A blog charting the progress of The First Decade Project
The First Decade Project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, includes the creation of an online resource of material from 1972 to 1982 related to Crafts Council Collection
The First Decade team will delve into the archives and share the unearthed discoveries along the way...
Posts so far:
- The story of Crumb Headband - Jackie Steven 14/07/2016
- ‘…all potters love to cook, so perhaps all is well’ - Elizabeth Wratislav 30/03/2016
- Headed for Stardom: First Decade goes live - Christina McGregor 25/02/2016
- A journey with plot, sub-plots, and unexpected twists: evaluation as a story - Annabelle Campbell 05/02/16
- Countdown to Launch Day! - Christina McGregor 22/12/2015
- Birmingham Object Handling and Clay Workshops - Jo Taylor 05/10/2015
- First Decade V&A Lecture: A Confederacy of Makers - Gloria Lin 02/09/2015
- Documenting the First Decade: exploring exhibition archives 26/08/2015
- Hands on at Bovey Tracey 06/07/2015
- Handling Collection Training Day with the Volunteers 05/06/2015
- Oh what lovely jewels - Holly Burton 28/05/2015
- Volunteer Programme - Holly Burton 01/04/2015
- Handling Collections, archives, and a trip to Middlesbrough - Holly Burton 01/03/2015
- Some early thoughts on roaming the archive - Gloria Lin 01/01/2015
The story of Crumb Headband: Jackie Steven
Crumb Headband is an art commission for mima’s permanent collection, which is intended for use as a handling object. It is a narrative interpretation of someone else’s design, and is the first to be chosen for commission, from an archive of imaginative and poetic visitor responses to jewellery from mima’s and the Crafts Council’s collections. The archive and handling collection project has been done in partnership with and inspired by the Crafts Council, as an extension of the many fascinating discussions around collections access and meaning which formed part of the First Decade project, and has inspired a new category of spaces within the mima collection for objects and conversations to grow.
This archive of visitor designs, produced during a public participation project at mima as part the Craft Council’s First Decade project, is now also contained within mima’s collection. The archive consists of a set of hand printed labels which capture visitors’ imaginative jewellery designs and sketches. As further labels are added the archive will continue to grow as a resource bank of designs, for use when commissioning further pieces to develop a handling collection resource at mima.
Once the first stage of building the archive was complete, Crumb Headband was the visitor design which spoke to me the most, was the most memorable and inspiring to me, and would therefore be the one which was the most fascinating to make as the inaugural object. We explained to visitors during the participation sessions that their designs would be read actively, used as inspiration for commission of handling pieces, and would potentially be shared as objects with other visitors. Crumb Headband puts the cycle of ideas, inspiration and making into an initial rotation and the next phase will be open to whomever mima next commissions to pick up the conversation.
The story behind Crumb Headband
The crumb headband design caught my imagination because it is evocative of fairy tale worries and warnings about being out late and finding a way home, and the young girl who designed the crumb headband seemed to have hit upon the very bright idea of leaving breadcrumbs as a trail. Only when I had carried this image around with me for a while, and when I was thinking about how I might actually make ‘a crumb headband’, did it occur to me that not only are crumbs a difficult material to use, crumbs also don’t make a good trail to leave, as I remember from the fairy tale world that birds eat the crumbs, and a more individual and resilient Plan B is usually required if/when your hopes of being rescued fail. I thought that a crumb headband would be a good reminder as a cultural symbol, to both take precautions and make plans but also be prepared to protect yourself individually if plans fail and things don’t turn out as you imagine they will.
To make a physical object to capture all of this, I wanted to make a crumb headband as if it were something that already existed, something that would be recognisable rather than a new invention. What would a crumb headband look like as a familiar commodity, forming part of social ritual, as/with paraphernalia for some rite of passage, perhaps from a generation past but less common now? What would Crumb Headband look like if, rather than a poetic new idea, it already existed symbolically, providing access to a world in which it made sense and was already understood?
How was Crumb Headband made?
Crumb Headband physically consists of a set of 5 sterling silver pecking bird charms, a box and a linen bag for the charms, and an old crumb headband recipe.
The pecking birds were originally made as small rubber carvings then sand cast in sterling silver. They are charms for baking into a crumb headband loaf, with sharp pecking beaks as a reminder that chance and bad luck (if you are the one who finds a bird in your portion of loaf) play a part in life once you go into the world. Go into the world carefully, as you might eat carefully to avoid breaking a tooth!
To give a sense of age to the charms, I used an old box, which originally had a set of spoons in it, and pulled it flat so that I could letterpress onto it, using vintage metal founts. Once the letterpress had dried, I glued the box back together and set it with tiny sash clamps, and redressed the inside of the box for display of the charms, including a linen bag made from some vintage table linen which has a quality of having been washed and ironed many times.
