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  • Triumph of the Immaterial [detail], Phoebe Cummings for the Woman's Hour Craft Prize. Photo: Sylvain Deleu

Phoebe Cummings is named the winner of the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize

Live from the V&A on Wednesday 8 November

Clay artist Phoebe Cummings was named the winner of the inaugural £10,000 Woman’s Hour Craft Prize during a broadcast special dedicated to the Prize.

She was awarded the prize by a judging panel made up of Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director of the Crafts Council; Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A; Martha Kearney, BBC journalist and broadcaster; Susie Lau, fashion writer and style influencer; and Jacky Klein, art historian. 

Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director, Crafts Council says: “Phoebe’s work is truly original. It encompasses performance art and studio ceramics and defies easy categorisation. Working exclusively with raw clay to create site-specific pieces that change subtly day-to-day, her staggeringly beautiful work asks us to celebrate rather than mourn the passing of time. She challenges ideas of what craft is with work that is almost impossible to possess but delights in the physical process of making and shows a highly skilled understanding of the material. And so despite stiff competition from 11 other exceptional makers, she has been awarded the inaugural Woman’s Hour Craft Prize.” 

Phoebe uses unfired clay to create temporary sculptures and installations that gradually disintegrate, challenging expectations of what craft is. Intricate and detailed, her work responds to the natural world and lasts only for the duration of an exhibition after which the clay is, where possible, reclaimed and reused on future pieces. For the Craft Prize she created a fountain that dissolves as the water flows, which has been on display at the V&A since 7 September 2017 alongside work by the other 11 finalists. The exhibition, which will embark on a UK-wide tour from early 2018, provides an important snapshot of how contemporary British craft practice reflects on, and engages with, the world today.

Triumph of the Immaterial, Phoebe Cummings for the Woman's Hour Craft Prize. Photo: Sylvain Deleu

Phoebe Cummings said: "I am overwhelmed to have been chosen from such a strong and diverse shortlist. The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize has done a huge amount to raise public awareness and discussion around contemporary craft and the breadth of practice it encompasses. Making work that is ephemeral and performative isn't always the most straightforward path to take, so the recognition and support of the prize will have a big impact in enabling me to continue pushing my work forward. I plan to use the money to make a usable work space at home - no doubt my family will be overjoyed that they can finally reclaim the kitchen table."
Eschewing conventional practices of producing objects that are then sold through a gallery or shop, Phoebe Cummings has forged a career through commissions for public museums and galleries. She was an Artist in Residence at the V&A in 2010, where she first saw fragments of the (recently restored) 18th Century Meissen Fountain which inspired her piece for the Craft Prize.
The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize was launched in October 2016 by the Crafts Council, BBC Radio 4 and the V&A, in order to celebrate the most innovative and exciting craft makers in the UK.  The finalists were selected by 29 expert judges who whittled down over 1,500 applications to 12 finalists all of whom celebrate the possibilities of using particular crafts and skills in different ways.
Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A said: "Craft is at the heart of the V&A and central to its purpose, so it was a huge pleasure to judge the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize and for the museum to host the exhibition. The 12 finalists demonstrate an incredible array of talent and breadth, which reveals just how exciting craft practice is today. I have known Phoebe’s work since her 2011 displays in Stoke, and she has grown as an artist and maker. I adore this work’s mix of earthiness and ephemera, quality craftsmanship and elegiac thoughtfulness. We are delighted to award her the Prize."
Martha Kearney said: “At first glance, I was drawn to this stunning profusion of exquisitely wrought flowers. Looking more closely, the course of water eroding the raw clay evokes a beautiful melancholy. Phoebe Cummings’ work is a highly deserving winner for its high concept combined with immense skill, showing how traditional craft techniques can be re-imagined.”

Jacky Klein said: “Phoebe's work is rich and multi-layered, both visually and conceptually. Exquisitely crafted yet wistfully self-destructive, it opens up a fascinating dialogue with the history of sculpture, of craft and of ornament - making her a deserved winner of the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize.”

Following its display at the V&A until 5 February 2018, the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition will begin a UK-wide tour from March 2018 initially displaying at The Forum, Norwich (12 March – 12 April 2018), Mottisfont National Trust, Hampshire (28 April – 1 July 2018) and Bristol Museums (14 July – 11 Nov 2018). Further locations to be announced in due course.

To discover more about Cummings and the emphemeral nature of her work please see feature article in the latest issue of Crafts