Tag Archives: Heritage Crafts Association

‘Cræft’ by Alex Langlands

images-1Many in the UK and elsewhere will be familiar with Dr Alex Langlands through his TV presenting skills and archæological and historical knowledge on BBC programmes such as Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Full Steam Ahead and so on. However his interest, knowledge, expertise and skills in traditional crafts are perhaps less well known, but recognised by the Heritage Crafts Association – he is one of our Founder Patrons, and one of our most supportive.

 

 

imagesHis new book – Cræft – How Traditional Crafts are About More Than Just Making – shows this fascination with craft to excellent effect. However, it is not ‘just’ craft, Alex brings into consideration  landscape, geology, archæology, hand skills, tools, communities and so much more in this book which is both informative and a really good read.

 

 

 

eb5063a773f0f95b8b0be22c88b875deIn the fourteen chapters, after defining craft, Alex considers a range of linked crafts from weaving and baskets, to shoes and harnesses, from making golf clubs to preserving eating apples – this book is a mine of fascinating information. However, it is not just information presented here in a dry and erudite way, but information that is linked to our heritage countryside and considered in terms of what we may lose, what we have now and what would be of benefit in the future. On the right Alex is making a cable tie from a bramble using initially a sparhook. Who knew that those pesky brambles that catch and scratch your legs and trip you up if you’re not careful, could be so useful, and in this clip here, Alex uses one of the ties to make a faggot for his fire.

images-3We all know that there are different types of sheep, those for wool and those for meat, but Alex explains that actually the wool on those sheep very handily matches the climate conditions locally – not a coincidence! Devon Longwool, for example produces cloth that is suitable for wet and often bleak parts of the UK, such as in Devon. And mountain breeds produce coarse cloth suitable for tough trench coats and the very durable cloth, serge. This consideration leads Alex on to look at the most efficient way of cleaning sheep wool for shearing – wash the sheep in a nearby stream where the dirt is then dealt with by the water and drains away naturally, and the wool dries most efficiently, without any artificial means, on the sheep’s back! And then on to carding, spinning (which Ruth Goodman, fellow presenter shown here also with Peter Ginn, taught Alex to do using a simple wooden spoon) and weaving. Alex then focuses on the advantages of woollen clothing, for him (and all of us!), and his predilection for tweed suits and fair isle jumpers as worn here. But the story doesn’t stop in the past – as with many crafts – the link between Harris Tweed and Nike is also included. And to this could be added the high-end fashion houses fascination with beautiful woollen cloth mainly from Scotland. And then there is the link to hurdles – but here you will need to get the book yourself to find out what that is.

alexI tried dipping in to this book for speed to write this review, but would then find myself half and hour later absolutely hooked on the craft and Alex’s explanation. It is a book that you can read in small sections, but far better to read at a stretch, and what a rewarding stretch that would be. As Chair of the Heritage Crafts Association of course I would say that this is a book everyone should read, but even without that, this is a book that everyone should read! It brings together so much about our past, about the skills and techniques, about why the craft is there in the first place in terms of the landscape, about the links with our ancestors and about how much we can learn by marvelling at the skills, techniques and traditions that have shaped us as a nation, and including also the important part crafts can well play in our future. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

The ‘Countryfile’ Experience

PL and tom HeapIt was quite a shock to answer the phone when travelling by train up to London and have a researcher from Countryfile on the other end of the phone. They were doing a feature on endangered crafts, linking to the Heritage Crafts Association/Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts (see here) and were looking for someone from the Heritage Crafts Association to interview. I made some suggestions and also explained the challenges that heritage crafts face. I was rather surprised then when Maria, the researcher, said that she would like me to be the one they interviewed.

PL CountryfileApparently they have only two days for filming for each programme, and needed to be in Devon the next day, so, although I have been filmed in my workroom more than once, they decided that they should film in the workshop of Heritage Crafts Association member Sarah Goss, a wood carver, from Midhurst, Sussex. Taking my sloping board with me, a few props and a black cloth (always wise!) we arrived to find that my requirement for ‘a table and a chair’ was actually a rather rickety table, but we managed to stabilise it. The crew were, as they so often are, fantastic, and Polly the Director was very kind. Tom Heap, the interviewer, was an absolute gentleman, and so professional. I fluffed lots of times, but he didn’t once.

