fantastic book, Print, Make, Wear, which offers a series of step by step tutorials for DIY digital textile design. Several of these tutorials are based on traditional patterns - and so (although this wasn’t Melanie’s specific intention in creating the book) provide a fascinating insight into the steps required to revitalise a traditional textile pattern.

For example, one tutorial designed by Melanie guides you through the creation of a digital print based on Bargello stitch work, ‘a needlepoint embroidery style which originated in Florence during the sixteenth century’.

Bargello Dress Bargello Dress tutorial

In another, Modern Folk, Emma ‘shows how to create a stunning scarf design inspired by Northern European paper cutout art that traditionally decorated homes in countries such as Poland, Sweden and Denmark’.

Modern Folk Modern Folk tutorial

As Melanie explained when we met, it takes a lot of work to refine what is often quite a ‘messy’ design process into a clear recipe for others to follow: ‘You have to do something, then you have to unpick it, and then put it back together again, so it’s readable. It’s a deconstruction process, and a reconstruction process.’

The first step in the process is research: ‘We go straight onto Pinterest to research the theme. We’d research the history of it, and the craft of it … Then we have to act it out ourselves, work out how we’re going to do it … And extract the shapes. Then we might think of a technique, and work out a way of recreating that using Illustrator or Photoshop.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between revitalising a traditional pattern and taking inspiration from it. I asked Melanie what she thought: ‘If you’re revitalising something, maybe you’ve still got a reference to it, and that’s within the narrative. But if you’re inspired by something, you don’t have to reference that - it could be your secret.’ Makes sense to me - thanks Melanie!

Top 10 links

Artisan handsAfter the recent post sharing my top 12 references relating to the Design Routes research, I thought I’d put together a list of my top 10 links for the project.

These are designers and organisations who are especially active in the area of ‘culturally significant’ designs, products and practices - specifically within the ‘revitalising products’ category of our draft taxonomy, where the interests of artisans must be considered. If you’re interested in finding out more about this kind of activity, these websites are definitely worth a browse.

So - in no particular order - here goes:

Stephen Burks Man Made ‘For over a decade, Stephen Burks has dedicated his work to building a bridge between authentic craft traditions, industrial manufacturing, and contemporary design. Since 2005, Burks has consulted with nonprofits .… uniting the artisan, the designer, and global brands in a triangle of immersive development.’

Artecnica Design w/Conscience ‘Design w/Conscience is a program to manufacture and produce products in accordance with humanitarian and environmentally friendly principles, founded by Artecnica in 2002 … Artecnica’s vision is to introduce into the world’s artisanal communities two essential components: the designer and the project producer.’

New For Old ‘In collaboration with the Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (SACICT), the British Council is currently scoping a significant regional programme in the field of craft, design and innovation. The exciting new programme, called New for Old, aims to promote, support and develop the craft and design sector, helping to make it more sustainable and viable for designers, entrepreneurs and their communities.’

Aid to Artisans ‘We create economic opportunities for artisan groups around the world where livelihoods, communities, and craft traditions are marginal or at risk. We blend a passion for the deep-rooted cultures and handmade traditions of the developing world with a commitment to building profitable businesses.’

Artesanía de Galicia ‘Galicia has a regional government … which is responsible for developing and promoting their own policies to encourage the Galician craft sector. With this goal in 2011 creates the brand Artesanía de Galicia (Galician Crafts), a unique image for our craft products, a guarantee of quality and prestige in international markets and a platform that facilitates the promotion and commercialization of the sector.’

Atelier Courbet ‘Atelier Courbet is a shop with an adjacent gallery presenting exquisite objects, furniture, textile, lighting collections and home accessories scoured from the world’s most revered workshops established as far back as the 16th century. Like galleries to artists, the team represents a portfolio of master-craftsmen that carry on traditional, painstaking savoir-faire and extend their smithery to our contemporary lifestyle.’

Patty Johnson ‘Patty Johnson .… collaborates with partners, enterprises, manufacturers, communities, governments, and designers creating new kinds of design programs and product collections. Although based in Toronto, she thinks of her studio as a mobile network looking to combine the strengths of complimentary groups to build new linkages, new cultures and new ideas.’

The New Craftsmen ‘The New Craftsmen works with a selection of Britain’s finest craft makers to showcase the materials, skills and craft products of the British Isles … We present objects that are deeply connected to culture and place. Our distinct position is to forge collaborations with designers and makers to give a contemporary take on specific skills and materials.’

Alliance for Artisan Enterprise ‘The Alliance is a collaborative effort of over 64 members, including small and medium enterprises, corporations, non-profit organizations and individuals who are working together to promote the full potential of artisan enterprises around the world. The mission of the Alliance is to support the power and potential of the artisan sector, to create jobs, increase incomes, enhance cultural heritage and promote development that respects the uniqueness of people and place.’

DARA Artisans ‘Media veterans Dan and Dara Brewster founded DARA Artisans to share the work of incredible craftspeople worldwide. They believe that handmade designs have the power to enrich our lives with beauty and meaning. Connecting artisans with the global marketplace their work deserves, enables them to make larger contributions to their own communities.’

Photo by Flickr user Rafael Edwards (see original), used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.