The lettering on the box does not explain too much about how to use the charms; if crumb headbands already commonly existed there would be little need for instructions. I have used advertising style language on the box, such as “oven safe” to give clues to what the charms were intended for. I wanted the Crumb Headband piece to appear to be something ‘real’. If the person handling it is not familiar with it, then perhaps the age and the assumptions in the text on the box would lead them to wonder what it is and what it is for, to fill in the gaps. I wanted to create a sense of a world where a crumb headband is a familiar part of life and received wisdom.
To add to the effect of history, there is a recipe in the box, which is visually designed to look as if it were photocopied from an old cook book, as there would always have been recipes for baking the common crumb headband.
The recipe is a personal favourite of mine for fruit bread, with a few poetic additions to the text such as the recommended use of a 1lb crumb headband tin. Naturally, I did need to make a crumb headband, so that I could include a photograph in the photocopied recipe, which has been graphically styled after the Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book from 1970. When I was baking a crumb headband, it became apparent that a tin in the correct shape would have been very useful, and so it seemed that tins would probably have been as commonly available as the charms.
Crumb Headband literally unfolds as an object, with the intention that the narrative of it will be richer and have the potential to grow when it is used as a handling object. I have a feeling that it will be most easily understood by being physically investigated and discussed, because as an object it proposes an alternative social convention that does not exist; it is open to elaboration. I also wanted to recreate the pleasure of finding an old object that has been previously used and cared for and has been part of someone’s life as a possession – so that in some way, this object proposes a fictional person at the heart of the narrative.
Back in the office after a long weekend of Easter festivities, full of regrets about the quantity of chocolate consumed and a wandering mind thinking up recipes for all that leftover roast lamb, it seemed a fitting time to delve into the Crafts Council Collection Archive to explore the theme of food. I have been cataloguing the newly digitised First Decade archive over the past few months and it has become apparent that some of my favourite items all centre on food. Perhaps this says more about me than anything else but I would also suggest that this selection of archives more broadly underscores the natural pairing of craft and food.
In the history of the Crafts Council, 1977 was a year that celebrated food. It began with an exhibition titled Good Tastes (Jan – March 1977), the first in a series of exhibitions curated by Margaret Casson to celebrate the Queen’s silver jubilee. Held at the V&A but organised in conjunction with the Crafts Advisory Committee, this light-hearted exhibition of ‘objects imitating food’ was accompanied by the publication of a delightful recipe book, Party Pieces. Why, you might ask, did the Crafts Advisory Committee venture into the realm of publishing recipe books? Well, it seems this was even somewhat unclear for the Director at the time. In a letter dated 23 February 1977, Victor Margrie, first director of the Crafts Advisory Committee, wrote to well-known potter Lucie Rie to gift her a copy of Party Pieces, thinking that she might enjoy it and having been assured that the recipes by Josceline Dimbleby were ‘all quite exceptionally good’. He writes: ‘I must say I found it difficult to justify the publication of this book under the crafts umbrella, but it is charming and will break even on costs. I know, too, that all potters love to cook, so perhaps all is well’.
Far from the types of celebratory recipes I was cooking up over the weekend, this book is full of those 1970’s favourites: jelly, candied peel, curry powder and the all-important parsley garnish. With this book in your party-planning arsenal, you could whip up treats with such alluring titles as ‘Pastry Wrapped Lamb with a Surprise Stuffing’ followed by Chocolate and Apricot Dream’, all, one can imagine, served up on an Alan Brundson platter - with cloche cover for the grand reveal!
From these special occasion ‘party pieces’ to domestic ware for daily use, crafts were being promoted as having a functional role to play in everyday life and a position within the heart of every home, none more so than in the Crafts Advisory Committee’s 1977 touring exhibition Domestic Pottery. As the press release stated, the aim of this exhibition was to ‘emphasize that these are not expensive objects to be put on a pedestal, but are functional, reasonably priced pots to buy and use in your home’. Much as the Crafts Council does today through the Directory, this exhibition aimed to encourage people to purchase or commission objects directly from the maker. The illustrated catalogue focused more on the makers’ practice than the objects themselves and provided the address of their workshop or pottery where purchase enquiries could be made. While the objects on display were not for sale, the accessibility of these objects was further emphasised by a list of indicative retail prices made available at the exhibition.
