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  • Kari Furre curring. Courtesy the artist and Guilded

Championing craft with a twist

Founder Charlotte Bowater of Guilded gallery and artist Kari Furre discuss innovative craft

The craft market is on the rise with no sign of stopping. Latest figures from the Measuring the Craft Economy report state there are 11,620 craft businesses in the UK contributing £3.4bn to the British economy each year. 

In anticipation of Collect in February 2018, we met founder Charlotte Bowater of Guilded gallery and represented artist Kari Furre who are helping to shine a spotlight on British craft.  

Collect 2017. Photo: Sophie Mutevelian

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After 15 years of working in heritage, art, and the luxury goods sectors, gallerist Charlotte Bowater moved to Dorset and soon found herself assisting local workshops with marketing. This is when she spotted a gap in the market. “At the time there were a number of organisations providing mentoring to makers and promoting individuals, however it was as though they were looking at each other from either side of a river” says Charlotte. “They needed a bridge and a vehicle to sell the work, not least to address the vast potential of the marketplace beyond the United Kingdom.” 

In 2010, Charlotte founded Guilded with the aim of addressing this gap in the market. The gallery often works with rural British artists and studios connecting them with international art markets. Her overarching philosophy and aim continues to bring “British craftsmanship to the attention of the world, and to make the market follow it for the benefit of our exceptional makers.”    

Guilded  works closely with artists that use innovative approaches to traditional techniques and materials e.g. silvering and resin combined to create startling reflective artwork that double as mirrors. She describes how she enjoys supporting building the creative practices of the makers she represents. “I always start by seeking to fully understand not just each artist’s creative practice but also what drives them” says Charlotte. “You cannot bring out the best in an artist and support them by looking at their work and process alone. It’s essential to get under the skin of what informs it and what the artists’ aims are, what drives them, inspires them, and even what constrains them.”

Kari Furre. Image courtesy of Guilded

One such artist is Kari Furre who worked as a sculptor and fabricator for the likes of Jorvik Viking Centre, The Glacier Museum in Norway, and the Scottish National Mining Museum. Inspired by nature, Kari has used salmon and cuttlefish skins to form a sort of fish leather to craft beautiful objects such as sculptures and bowls. “Fish leather is traditionally made in Nordic countries” says Kari “my father was Norwegian and I have a great interest in anything to do with the North.”

Kari was first inspired to experiment with fish leather whilest working with taxidermists and became fascinated by the process of preserving animal skins. “During a visit to Iceland, I saw cod and salmon leather on sale in tourist shops, it was mainly used for decoration and I felt there was more that could be made from such an amazingly beautiful material.”

Although fish leather may be seen as an unusual material by some, it also has a long history dating back to the Roman empire. “There is very little information about fish leather, it is a skill that has been lost to a large degree. There are flurries of activity in Alaska and Lotte Rahme from Sweden has written a book about it” says Kari.

Kari has developed her skills in creating fish leather over the years by gaining advice from writer Lotte Rahme, Lena Zacheriasson a tanner in the North of Iceland, and visiting the only fish leather factory in Europe.

Kari Furre curring. Courtesy the artist and Guilded

Now based in Devon, Kari has used her knowledge to hone her skills to intricately make fish leather. She tries, where possible to get the skins from fish processing plants and fishmongers and stores these in her freezer at home. She prepares the skins by cleaning and scraping the back of the skin and uses two sustainable tanning methods in her process. One method is to “bark tan by boiling willow bark in a large pan to make a strong 'tea' and then soak the skins in the cooled mixture for about a week.” The other method is oil tanning created by using “unsaturated oil, egg yolk and soap.” During both processes Kari needs to continue working on the skins while they dry to soften them. “Fish have a slightly different structure to a mammal’s skin and takes a bit longer to finish.”   

Image courtesy of Guilded. Photo: David Cleveland

The work of Kari Furre is a good indication of Guilded’s represented artists who are often inspired by processes and materials “I’ve spent many years making objects for museums from clay, the most ancient of materials, and then making fibre glass objects from those shapes” says Kari. She hopes to creatively explore these ancient and traditional skills and present the outcomes in a way that connects with a contemporary audience.

Guilded will be presenting its first ever UK show at Collect in February 2018. The gallery will be showcasing four artists, including Kari Furre, providing visitors and collectors with an opportunity to see new works outside of the context of a private collection.

When asked why Guilded chose Collect, Bowater said “When I align Guilded with another organisation it is essential that we have shared values. Collect as an event fulfils this criteria by providing its multi-disciplinary overview of the people, processes, ideas, and materials that form outstanding craft today.”

You can see Kari’s work at Guilded’s stand at Collect: The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects in London on 22 – 25 February 2018. Tickets start from £14.

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