Visiting the Houses of Parliament is always a privilege. It is not all as originally mediæval as I would like, in that only Westminster Hall, begun in 1097 by William II (William Rufus), and ready two years later, has original features. But the work by the architects Barry and particularly Pugin in the nineteenth century, after the fire that destroyed much of the original building, means that it definitely all has a very Gothic slant, and it is always a joy to be surrounded by such history and such rich design.
I was delighted, when I went to my first meeting of the APPG for Art, Craft and Design Education to see hand-craft at work. Just at the top of the main steps from Westminster Hall (the top of the picture above) they were re-laying the tiles to the pavement. This showed great craftsmanship in that the right mix of mortar, the right amount to be laid, and the correct pressure in tapping a wooden mallet all needed great skill. The designs reminded me when I was learning heraldry of the ways in which we had to fit lions and other heraldic beasts into particular shapes without losing the character of the animal (this was when I learned calligraphy and illumination as well). Notice that the lions in the square tiles above have four legs, swirling tails, heads etc etc but still fit into the shape.
I arrived very early for the meeting because of train times, and noticed a piece of M C Oliver’s calligraphy in the Central Lobby explaining the designs in the mosaic situated in the wall above this text. The lettering style is very typical for the period and written in a strong hand on stretched vellum. I am not sure whether we would find his very closely textured lettering with potential clashes of ascenders and descenders and tiny margins acceptable nowadays!
But I was there to represent craft and the Heritage Crafts Association at this committee and so had this to focus on. Chaired by dynamic Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, and supported by NSEAD, the agenda was wide-ranging. After the first item I was able to give a brief introduction to heritage crafts and the Heritage Crafts Association, mentioning some of our challenges. Other items covered were the Art Party Conference, and a fascinating insight into art, craft and design education by HMI Ian Middleton who mentioned two reports: Making a Mark, and Drawing together: art, craft and design in schools. Ian is also Ofsted’s National Lead for Art, Craft and Design in Education. The problems of Discount Codes for children choosing subjects to study for GCSE were also raised and it seems that subjects in the arts and crafts were most hit. A student could take Maths and Stats for example, with both subjects counting for school published statistics, but taking photography as well as design, or graphics and design, would count as only one subject when schools added up their GCSE successes. This is not likely to encourage take up of art, craft and design subjects! Yet these subjects involve different disciplines and were usually taught by different specialists (unlike Maths and Stats). The UK has some of the best innovators in the world in terms of designs and craft. Encouragement at all levels should be happening, not discouragement for reasons of statistics! The NSEAD proposed Day of Action was also raised. This is likely to be on June 14th and is an opportunity for art, craft and design teachers and amateur and professional practitioners to take their skills to the community and to schools to give everyone a chance to experience the skills involved.
It looks like a group keen to raise issues and get answers, and will certainly add to the excellent work being done by the Craft Industry Board.