And if visitors needed more encouragement, the Crafts Advisory Committee also put together a poster of original recipes by Sue Waterston. Perhaps inspired by the success of the recipe book earlier in the year, this poster takes the relationship between food and craft one step further bringing vessel and content together in a way that was only suggested with Party Pieces. Resplendent in shades of 70s brown, this poster not only provides recipes for such classics as baked beans and stewed pears, it also prescribes the type of pot or dish in which it should be prepared, with reference to the makers’ whose work was included in the exhibition. And if you were lucky enough to attend the press view of the exhibition you may even have had the chance to sample some of the dishes!
Also mentioned in the press release was the hope that this exhibition might inspire visitors to try their own hand at making ceramics. Indeed, the introduction to the Domestic Pottery catalogue explores the ‘life cycle of a potter’, providing the reader with a step-by-step ‘recipe’ covering the ingredients of the clay body and different glazes through to the firing and finished pot. Drawing parallels between the chemistry of cooking and the production of a pot may seem obvious but perhaps this is what underpinned Victor Margrie’s comment about a potter’s love to cook - the gift of making extending beyond a single discipline to be enjoyed in any and every part of life.
With over 200 new archive records now available on Collections Online and new material being added regularly, this is a great resource for exploring both the history of the Crafts Council and its collection as well as craft objects more broadly.
25 February 2016
Arriving home late after the event to celebrate the launch of the First Decade archive online it should have been the best night’s sleep of all in recent weeks - First Decade mental ‘to do’ lists crossed off and making way for a far more enjoyable dreamy montage of post launch relief, realisations, connections and reconnections. What I hadn't anticipated was quite how many, how varied and how un-switch-off-able this night-time/early morning inner script would be.
Tuesday night's Fielding Talk, an annual gathering of makers, curators, funders and supporters, held in recognition of the late Amanda Fielding - Curator of the Crafts Council Collection - and her far reaching contribution to contemporary craft debate, provided the perfect foil to present and launch our online archive.
Invited speaker Crafts Council First Decade maker and innovator David Poston charted his on-off career as a jeweller/designer/maker arguably providing a one man case study of past and present Crafts Council core policy and programming from his Start Up grant in 1970s to his later work that deftly illustrates the leverage that craft as a discipline brings to other sectors such as technology, medicine, third world development and sustainability and as an agency for social change.
Those of us fortunate to work with collections enjoy a regular sense of privilege and can often cite extra special moments. Tuesday night was definitely one of those - gathered to hear David speak, some together for the first time in decades, were a roll call of Crafts Advisory Committee - later Crafts Council - alumni. We were, in David’s words ‘in the company of gods’. The pages of the documents we've been sifting, selecting, digitising, cataloguing, literally brought to life through the presence of Victor Margrie, Crafts Council Director 1971-1984, Ralph Turner, Electrum Gallery founder and first Crafts Council Exhibition Officer, and makers including Fred Baier, Howard Raybould, Vanessa Robertson and Janice Tchalenko.
This gathering of names was a particular thrill for me since I harbour an as yet un-researched fascination with the story of the people behind and around collections and see this running in parallel to the charting of the object stories themselves that we primarily occupy ourselves with. Who worked with, taught, employed, liked or disliked who? Browsing through the First Decade pages of collections online it is now possible to rediscover and trace these overt or sometimes tacit forgotten and lost relationships (technically that should read locate and not rediscover - since arguably they were never lost but merely unknown to or hidden from a more recent generation such as myself).
Recent weeks have seen makers generously granting us rights to use material – thereby completing a virtuous circle whereby they support and enable our work as once the original 1970s start up grants and purchase of their work supported them. I am regularly countersigning completed rights forms with a gratifying series of ticks against all of our requests for the various types of use ranging from inclusion in First Decade online, press releases, learning materials and teachers packs to social media use. We are ever mindful that makers who sometimes hastily completed by hand the various accompanying forms for the purchase of their works, for example Purchase Information Sheets, forty plus years ago in the, then analogue, moment, most likely had little or no thought how the contents might be used beyond the immediate collection needs let alone today's instant global web transmission of handwriting and idiomatic quirks of style - the very attributes of course that make the archives so appealing. (Today's makers are still requested to complete an Acquisition Information Sheet detailing the work in question, citing influences and describing the object's significance within the context of their practice. The completeness of these now often word processed submissions in my opinion is never quite an adequate recompense for the loss of immediacy and personality that only a handwritten document conjures. How best to achieve both going forward remains as yet unresolved and very much on the table in my opinion - suggestions on a post card please!)