Extinct. CountryfileI hadn’t been told what questions they would ask, but had thought about possible answers. The first one was what crafts were extinct, and I told them the four which included gold beating, a craft close to my own heart because of the gold leaf I use in my own work and in the Illumination courses I run. I can’t now use English gold leaf because the market was flooded by cheap imports – and that’s at least 2,000 years of craft skills in the UK gone in the last few years.

PL explaining CountryfileI really did feel the weight of heritage crafts on my shoulders, and although everyone was very kind, the challenges of craft continuing into the future are more complicated than the short sound bites they really wanted. The fact that we are one of only 22 countries out of 194 in the world not signed up to the UNESCO Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage was cut out, although I was allowed to mention the Convention itself. (Tangible Cultural Heritage are the things you can see like the buildings and objects; both are reasonably well looked after. Our Intangible Cultural Heritage are the things you can’t see which includes craft skills, and they are supported hardly at all, apart from what the Heritage Crafts Association tries to do.)

Currently viable. CountryfileThe other point that I wasn’t able to go into in detail is that there is little government funding available for apprenticeships because the funding follows qualifications and not training. Qualifications Agencies in the UK will not offer qualifications for niche subjects. In fact their minimum number of entries is 100 per year – in a number of heritage crafts that wouldn’t be the number even in 100 years – so no qualifications! Then for the 80% self-employed, 100% of the costs of training someone are born by the trainer, and, as I explained in the interview, if, over the course of a week the trainer spends a day a week passing on the skills (and it’s usually much more) they can’t make and their production goes down by 20% and that’s their profit margin; so they can’t even afford to pay themselves, let alone someone else!

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 12.39.46And although I made the point, I couldn’t go into detail and it was somewhat overshadowed by the woman running a map company who came on after me. If a unique heritage building, the only one of its kind in the country was going to be knocked down to make way for a roundabout, or a wonderful meadow with the sole remaining species of a very rare flower was about to be tarmaced over for a car park, people would be up in arms and these could even reach the national news. Yet we are losing craft skills and they get barely a mention anywhere. The question also that we’re always being asked is ‘is this craft viable?’. But no-one asks if that unique building or that beautiful meadow is viable, and they, like heritage crafts, are all part of our rich cultural heritage.

Some thought that the interview and approach of the programme gave the impression that the Heritage Crafts Association were backward thinking and only interested in the past. This couldn’t be further from the truth! What we’re interested in is ensuring that craft skills get passed on into the future. I did say: Traditional crafts are part of our heritage, they exist in the present, and they should be in our future – but it didn’t make the cut.

PL To be continued. CountryfileThey wanted to use my calligraphy so I prepared all the words and phrases they asked for, and also had lots of spare paper to write them out if they wanted to film me doing that, which they did. The item ended with ‘To be continued…’ so we hope that Counytryfile pick up the topic again in the future.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 12.33.31If you want to support heritage crafts then please do join the Heritage Crafts Association (here). Unlike contemporary crafts we receive no government funding so our members and those who donate are particularly valuable to us because without them we could not do what we do, and we need to do so much more.

Disappearing fore-edge painting

Columbus FEPIn May 2017, the Heritage Crafts Association launched the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts at the House of Lords. They listed over 170 traditional crafts and placed them in one of four categories (Currently Viable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Insufficient Data). There were seventeen Critically Endangered Crafts of which Disappearing Fore-Edge Painting was one; this is where a book seems to have an ‘ordinary’ gilded or patterned fore-edge, but when the pages of the book are fanned, a painting is revealed as if by magic.

Tennis 1903 bind3 17At the launch, Martin Frost, the remaining one disappearing fore-edge painter of which we are aware, demonstrated this craft, and all the images in this post are his. There’s more about Martin here. As I am posting this in Wimbledon month, the sequence of Martin’s painting of a tennis scene seems particularly appropriate. Here is the book as it looks normally with a gilded fore-edge.

 

 

 

IMG_3367The book is then carefully fanned and the pages held in a strong clamp. Martin starts the painting by creating the outline of the image.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3370More paint is added to build up the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3372And finally, the image is finished, with a 1920s-style tennis player with a rather nifty backhand!

 

 

 

 

One show FEPBrightonPav copyThe Heritage Crafts Association were able to get a feature about the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts and Martin on the BBC TV’s The One Show. First he painted the fore-edge of a book for them showing the Brighton Pavilion.

 

 

Ade Edmondson ONE SHOWAnd then, because the actor and comedian Ade Edmonson was being featured and interviewed on the same programme, they asked Martin to create a fore-edge especially for him which shows Ade as the character he played in The Young Ones, and also an image from a book he has written.

