Another week, another conference! This time I popped down to London for the annual Heritage Crafts Association conference - now a regular fixture on my calendar, and always an excellent event.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Pat Reynolds, HCA’s Co-ordinator, last year to discuss the Design Routes research and how it might contribute to the revitalisation of heritage crafts in the UK. We’re hoping that the framework we develop through our research will showcase a ‘portfolio’ of options for intervention, which may be used when specific heritage crafts are under threat.
HCA’s work is also valuable for highlighting innovative examples of revitalisation - such as their initiative which used film to document the traditional craft of ladder-making - and showcasing the work of makers who are helping heritage crafts to evolve and remain relevant to contemporary life. At the conference, I was particularly struck by three presentations:
Mark Hogarth, Creative Director, Harris Tweed Hebrides
Mark gave a great presentation about Harris Tweed and shared a range of tips for marketing heritage products based on their provenance and sense of place. He discussed the connection of the cloth to the landscape of Harris and Lewis and talked about a number of collaborations undertaken by the company - from Johnny Walker Black Label to Converse and the Ryder Cup. For the purposes of our research, this is a really interesting example of a culturally significant making practice, and its associated designs, being revitalised - or, as Mark suggested, being ‘open to continuous improvement’.
This great short film profiles the unique qualities of Harris Tweed Hebrides and its products.
Genevieve Sioka, Artisan & Craft Buyer, National Trust
Genevieve talked about the National Trust’s recently-launched initiative to sell locally-rooted ‘artisan and craft’ products in their shops. Their desire to source and showcase pieces directly linked to National Trust places and properties - whether made on-site, produced from local materials or taking inspiration from particular sites - links with a number of other projects I’ve been discovering recently where people are trying to develop new products for sale in historic buildings and museums.
For example, there’s the project in Turin and Piedmont I described in my last post; the initiative by women’s craft collective Shelanu to create souvenirs unique to Birmingham; and Made North’s Northern Industrial Project.
Felicity Irons, Rush Matters
For me, the most memorable presentation of the day was by Felicity Irons, who spoke about her company, Rush Matters. The company produces incredibly beautiful traditional rush floor matting, along with other rush products. As they explain on their website, ‘The rush is plaited by hand, using a ‘9 end flat weave’ into lengths 3″ wide, and hand sewn together with jute twine. Each mat is made to each client’s requirements as a central mat, runner or fitted as a carpet, wall to wall.’
But Rush Matters don’t just plait the rush - they harvest it too, spending each summer gathering an incredible 3,000 bolts of rush from rivers in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. As they explain on the website, the weather conditions while the rush dries out affect its colour: ‘… prolonged sun gently bleaches to warm honey tones. During windy weather the colours have a more vivid green/blue hue.’
An inspiring example of a traditional craft bursting with contemporary appeal - and made from amazing materials with a compelling connection to place. Wonderful!
Images by kind permission of Rush Matters.