Seeing so much material brought together virtually, occupying digital cyberspace interchangeably at the click of a new search request and alongside one another, liberated from the straightjacketed and strictly linear A to Z Maker filing their physical counterparts continue to inhabit here at CCHQ prompted a colleague to ask if being Keeper of Collections is like being a parent of more than one child - impossible to have favourites? At this point I'm probably guilty of new favourites daily from the 'near perfect' AM28 T6 catalogue card highlighted in Project Manager Ananda Rutherford's Object of Desire, the now politically incorrect leaflet AM98 for Meet the Makers working in wood and paper 1981, AM212 Jacqueline Mina writing about a commission for an Arabian princess when all she really wants to do is her own creative work highlighting the perennial maker economic/creative conflict and for pure entertainment value Fred Baier’s letter AM21 seeking payment of a chair commissioned for Victor Margrie ‘I told Victor… it’d be a good un and that was if you don’t want it I’ll give to someone else, Lots of Love Fred’.
So, Paul Caton, if being on the Crafts Index equated to stardom - we’ve got news for you – surely immortality beckons now (as part of the First Decade online)?
Christina McGregor is Keeper of Collections at the Crafts Council
5 February 2016
As I am writing this in National Storytelling Week, it is forgivable to think that an evaluation report has no relation to what may be considered a celebration of constructed ‘ made-up’ narratives, involving adventure, challenges and emotional journeys.
In fact, far from being at odds, evaluation shares a lot with the literary field and is as much about the sequencing of ideas to tell a story. The stories present an account of a journey with various ‘plots’, ‘sub-plots’, themes, characters, dilemma, and resolution. In fact all key constituents required in successful storytelling.
To write an evaluation report - the word report may have associations with dry fact based statistical content - is an exercise in constructing a narrative, it is the story of a project, plotting a journey. this often includes a series of adventures, encounters, chapters, with varying episodes, requiring a ‘teller’ and a ‘listener’- who then becomes the ‘teller’ to a wider range of ‘listeners’.
Crafts Council contracted the evaluation consultant Nicky Boyd, to compile the evaluation report of First Decade. Published as a 105 page document, it provides a rich and informative document of the project.
The First Decade project received support from Heritage Lottery Fund. The project has two key aims: to make previously unseen and inaccessible archive material available and to use the collection and archive to engage audiences both online and offline.
When embarking on any project, the thought at the forefront of most involved is ‘let’s get on with it’ however, an important consideration at the start and indeed throughout, it to keep an eye firmly on milestones and the project end and outcomes.
A common notion around evaluation is that it is an exercise in asking questions; issuing invitations to complete surveys or forms when the work is done. However, evaluation does not only happen when the end is announced and a project either launches or closes. Evaluation is a key strand of activity throughout.
The First Decade project includes personal stories gathered through a series of discussions with key makers. In this reflection on the 1980s and early time of her practice, textile artist Pauline Burbidge recalled;
"I think, with the beginning of the Crafts Council, they were trying to move it into a professional field, that was what was so great about them, and, to move craft away from the homespun field really and, and think, people are making a profession from this work; come on, let’s treat them seriously, you know. And that, that was great, you know, that really seemed to be a good, a good thing in my, my way of thinking."
Through the reflections on their own practice, images of a significant creative time in London are revealed; potter Janice Tchalenko recounts;
"I’d never touched clay before. I was working in the Foreign Office, met this Russian chap, a Russian descendent, who was doing his PhD at Imperial College. I got the sack because he was Russian. Early Sixties. And he said, ‘I want you to become a film maker.’ And I said, ‘No, I’ll become a potter,’ never having touched clay before. So I worked for potters. And then I went to Harrow School of Art, which had this studio pottery course for potters, and, run by potters, and the head of that was Victor Margrie. ... And ’71 I finished Harrow, and he became the head of the newly-formed Crafts Council, ... And, so, it was a whole kind of, … there was a whole group of women coming out of the Royal College of Art, …, Alison Britton, Jill Crowley, Carol McNicoll, Jacqui Poncelet, all those people, and myself just coming out of Harrow, the peasant potter and the art school potter. …So, I met all these people, and, kept my contacts with Vic Margrie, and he was in this new, in this whole group of ceramic new people and other applied artists like Susanna Heron and, and people like that. So it all was the beginnings and very exciting."
Rich narrative strands, poetic moments, touching recollections and meaningful encounters run through the project, and are captured within the evaluation. The research process opened up files containing communications, images, records collectively forming life story of an object within a public collection.
The report includes examples of collected stories. Stories gathered through the programme of regional workshops, discussions with makers, feedback from volunteers, visitors to events where staff ran handling sessions with objects from the collection.
It also offers a full overview the First Decade project - from inception and the aims and objectives, to delivery and launch, through documented stages of development, review, delivery, reflection, with added details about recruitment, planning, budgets, reporting, presentations, audiences, workshops, online learning, volunteer programmes, while including adventures into the unknown!