 

 

 

 

Columbus BAnd, being Martin, he doesn’t just restrict his paintings to the fore-edge. That painting showing Columbus at the start of this post was only on the fore-edge. Here is the ‘head’ (top) of the book showing Columbus and native Americans, and there is a different scene painted on the ‘tail’ (bottom).

This is a craft that shows, as so many traditional crafts do, terrific skill, and one which we are in serious danger of losing. Please contact the Heritage Crafts Association for more information especially if you would like to support the work they do and contribute to ensuring that we don’t lose any more traditional crafts which are, after all, part of all of our shared heritage in the same way as heritage buildings and treasured landscapes.

Gold on Parchment, exhibition at Cornelissen in London

Cornelissen_smIt was a great privilege to work with L Cornelissen & Son at 105 Great Russell Street in London (just along from the British Museum) to mount the very first exhibition they have had at the shop. They are on a very busy thoroughfare and most people visiting the British Museum go past their front door. The exhibition was in the window and so it could be seen even when the shop was closed. The shop itself is wonderful as can be seen on the right – and it really is almost impossible not to go inside! Kathy Pearlson from Cornelissen, who set up the exhibition, did a terrific job of making sure that every piece could be seen and that the exhibition looked wonderful.

image12The exhibition was arranged on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association for London Craft Week 2016, echoing the theme of ‘paper’ for their first anniversary. Some of the best calligraphers and illuminators in the country were asked to submit one or two pieces of their work on vellum for the exhibition, and the response was terrific! For those who didn’t mange to see it, here are some of the pieces exhibited. The photographs were kindly taken by Yanko Tihov. On the right: Sam Somerville.

 

 

 

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Tim Noad, on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image2Mary Noble (this piece is tiny!)

 

 

 

 

 

image21Ronnie Cruwys – also see her website ‘Drawing the Street‘, and again a small piece

 

 

image16

Ann Hechle

 

 

 

 

 

 

image17Patricia Lovett, another small piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

image24Peter Thornton, small again

 

 

 

 

 

 

image23Peter Halliday (I am featuring this piece in my British Library book, The Art and History of Calligraphy, to be published in 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

image9Ewan Clayton

 

 
image5John Woodcock (another tiny piece)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image11Gemma Black

 

 

 

 

 

 

image10Jan Pickett

 

 

 

 

 

 

image13Jan Mehigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

image8Cathy Stables

 

 

 

 

 

 

image28Lin Kerr

 

Wang Dongling at the V&A, London Craft Week 2016

Wang DonglingThe second London Craft Week proved to be even better than the first, if that’s possible. At the launch at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world-renowned great Chinese calligrapher, Wang Dongling, demonstrated his great art in front of hundreds of people. It must have been nerve-wracking! His ‘writing surface’ was a huge sheet of clear glass placed vertically, and he used some rather sticky paint and a large brush. Because it was clear glass the distraction of the movement of people through the glass and the flashes of the cameras as he wrote must have been difficult to overcome.

 

 

Wang Dongling writingI managed to film the whole calligraphic artwork – The Way that can be Spoken – from beginning to end on my iPad. Here it is. It is a bit wobbly, and other people got in the way, but it’s pretty much the sequence from beginning to end. As someone who has also demonstrated calligraphy to the public, and been ‘the hand’ for film and television, I have some knowledge of how nerve-wracking this can be – making sure that the letter-forms are correct, lively and true, with no going back to make adjustments. However, I have to hasten to add that my efforts are nothing like the scale of this, nor at this standard (and, of course, not Chinese writing!).

 

 

Ewan and WangStraight after the inaugural London Craft Week last year we were talking about the plans for London Craft Week 2016, and the contribution of the Heritage Crafts Association, taking into account the fact that the first anniversary is often thought of as ‘paper’. I suggested one of the great ‘performance art’ Chinese calligraphers, who I have seen writing with brushes as big as mops on huge pieces of paper on the floor. This would be such a dramatic event for the launch of London Craft Week 2016, especially as this year it had an international theme*. However, who to choose? Who was considered to be the best? I asked the person who I knew would know – Ewan Clayton MBE. I was delighted when I found out that it was possible for him to be invited to the event and I ensured that he was introduced to the great man – two renowned calligraphers, one from the east and one from the west. This is the photo I took of them both.

lcw-prince_charles_02*It was a throwaway comment from The Prince of Wales at the launch of the very first London Craft Week back in February 2015 at the Art Workers’ Guild that gave rise to the international theme of this year’s event. Here he is with letter cutter Lida Cardozo Kindersley at that occasion. As he was leaving the event, The Prince of Wales turned to Philippa Hobson, London Craft Week Programme Director, and me (I was there for the Heritage Crafts Association, one of the four Strategic Partners) and he said ‘What about international craft?’, and Philippa replied in a flash – ‘That’s next year’, and indeed it was!

