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  • Hand Carved Wooden Spoons, Forest + Found

When textiles meet timber

Collect Open 2018 exhibitors Forest + Found 

As we look forward to seeing Forest + Found’s installation The Between at Collect 2018 we've delved into the Crafts archive to when former Deputy Editor Teleri Lloyd-Jones visited their studio in 2016.

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Usually in the studio of a design duo you’d be hard pushed to discern that two people occupy the space. Tools, inspirations and work blur into one in service of a cohesive whole. But at Forest + Found there are two distinct spaces: one, a wood-working shed, all raw and dust-filled with every surface covered by tools; the other, a pale, sparse room, everything ordered with the odd pigment sample on the wall, and the only concession to mess the onion skins piled in pans under the work table. These are the spaces of Max Bainbridge and Abigail Booth respectively, known together as Forest + Found, sited at the bottom of the garden in Bainbridge’s family house in London’s Walthamstow.

They met on a fine art degree at Chelsea College of Arts and have been making bowls, spoons and quilts since launching their partnership last year. ‘We shared a studio space in the final year… We were always coming at the work from the same point of view, even though the work itself was different,’ says Booth. ‘Same ideas, same conversations but different materials. When we graduated we wanted to keep making, to keep working with materials, but we wanted to make a living from it.’

As fine artists, freshly graduated, Bainbridge and Booth knew that the chance of earning from their art was slim. Having found some old Ercol furniture at a local market, the pair set about refurbishing and selling the pieces on. The sole focus for the first year was to get their all-important workshop space up and running. The materials and processes that they both now work with came with some serendipity. For Bainbridge, it was the impulse purchase of a lathe, while for Booth it was the gift of a second-hand book on Amish quiltmaking.

They discovered processes they enjoyed but also ones that continued mining their original interests. Booth, for example, has always been drawn to colour and used to stretch her own canvases, so she bought plain calico and began dyeing. ‘I had no money,’ she says, ‘so I wondered how I could dye fabric cheaply and also get that subtlety of colour I needed. I’m very specifc about colour.’ Experimenting with wood tannins, alder cones and oak ‘The wood’s got splits and cracks. It’s lovely and it surprises you’

Collection of wooden bowls, Forest + Found galls, as well as the onion skins I see on my visit, Booth found a world of rich colour that she could control herself. The pair are currently setting up an allotment to grow plants to use in their dyes.

Forest + Found

As the name might suggest, foraging is a big part of Forest + Found’s practice. Bainbridge gets birch, oak, holly and sweet chestnut wood from the Forestry Commission in nearby Epping Forest. It’s obviously economical and practical, but, I ask, is there a political statement in their practice? Bainbridge replies in a heartbeat: ‘Well, I know that Donald Trump doesn’t do it’, before continuing: ‘It was a way of being as sustainable as we can without being eco-warriors. It made sense to use the resources on our doorstep, but also you get a more interesting end result. The wood’s got splits and cracks. It’s lovely and it surprises you.’

Though the design world would point to a current re-emergence of craft skills, interestingly Bainbridge and Booth talk of the opposite pull. ‘There was this particular vibe (at arts school) for post-internet, horrible, hipster art and we just weren’t interested in it,’ says Booth. ‘People stopped making things. We were very much about making, process being the way to play out your ideas.’

I’m intrigued how it felt to go from making purely as an artistic expression to producing functional objects. ‘It’s been liberating,’ says Bainbridge, ‘[in the past] as soon as you’ve made it, that’s it. Sometimes you put it into the public realm, a lot of the time you’re making it for your own gratification. But there was no continuation. We are very much about the physical process and going into something where you’re immersed in it every day. Then you’re making things that have a longevity and are being used. That has been amazing.’

Words can be difficult because, Booth says, ‘we were never designers, we were only makers. I understand the design process but it’s no different from when we were making sculpture – do you design a sculpture? You have ideas and they manifest themselves in a physical form.’

There is the sense that the two are still buoyed with enthusiasm for the craft world they have discovered. One recent experience saw Bainbridge introduced to a fellow maker as a ‘good wood-carver’ and it struck him – the confirmation of skill and quality as well as the openness was something that he had never seen in the fine art world: ‘There’s a generosity in crafts that we haven’t experienced before. People are genuinely excited to work together and engage.’

But the two aren’t wedded to their materials. ‘We’ve never said we want to be the best wood-turner or the best quiltmaker,’ says Booth, ‘it’s not about being a traditional craftsman in that sense.’ In a decade’s time Bainbridge’s lathe might have lost its lustre or Booth might find another world of colour to get lost in, but it’s obvious that making will always be at the heart of whatever they do. 

www.forest-and-found.com

This article first appeared in Crafts May/June 2016 

Collect 2018, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3, 22-25 February.

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