A programme of national learning events, delivered with regional partners, ran alongside the development of the digital showcase and gave new audiences the chance to discover the history of the Crafts Council Collection, explore the Handling Collection and archive, and create their own responses. The project also delivered an intensive training programme with volunteers, student work placements and staff. Here the report provides a clear record of impact, performance and quality:
- "I feel that the Crafts Council have really invested in us as volunteers, the training has been brilliant" volunteer
- "Varied tasks also meant that I was learning new skills throughout my work placement, rather than learning one skill and repeating it for the duration of my placement." student
- "Through working directly with the material I was able to more deeply appreciate the time it takes to not only find the information, but also the time and effort involved in ensuring that the information is presented in the most engaging way possible. I would say a great example of this was finding and choosing the images that would be digitized for the website. Going through the photos of the objects and the makers felt like stories were coming together and that they had the ability to breathe new life into the collection." student
In essence all projects are journeys; not only about getting from A to B, once B has been defined, but also what you need to get there, what eachelement consists of, needs and leads to. Value is in: reflecting on what you have done and reviewing what worked, what didn’t and what would be done differently or not at all next time.
With value beyond that of an engaging and informative record, the First Decade report offers answers to critical questions. ‘What does success look like?’ is often asked, and also asked of ourselves. A key way to understand this and reach something we can consider and answer is to evaluate. Yes evaluation is more than an exercise in answering this, and provides more than a definition of ‘success’ we are seeking to identify.
Evaluation is a celebration of a project, bringing all elements together and offering a holistic view of what was done. It also creates an in-depth picture of your project’s impact and provides a resource and leverage for planning new projects and making funding bids. Evaluation can help your organisation to take stock of its wider work and make improvements. It can also support the case for heritage in broader debates about, for example, the natural environment or community life.
In effect what the evaluation report does is scope the way, set the stage and scene for next chapter, journey or instalment for where the project takes an organisation next.
Annabelle Campbell is Head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Crafts Council
Watching British astronaut Tim Peake blasting off into space earlier this week put me in mind of our very own countdown here at First Decade HQ. Luckily we haven’t had to learn Russian as part of our mission but some aspects of the project have felt almost as daunting – not least navigating the minutiae of copyright and licensing – a little bit more about that later.
As Keeper of Collections I am not only responsible for the physical well being of our collections but also the organisation - and in a sense - the well being of the information relating to them. We have all kinds of Information about our collections in a variety places and formats but primarily in traditional paper based 'Maker' files and more recently also in electronic computer files held in a collections database. This is where we record the detailed catalogue information for each of our objects - details of who made it, when, how, and why alongside details of acquisition (also when, how and why), and exhibition and publication. This is also where the information you see in Crafts Council Collections Online is drawn from. The Crafts Council's unusual 'archival' approach to its collections documentation - arranging information principally by maker rather than by individual object, as is the approach in most public collections - was in part the inspiration for this project.
Since getting going last year we’ve selected and digitised over 300 documents, letters, sketches, postcards, flyers and posters which relate to 114 objects by 77 Makers. Alongside this we have recorded interviews with a selection of makers from the period discussing their work in the Crafts Council Collections and reflecting on the impact this has had on their practice. We also commissioned new photography for many of the objects. An unexpected and very welcome outcome is the donation of work and additional material for inclusion in our archive by interviewed makers, confirming what we already knew - that makers are indeed a very generous and enthusiastic bunch!
We are delighted to have generated such a large and rich body of new digital material. However, what hasn’t been blogged about so far are the challenges around integrating these new digital files into our existing database system ensuring that the material is arranged in a way that it can be made available via Collections Online.
The starting point for deciding how and where these new digital files are linked is the individual record for the Collection object they relate to. All of the new material is linked to the relevant object record so that, for example, we can view a bowl by Lucie Rie or a 'Multiple' by Susanna Heron and see alongside it our catalogue description of the newly digitised assets - be they letters, sketches, old exhibition labels or posters. Each of these is in turn catalogued or described in the system so that we can search by type - letter, document, photograph and also by subject, author, donor or other contextual information.
Myself, Ananda and Lizzie have been busy making a myriad of decisions about how this material is catalogued and how the existing collections database should be adapted for extended to accommodate it. Running alongside this we have worked with our software company to develop the new pages within Collections Online to showcase the digitised archives, images and interview clips.
First Decade Project Manager Ananda Rutherford put her Geffrye Museum 'Documenting Homes' experience to excellent use ensuring that the web pages are something we can expand and develop - vital since we have very active ambitions to tackle the subsequent decades of the collections in the same way. Alongside Ananda, our Documentation Officer Lizzie Wratislav has co-ordinated digitisation, photography and catalogued the results. As team we have collectively unpicked the many and varied rights and redaction (blocking out personal and sensitive data) issues associated with our material – as a modern collection all of our material is in copyright of some form or other. Holly Burton, who led the very successful First Decade learning and volunteer programme over the spring and summer (previously blogged about here) has stepped into a new role as Creative Programmes Officer and is currently pursuing 'due diligence' checks to track down rights holders and seek their permission to publish material online. Finally, our three 2015 UCL students, Tessa Varner, Sophie Organ and Monica Li, researched maker biographical details and content for an interactive timeline to describe events, exhibitions and key developments during the period.