Vellum and Acts of Parliament II

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Great news! There was a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th April 2016, on whether to continue to print Acts of Parliament on vellum or not. This is the record of the debate in Hansard. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing to print Acts of Parliament on vellum. This was a wonderful reward to all the hard work many people had done in writing to their MPs and publicising the campaign. However, this decision lasts only for this parliament, so the question may well be raised again.

February 16th 2016: I had started to write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday 7th February 2016, we heard that the printers of Acts of Parliament on vellum had been given 30 days’ notice, and that printing was due to stop on April 1st (what an appropriate date I thought!). This was a surprise as we understood from James Gray MP’s Point of Order last November that there would be a debate in the House of Commons. This was what happened in 1999 when the Lords decided to stop using vellum and a debate and vote in the House of Commons decided to continue, so vellum was still used. So this time there was no debate and the decision had been taken.

35910.jpgI contacted the great Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children, and she raised a Point of Order on Tuesday 9th February and the Speaker advised her to look into an Early Day Motion so that MPs could register their views on this.

However, the decision had clearly been made. Sir Paul Beresford is the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, and Lord Laming is the Chair of the equivalent in the House of Lords. James Gray is a member of the Commons committee and he, and two other MP members who said that they had been ‘misled’ were not in favour of using paper instead of vellum. So who took the decision, when and where?

_88273692_vellum-making-lovettFollowing Sharon’s Point of Order there was a bit of a media circus and I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live, Radio Scotland, and was on BBC News at 10. I was also interviewed for a piece on the BBC website. They used my photo of Lee Mapley (right) scraping a skin, which is featured in my Illumination – Gold and Colour book.

Sharon was on a number of programmes too and Paul Wright of William Cowley on even more.

We made the case as well as we could but knew it was bolting the stable door …!

Then on Monday 15th March we all woke up to the news that Matt Hancock MP has stated that the Cabinet Office would cover the cost of vellum. Hurray! He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Recording our laws on vellum is a millennium long tradition, and surprisingly cost effective. While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out.’

There were many newspaper articles as a result – the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail being but some.

The campaign has been run by the Heritage Crafts Association; this is their press release.

As I write this all is not quite safely delivered in that the process still has to be gone through, the decision reversed, as many MPs as possible to sign the Early Day Motion which James Gray is leading. I am positive but also know that ‘there’s many a slip …’!

I’ll update this blog when everything has been confirmed – in the way we hope it will be!

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament

Parliamentary archives - Acts of Parliament (4)Vellum has been used for printing or writing Acts of Parliament almost since they were first recorded. In 1999 there was a move to print these Acts on paper, which was defeated. However, on 14th October this year, William Cowley, who are the last vellum and parchment makers in the UK, heard from their MP, Mark Lancaster, that there was to be a House of Commons meeting where the end result could well be that printing on vellum would cease.

 

 

 

imagesI was actually at a committee in the Houses of Parliament when I got this message, and went on to a meeting just after with one of the Heritage Craft Association’s patrons, Lord Cormack. He kindly agreed to write a letter in support of the continuation of the use of vellum, and also gave me invaluable advice.

 

A phone call with Paul Wright of William Cowley that evening, and a further conversation with Lord Cormack clarified the situation. The House of Lords agreed in 1999 to discontinue printing on vellum, however the House of Commons disagreed and so the use of vellum has continued. The discussion and vote was to be by the Administration Committee, chaired by Sir Paul Beresford MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sir-paul-beresford/103).

I wrote to Sir Paul Beresford and contacted as many people as I could who worked in conservation, museums, libraries, as book binders, and also other practitioners. I explained the situation briefly, and asked them to contact Sir Paul themselves.

