Traditional crafts draw new audience despite hard times

Craft is the last word in luxury, according to a new exhibition in Barnsley. Nick Ahad finds out about the quality artisans.

St. Pauls Cathedral Jelly Mould
St. Pauls Cathedral Jelly Mould

You might think that in the present economic climate, the idea of splashing out on a craft item is anathema.

Not so, says The British Crafts Council. Far from the throwaway culture that some of our contemporary shops seem to promote, the council has witnessed a growing trend for crafts, a phenomenon that has inspired a national touring exhibition, which has opened in Barnsley before travelling the UK.

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“We were examining the buying activity in a greater time of austerity, what people choose to buy and what they choose not to buy,” says Charlotte Dew, exhibitions project officer for the British Crafts Council and curator of the exhibition at Barnsley Civic this month, Added Value?

“We observed a shift of people valuing craft more, because it represents objects that will last a long time. There appears to have been a shift in the value of objects, people want things that have not just been made, but crafted.”

So if you think of whicker baskets and pressed flowers when you think of crafts, think again.

Added Value? at Barnsley Civic until March 24, features the work of six different 
artists who are exploring 
six different strands of what craft means.

Materials are explored by fine artist and jeweller Zoe Arnold, traditional skills are illustrated by the craftsmanship of Oliver Ruuger who takes functional, familiar items such as a gentleman’s briefcase, and renders them valuable through the addition of traditional processes such as leather working.

Brands are looked at via a collaboration between product designer Simon Hasan and fashion house Fendi, whose commission of bespoke mannequins in 2011, demonstrates how craft values are being adopted by high-end brands.

Experience is demonstrated through the creations of jelly-mongers, Bompas & Parr, who create edible works of art. The Everyday is represented through the work of bespoke wallpaper maker, Tracy Kendall, who creates elaborate hand-crafted wall coverings.

The final strand of the exhibition, The Bespoke, is shown by a one-off pair of shoes hand-crafted by shoe makers, Carréducker, who use over 200 individual processes in each bespoke pair of shoes.

Dew says: “The shoes are a great example of the theme of bespoke and why it is relevant to the current economic climate.

“People want to find things that are unique, or where they invest time as well as money in getting to know the people who are actually making the thing they are consuming. Deborah Carre and James Ducker are using centuries-old techniques to create hand-sewn shoes – the ones on display in this exhibition are made from deerskin.

“This kind of craft, combined with the way people want to buy items today reflects that contemporary craft is changing what is meant by the term ‘luxury’.”

The Gallery, Barnsley Civic, to March 24.

The artists who are presenting quality workmanship

Carreducker: Deborah Carre and James Ducker run a studio in London and are partners with Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes.

Oliver Ruuger: Estonian born designer uses laser cutting and printing, graduated from the London College of Fashion.

Bombas & Parr: Sam Bombas and Harry Parr create elaborate jellies and show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the V&A.

Zoe Arnold: A poet and bookmaker who uses her own poems to inspire her precious material sculptures.

Simon Hasan: Graduated from the Royal College of Art, exhibits internationally.