We are very excited to be presenting our collection objects for the first time in the context of related archive material - in short you will be able to see the object, read the files and correspondence and (for some objects) hear the maker discussing the work. Between now and February we are counting down to launch as we continue to research, catalogue and prepare material with the aim of making as much as possible publicly available at launch.
The First Decade project will launch on the 23rd February 2016 at the annual Crafts Council Fielding Talk with David Poston, a first decade maker, delivering the keynote speech to an invited audience.
Christina McGregor is Keeper of Collections at the Crafts Council
In July and August we had a brilliant time working with the Birmingham Museums Trust and ceramicist Jo Taylor to deliver object handling and clay workshops with their youth forum – Ignite, their Asian Women’s Textile Group, and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Saturday Arts Club.
In this post Jo Taylor reflects on her experience of delivering First Decade workshops with these groups.
In terms of aims and objectives the sessions were straightforward – introduce the Crafts Council & its history & archive, introduce and discuss the handling objects and their makers, learn some basic ceramic techniques to create an object. I felt there was a real coherence to the sessions - within the handling session much of the discussion was sensory, which flowed through into the contact with clay & slip.
Asian Women's Textile Group
With the Asian Women’s Textiles Group sessions, making was industrious and they fully embraced the decorative, providing some incredibly sophisticated work for people new to clay: it was very impressive.
The groups responded enthusiastically to concepts of abstract art during the handling sessions - and also brought in their cultural experience of objects such as the Diwali candle & money box, so there was very much a two way exchange with learning taking place on all sides.
The response at the end of both sessions was of huge appreciation for the enjoyable session and many left wanting to find further opportunities for making.
Ignite, Youth Forum
As young people aged 16-24 already involved with the museum, the group were ideal for a handling session, which they took quite seriously, discussing each object in detail as a group. Many were new to clay so it was a challenge, however the diversity & quality of objects created was impressive as they worked with considerable discipline & had very individual approaches. It was great to be able to present them with their fired & finished objects, and one especially significant outcome is that one of the participants intends to find out about studying ceramics in an academic setting.
Saturday Arts Club
This was a large group of children ranging from 2-11 accompanied by their parents/grandparents. Adapting the session to accommodate the range of ages meant we had to be quite flexible, but that paid off with the help of the enthusiasm from both the children & adults who enjoyed it as much, if not more than the children. It is unusual to have a session where adults & children make alongside each other but independently & it was a great opportunity for bonding & sharing an experience. The work made was imaginative as you might expect from children, but the adults’ ideas also fed backwards & forwards which was wonderful to see.
Again there was a genuinely enthusiastic energy running throughout the whole session. It was good to know that a workshop model can be adaptable enough to work in a range of situations.
Overall, the groups' achievements exceeded what I would normally expect from beginners in terms of the amount & quality of the work made. I was also impressed by how much of the work was directly influenced following the handling session & discussion, and the sheer enthusiasm for all of the activities throughout. There were a variety of responses depending upon the group, but it was clear that it was a unique type of workshop and it was much appreciated that we had travelled to bring it to Birmingham.
On the 10 July I gave a lecture on the First Decade Project at the V&A. We explored the link between the early history of the V&A and Crafts Advisory Committee and the presence of collaboration and network the institutions shared, as acquirers holding works by the same artists and roles as exhibition makers within the context of the 70s. It was a report on findings for the creation of a resource of connected stories and objects relating to the first ten years of the Crafts Council Collection. It has already revealed many grey areas in terms of dealing with the variety of archive; of a working institutional archive, of bureaucratic and administrative material, a ‘safe store’ containing analogue forms, letters, drawings, slides, negatives and (as a result of a recent Crafts Council office move) a forgotten basement collection.
Although my position is as curator and researcher, essentially my role is that of a historian, looking from within the Collection but then as an outsider looking objectively at the Collection’s place in craft history.
The piecing together of information with a sort of testimony from the makers themselves brings together and questions what can be known through times of change. The preservation of ‘history from below’ comes in the form of marginalia; in the form of side-notes, 'graffiti' and stories spoken and written. It presents us with something which is at once both challenging an ‘official’ narrative history as well as enriching the context of official scholarship on the activities of that decade.