There are three main points about paper and vellum and then one about the craft:

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  1. Vellum lasts. We have vellum documents that are over 2,000 years old, and whole books from around 350 AD (see right: Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library) which can still be consulted and used, pages turned etc. If vellum had not been used, the new Archbishop of Canterbury would not be able to kiss the St Augustine Gospels (brought over in 597 with St Augustine) when enthroned, we wouldn’t have the Domesday Book (1086), nor be celebrating 800 years of the Magna Carta with all the significance of the rights of people. Paper does not last anything like as long. Archival paper lasts for about 250 years; it may last longer if it is stored in special conditions, but no specialist will actually guarantee the ‘500 years’ that has been suggested. In any case, this is not 2,000 years!
  2. vellum makingWe have been told that the cost of printing Acts of Parliament is about £103,000 per year. We know from William Cowley that they receive about £47,000 per year for supplying vellum. This means that printing and other costs are £56,000. These costs will apply whether printing is on vellum or on paper, as there are no extra costs for printing on vellum nor any different inks needed. So the saving would be the cost of vellum, £47,000, minus the cost of archival paper, which we have been told is about £20,000. The saving is, therefore, £27,000. This relatively tiny amount is what the decision rests on!
  3. CIMG1640Vellum isn’t only green but green-plus, as it is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Male calves are killed for veal (veal and vellum have the same derivation) when they are a certain size if they aren’t selected for breeding and as they can’t produce milk. Once processed, their skins go to be tanned for the leather industry, more than we think go to landfill as we produce more skins than are required, and a few are used for vellum. No forests are cut down, no harmful chemicals are used, no energy-using machinery is required to produce vellum. The only energy is that of the parchmenter, who has taken 7 years to learn the craft skills.
  4. images-1William Cowley is the last vellum and parchment maker in the UK, and takes the passing on of skills seriously. It takes 7 years to train an apprentice to journeyman level, and they have one being trained at the moment. Supplying skin to parliament considerably boosts the sales of vellum and the effect cannot be over-estimated. It will have a serious effect on William Cowley if this supply stopped. We are losing too many of our heritage crafts by default and many of them are, like Cowleys, currently thriving businesses. (for the difference between parchment and vellum etc see:  http://www.patricialovett.com/vellum-and-parchment-and-a-special-offer/)

b6994e70-79b8-11e5-_999169cOn Saturday 24th October, there was an article in The Times*, and also a piece in their ‘comment’ section. Both were broadly positive, although there were errors. First, the cost of vellum is nothing like the £80,000 per year quoted, and secondly, no calves would be ‘saved’ by not printing on vellum, simply more calfskins would go to landfill. I sent email a letter to the Times correcting these facts but sadly my letter wasn’t published!  *(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4594895.ece)

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 15.53.57During that Saturday, I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC World Service, the PM Programme, and Radio 5, which I did. During Sunday I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC2’s Daily Politics programme on Monday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06myj7x/daily-politics-26102015) . I was able to make all 3 main points on vellum vs. paper, and also raise the fact that William Cowley were the last makers of vellum producing a world-class product. Wonderfully, the two MPs also being interviewed agreed with me, the Labour MP pointing out that we were the sixth richest country in the world and were arguing over such a small sum. To round off this ‘media frenzy’ (!) I was interviewed a few weeks later by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, where we had half an hour, interspersed with music, to flesh the debate out more.

select committeeThe House of Commons committee, meanwhile, had voted ‘unanimously’ to discontinue the use of vellum. One member of the committee, James Grey MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/james-gray/261) was slightly delayed to the meeting and would have voted against the proposal to print on paper. In the House of Commons later that day, James Grey made a Point of Order where he said that it was recorded that the vote of the committee was unanimous, when in fact he had objected to it, and also that this vote should be one needing a vote of the full House. He went on to say that he thought this ‘a disgraceful piece of heritage vandalism’.

So it is likely that there will be a debate in the House of Commons, with a free vote.

In addition, Sharon Hodgson MP, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education has taken this matter up, and has tabled a series of excellent and pertinent questions. (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/mrs-sharon-hodgson/1521). These relate to the actual cost (we have queried the £80,000 figure), how much would be saved by not using vellum, how much it would cost to create a special storage environment, what the advice is from archival experts in terms of the longevity of paper, how much it would cost to reprint the Acts of Parliament when the paper has deteriorated, and so on.

So the matter is not closed and I would urge everyone in the UK to write to their MP to point out that the cost implications are not the only thing to bear in mind when the continued supply of vellum and parchment is questioned, and the cost of the conservation of paper and re-printing of the Acts of Parliament at some time in the future need also to be taken into account. Many thanks to those of you who have kindly already written to your MPs. It is important and it does matter!