The Crafts Council team out and about across the UK and beyond...
Firing Up in Norway - Chris Webb
27 May 2015
After the success of our three-year ceramics programme, Firing Up (2010-2013), the Learning and Participation team at the Crafts Council are beginning to lay the groundwork for a new programme that will build on its legacy and extend its reach into new types of making… but the Crafts Council are not the only people inspired by success of Firing Up! Norske Kunsthåndverkeres (The Norwegian Association for Arts and Craft) are now building their own ceramics programme that also seeks to re-ignite dormant kilns in schools.
In April, Head of Learning and Talent Development John McMahon, Designer Tony Quinn, and myself (Chris Webb) were invited to join a group of ceramicists, educators, curators and students to share practice and launch this new initiative in Oslo. The two-day conference opened at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts where the UK team gave a series of presentations about the success of Firing Up and our future aspirations for the programme. Tony Quinn (past Firing Up Project Co-ordinator and Senior Lecturer, BA Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins) gave an in-depth look into the dynamics of coordinating this wide reaching schools programme. His presentation emphasised the importance of being able to tailor the delivery to local needs while still maintaining consistency and quality across the national programme.
After we spoke to the Norwegian delegates about our programmes, we enjoyed watching a series of presentations that shared how educators and makers are engaging the public with ceramics across Norway. One particular highlight was Birgit Brühl who reflected on a 10-year period of teaching ceramics at Bergen Kultureskole. One of her career highlights (and the most curious to me) was her Mud and Gold performance as part of the 2008 B-open, a bi-annual event of open artist studios and events in Bergen. Brühl’s work occupied a shop window in Bergen where she and her assistant made clay works before throwing them against the window as shoppers watched.
At the end of the first day of the conference, we were treated to a tour of the ceramics department at the academy. Although the work of the ceramics students at the school was wide ranging and very impressive, we were gobsmacked by the amazing facilities which included a kiln with a three-meter height capacity and a 4000 kg lift for moving large pieces in and out of the firing rooms.
On the second day of the conference we were hosted at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design where we heard from more artists and curators and received guided tours of the collections. While there I also visited The Needles Eye, their current exhibition of contemporary embroidery.
We had a wonderful trip to Oslo and took away a lot of inspiration and food for thought when it comes to planning for the legacy of Firing Up. The Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts were very generous hosts and we relished the opportunity to share practice so openly with them in Norway.
Chris Webb is Learning and Participation Manager at the Crafts Council
Acts of Making with Corpus Christi Primary School – Chris Webb
5 March 2015
In preparation for the arrival of Acts of Making, the Crafts Council and The Shipley Art Gallery worked with pupils from Corpus Christi RC Primary School in Gateshead to explore the themes of the festival and facilitate a creative response to the performances and installations that will be taking place in Gateshead.
Our work with Corpus Christi began with an in-school assembly where Elizabeth Kane from The Shipley Art Gallery introduced the school’s year four, five and six pupils to the upcoming festival.
Following this, Elizabeth joined the year six class in their classroom to deliver the first of three sessions exploring at Acts of Making. They looked closely at Richard William Wheater’s Tree and Scooters: exploring the themes of his work and discovering connections between the messages and signals we interpret from flags and the signals that humans and animals have learned to interpret from nature.
The pupils then responded by creating a series of line-drawings inspired by our communication with nature: they drew leaves, flowers, insects, pine cones, conkers and hazelnuts.
After the workshop, the pupil’s drawings were passed on to textile artist Shirley Wells who quickly combined their designs to create a single image spliced across four silk flags.
Last week I joined Shirley, Elizabeth and the very enthusiastic year six class at The Shipley Art Gallery to bring all this work together through silk painting and object handling sessions. Together, we took a closer look at The Shipley’s own handling collection, did more nature-inspired drawing and painted the four silk flags. It was a very busy day at the gallery and the pupils worked very hard: from January to May, year six classes are typically hard at work preparing for their SATs so the visit to the gallery was a much deserved creative break for the class.
I had a wonderful time working with the pupils from Corpus Christi and hope they will be very proud to see their flags out on display during Acts of Making. Following the close of the festival, the flags will be presented to Corpus Christi school as a part of a final session with Elizabeth from The Shipley.
You can see Richard William Wheater’s work along with the flags it inspired outside The Shipley Art Gallery from 7 to 21 March.
Chris Webb is Learning and Participation Manager at the Crafts Council
Installing at Bilston - Lorna Burn
I had the pleasure of working with Bilston Craft Gallery staff and volunteers over three days to install and prepare for the six works featured in the Acts of Making festival. It’s always great to work with another organisation in this way, as you work so closely together you really get to know each other so well.
As most of the works are developed during the course of the festival, there were less objects than normal to install. The exception to this was the Clare Twomey work, Is It Madness. Is It Beauty – which included 1,000 unfired clay pots. Given how delicate these unfired pots are and how difficult this makes them to handle, we decided to start the installation process with these works – one unfired pot at a time! We had to work out a system to make sure that we distributed the pots evenly across the width and height of the display space. Clare Twomey only had one instruction for this – there should be gentle curves across the front of the stacks of the pots, which gave us room to experiment.
We met with the applied arts students from Wolverhampton University who will be performing Clare Twomey’s work - Theresa, Mandy, Emma, Louise and Jessica. They were taken through the performance step-by-step by Clare. It was really interesting to see how every element of the performance, not just the set tasks involved, but also the way the performers stand, move, where they look is considered and plays a role in the finished work. We’re looking forward to seeing them perform the work from the 24th to the 28th of February.
We were able to also meet with Owl Project’s Simon Blackmore and Antony Hall, who were in the galleries to install their interactive performance work Photosynthonium, as well as Catherine Bertola who arrived at the end of the installation period. It was great to watch Simon and Antony working to bring the log pile to life. Catherine was there to prepare all of her stencilling tools and to map out how the pattern she has created will cover the gallery floor that will create Unfurling Splendour (V). She was also keen to inspect the quality of the dust we’ve collecting for her, apparently it’s the fluffy kind that is best for her work!
We also caught up with Richard William Wheater and his film-maker and photographers ahead of his Tree and Scooters procession to do a run-through of the route before the performance. We had to prepare his flags ahead of the procession, so they were ready for the riders when they arrived.
Lorna Burn is Exhibitions & Collection Projects Curator at the Crafts Council