An outcome of my task is as a sleuth, to work out why materials have been kept or discarded form a basis for how an organisation remembers its own past and existence. How does one begin to look at this range of 790 objects by almost 100 makers, some now deceased, and begin to compile a representative understanding of what went on?
Part of the work of the First Decade is to record 20 oral histories with the still living makers who are able to reveal their participation of the specific workings of the Crafts Council. This means getting up close and becoming the cipher, at once to elicit and record personal stories, invoke observations on looking back at a practice which amount to 50 years of a life.
Through the maker interviews, the themes of nature, environment and the history of surroundings, leftist politics, dyslexia and gender are recurrent themes in the reflections and memories of those active in the decade. I might find something a little more do-it-yourself, unexpected or more fluid, a cross-pollination of things going on outside as well as inside the studio.
The themes of making emerge in the course of these interviews repetitively, in the context of surviving as makers and artists; the access to space and material, the face of changing London and witness to gentrification, is a mirror to present day social and economic trends.
As the resource is being pieced together, the needs of the archelogy of an institutional archive are also being dealt with in terms of material preservation, although the digital format results in an enhanced 2D interaction, the handling of fragile or forgotten items is a consequence of looking deeply into the hoard.
In re-building these relationships between the museum and the maker the Crafts Council is given a retrospective understanding in outlining an artist or a maker’s progression of practice through to the present day and how work should be displayed or worn; installation photography that reveals ideas of presentation with the archive provided traces of the politics as well as practicalities of making.
Gloria Lin is Curator & Researcher at the Crafts Council
It’s been a busy few weeks here at First Decade HQ as we narrow down our final selection of archive material and prepare for its online release. My role as Documentation Officer is to take the archives from point of selection and accession them into the Crafts Council Collection, prepare them for digitisation and ensure that both the digital images and original archives are carefully documented and stored for future generations.
The existing Crafts Council archive is undocumented and split across numerous locations, making this a challenging task to tackle! As with many archives, we’ve had to wade through administrative papers and photocopies in order to find the rich material we knew was hiding there – photographs, letters and even the odd sketch! We’ve also been thrilled to discover a large number of exhibition-related material including promotional posters, flyers and invitations as well as preparatory photography for publications and installation images.
We’re excited to bring together a selection of these exhibition archives as they’re a wonderful illustration of the activity that was taking place at the time. While I’ve been busy exploring and documenting this material, our marvellous volunteers from University College London (UCL) have been compiling a timeline of events, charting exhibitions and other significant developments in the history of the Crafts Council and the wider British crafts community. These two elements – the digitised exhibition archives and timeline – will come together via our Collections Online database which will have a special First Decade section so that you can see all the new information in one place. Make sure you take a look when we launch this and our digitised archive collection later this year!
Elizabeth Wratislav is First Decade Project Documentation Officer
Back in June we had the pleasure of setting up in the children’s activities tent at The Contemporary Craft Festival 2015, working with Plymouth Museum & Art Gallery to provide drop-in stencil cutting and printmaking for local school groups and families. Inspired by pieces from the first decade of our collection, including work by Peter Collingwood, Pauline Burbidge and Peter Niczewski, we looked at pattern and shape to design and cut stencils and then print on to fabric.
We created a piece inspired by a colourful batiq by Noel Dyrenforth. The original batiq by Noel Dyrenforth is one of a series in our Handling Collection and we created with the help of about fifty children and adults a version on fabric using stencils, glue and coloured sand.
Holly Burton is Archive & Learning Officer at the Crafts Council
After six weeks of lively online discussion, it was finally time for the volunteers to once again meet in person. This session was not only a time for training in handling collections, but it was also a chance for personal reflection on the importance of handling and touching objects, rather than just looking and analysing.
The day started off with tea, coffee, and a catch-up. After stories on everyone’s latest projects were swapped, the Crafts Council’s Collections Manager, Christina MacGregor, asked us to consider the potential risks involved in handling collections. We discussed the general guidelines for handling collections objects, like how important it is to handle objects while seated and to look for and avoid points of weakness by always holding the object by its main body, i.e. don’t hold a fragile pot by its handles.
Following this, the table was cleared for objects from the Crafts Council’s own handling collection. After carefully washing our hands and having gloves on-the-ready, we began to touch the objects, thinking about what we had just learnt about proper handling. The pieces ranged from a delicate wired aeroplane to a solid (and heavy) glass boat, and each required their own manner of care.
