Today at London Craft Week we seek out artisans working with natural materials, some of whom source their own raw materials from planting, harvesting, processing or just gathering raw materials from the wild. Materials range from African grasses, rattan palm and flax, willow, leather and fallen pieces of wood: whether a basket, a linen textile, rattan weaving or a hand-turned piece of wood, all makers share a long-standing tradition of craftsmanship and connection between the handmade and the natural world.
The Edward Barnsley Studio & Soane Britten Chair
Edward Barnsley, one of the most important British furniture makers of the 20th century, was born into a family of furniture makers. His father Sidney, uncle Ernest and their friend Ernest Gimson in 1893, inspired by William Morris, moved from London to the Cotswolds to put their beliefs into practice and established workshops making furniture from solid planks of timber. They celebrated the construction methods by exposing the tenons and dovetails. The furniture was often decorated with simple chip carving. Today, Gimson and the Barnsley's are seen as key figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement and their influence on design has been immense. Edward took over the workshop retaining most of the employees and built on its reputation, originally making furniture very much in the Cotswold style, before embracing 18th century aesthetics.
Today the Edward Barnsley studio continues to build on this legacy with the launch of the second in a new series of Easy Chairs in collaboration with Soane Britain. Several Easy Chair designs exist in the Edward Barnsley archives, created by Barnsley in the 1950’s. One of these Arts and Crafts drawings has been selected as a starting point for the new chair created in English oak. James Ryan, head of design at the Edward Barnsley Workshop, has developed a new shape and finish by innovating and applying textural wood techniques.
The Workshop was keen to collaborate with craftspeople that would incorporate complementary natural materials for the seating and back surfaces/other elements of the chair. In researching other natural materials like rattan led naturally to Soane, and the connection was further reinforced by both workshops being rooted in the British Arts and Crafts movement. While real craftsmanship underpins all that Soane does, nowhere is this more evident than in the production of its rattan furniture. The Soane rattan story is one of making furniture and lighting, founded on integrity and longevity, while reviving an almost extinct British industry. Determined to secure the future of traditional crafts by investing in its workshops, Soane is proud to have established a rattan apprenticeship programme, which now numbers 15. These core values are also shared by the Edward Barnsley Workshop, with a vibrant apprenticeship scheme which has trained over 60 people to date.
Image credit: the Edward Barnsley Studio. This one-of-a-kind model of the Easy Chair, which incorporates a rattan seat and back, is on display in Soane’s Pimlico Road showroom throughout the duration of London Craft Week.
The New Craftsman: Plant Explorations
To mark their 10-year anniversary, The New Craftsmen has invited their makers' to reflect upon, and take inspiration from, the evolution and uses of their craft along with the skill and imagination of makers' across the centuries, and respond by creating their own unique pieces. Plant Explorations delves into the making traditions centralised around plants, and humanity’s ever resourceful, ingenious and imaginative approach to finding practical and beautiful solutions for their needs.
Image: Annemarie O’Sullivan grows and harvests local materials making objects ranging from functional baskets to statement lighting and large-scale installation from her studio in the South East of England.
Drawing inspiration from the Economic Botany Collections at Kew Garden, a group of selected makers present a dynamic new collection of work. The group includes renowned basket makers, Annemarie O’Sullivan and Hilary Burns; weavers including Catarina Riccabona; and woodworkers Takahashi McGil and Cyriaque Ambroise. The resulting exhibition showcases innovative collections of lighting, furniture, baskets and objects for interiors, as well as one-off artworks that are exhibited in The New Craftsmen’s Mayfair showroom from Tuesday 10 May.
Image: Commissioned by The New Craftsman Catarina Riccabona, known for her natural yarn hand woven blankets and throws has experimented weaving with raw flax, pre-hackled flax and linen yarn.
Throughout London Craft Week, visitors of the exhibition can observe and participate in the making process; gathering around the table with basket maker Hilary Burns, who is crafting string from plants, and multi-disciplinary maker Lola Lely, who is hand dipping some of her spectacular plant specimens into wax to create delicate artworks. CLICK HERE to find out more.
Makers in Residence: Vigour and Skills
A series of demonstrations and talks are being hosted by on-line artisan gallery Vigour and Skills in the West End and will be worth a visit if you want to see makers at their workbenches. They have a week-long programme of demonstrations and talks including Michelle Wong who, influenced by a background in architecture, makes pared back functional pieces in a selection of European vegetable tanned leather using traditional saddlery tools and techniques, such as saddle stitching and hand burnishing. Catherine Cullen, inspired by British and Irish landscape heritage crafts and equestrian tack makes accessories and canine goods using traditional saddlery techniques in her leather work studio from UK sourced materials.
Image: Clair Murphy's hand-woven baskets.
Available to buy but not in there in person will be Clair Murphy’s latest collection of hand-woven baskets. Murphy, who works from her studio in Presteigne, finds English rush the perfect weaving material – ‘it will plait, weave and coil into almost any shape, it can be sewn or woven, become dense or airy and create soft or hard forms’. Murphy has been working with rush for nearly 10 years and also finds ‘great satisfaction in this cycle of harvesting and weaving which follows the natural course of the year.’ Every summer Murphy heads to the River Isle in Somerset to gather materials. Her latest collection will be on display and available to buy.
Check our blog again tomorrow for more updates on the London Craft Week.