One work, for example, was a glass mortar with a mirror at the bottom & a glass pestle shaped as an eyeball. While it was instinctive to move the eyeball closer and further away from the mirror at the bottom of the mortar, a slip of the hand, or moving too quickly and too closely toward the mirror, could easily break the object. Nightmares of children bashing the pestle and mortar together were conjured! Though, we were reassured that this shouldn’t be a deterrent for using the object as a handling piece; it should simply serve as a reminder that some objects need closer supervision when handling than others. And what a shame it would be too if that object couldn’t be held! While a good photograph might capture the slightly eerie reflection of the pestle’s eyeball in the mortar’s mirror, it wouldn’t capture the sensory aspect of the piece. As Jo, one of the volunteers, remarked. The user’s senses are alighted as imagining anything (especially gritty and hard ingredients such as sugar) being grinded by the glass eyeball was akin to imagining that happening to your own eye!
The handling session was followed by a fantastic talk by Muriel Bailly and Orla O’Donnell, from the Wellcome Collection. The talk focused on the importance of touch in a person’s experience of the world. Handling collections are an excellent opportunity to activate that sense of touch and to allow the brain to make lasting connections that will actually impact the user. In our online session, we learned that handling objects can be a form of healing and benefit to a person’s wellbeing and in this talk, that point was driven home by a piece that captivated the room.
The Wellcome Collection brought a mirror box used to counter phantom limb syndrome, which Muriel encouraged everyone present to try. For individuals with both limbs, the mirror box gives a sensation of gaining a third arm, but for amputees, it can be effective pain relief. The mirror box can trick the brain into believing that the arm reflected in the mirror is actually in the box, thus fulfilling the brain’s desire for that missing limb. The object complimented a photo in their collection that showed how amputees viewed their missing limb and who experience phantom limb syndrome.
Orla wrapped up the Wellcome Collection’s inspiring talk by presenting a 19th century Lakota amulet made from leather and decorated with beads and porcupine quills. As it was passed around the group, Orla informed us that the turtle shaped object contained an umbilical cord. In Native American tradition, the amulet was worn by a girl from birth until puberty to protect her from harm. Holding this object instilled a true sense of power and awe, really emphasising the benefits that handling objects can have.
During the Wellcome presentation we learned that the hands and mouth were two major sensory input points for the brain. We put that to the test in a blind draw activity involving the Crafts Council’s ‘In-Touch’ collections that were sent out to school groups. The group had an excellent time attempting to blindly feel and then subsequently draw (also blindly) the objects. The results were impressive all around and drove home the message that object handling should be fun and engaging and that it allows handlers to make personal connections and interpretations of the objects.
Sophie Organ and Tessa Varner are work placement students from UCL and are taking part in The First Decade Project volunteer programme
Now, I’m not a coin or medal collector but I might have a new hobby after coming across this in our archive:
Since the start of the First Decade project we’ve made some wonderful discoveries in the archives but one of my favourites so far has to be this medal made by Malcolm Appleby for the second Annual ‘Loot’ exhibition by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, at Goldsmiths' Hall in July and Leeds in August 1976. The ‘Loot’ series ran through to 1981 and the exhibitions were designed in part to provide a commercial platform for the increasing number of independent studio jewellers in Britain.
All set to come away from the exhibition with a bursting bag of ‘loot’, two wide-eyed, smiling characters (one with a rather impressive moustache) look up at a sparkling ring and declare: ‘OH WHAT LOVELY JEWELS’. For me, Appleby’s medal energetically characterises the overall aim of the exhibition which was to provide designer-makers the opportunity to show and sell their work (and lots of it) to a wider audience.
Malcolm Appleby is one of the makers featured in The First Decade Project; see more of his work on our collections online
Holly Burton is Archive & Learning Officer at the Crafts Council
As part of The First Decade project we are offering the opportunity for ten volunteers from across the UK to develop skills in craft-based research, interpretation of archive material, handling collections, maker interviews, digital capture and preservation, and audience engagement.
Our volunteers will be attending training days in London, taking part in a twelve week online course and then carrying out a personal research project. Through this programme we are inviting our volunteers to contribute their range of knowledge, experience and creativity to the project. We are looking forward to seeing how their involvement will enrich the learning and research outcomes of the project as a whole.
We are also really pleased that our volunteers will be working with mima, Plymouth College of Art & Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, SS Great Britain, Ken Stradling Collection, William Morris Gallery, London Transport Museum, and New Brewery Arts throughout the programme, thus offering the chance to share new skills, ideas and research with a range of collections, museums and craft organisations across the UK.
To kick off the programme we invited our volunteers to a welcome day at Crafts Council HQ in London earlier this month. The day involved an introduction to the project and our current research, a visit to our collections store and library to see objects and archive material, an introduction to our collections online, and a chance to explore and discuss our Handling Collection and maker files.
It was fantastic to meet everyone and to see the range of responses people had to the objects and archive material we are researching for the project. I particularly enjoyed the discuss