Harvest with Hilary Burns, Rachel Frost, Veronica Main and Karolina Merska
September is the month when the summers harvest is gathered, organised and processed. Harvest has long been a pivotal time of year. Although we may now be more removed from the cycles of harvest, our speakers still work closely with the materials it provides. Veronica Main started by sharing her extensive work on straw work which started by making corn dollies, spanning a range of decorative straw techniques and, more recently, straw hat plaiting. She draws on strong historical knowledge of the subject and practical experience of straw work. Hilary Burns shared her practice, preserving and reviving traditional basketmaking and green-woodwork techniques. Rachel Frost of The Crafty Beggars followed, presenting from her studio about the power of handmaking and what drew her to crafting historically accurate hats and costume. Our discussions of harvest finished Karolina Merska will finish the presentations with her ornamental Pająki (pah-yonk-ee), traditional Polish chandeliers made from rye straw and paper.
Rachel graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with an honours degree in Model Animation. After initially working for Jim Henson's Creature shop making puppets, she set up The Crafty Beggars, providing hand crafted items for the Heritage industry. She later formed the performance group 'Cornucopia' who provide period music with puppets. She then went on to specialise in the making of historically accurate hand-felted hats for re-enactors, theatres, film and TV and which can be found in collections world wide. In 2009 she received the Janet Arnold award for costume study and has twice received the south of Scotland VACMA award for her hat business. She is a member of the Incorporation of Bonnetmakers & Dyers of Edinburgh.
Hilary Burns makes contemporary-styled work in a robust and direct manner, based on traditional basketmaking and green-woodwork techniques. Her first training was in woven textiles, she was always interested in texture and structure and loved the complexities of warp, weft, twill and double cloth. Hilary began studying basketmaking nearly forty years ago, finding new ways to construct three dimensional forms. She feels that using the potential of the many and varied skills developed over centuries in new ways keeps them from disappearing. The making is physical and repetitive practice is essential. The variety of methods, ingenuity of construction and different materials as well as the ancient history has kept her in tow ever since.
Veronica Main has worked with straw for over forty years, beginning her exploration of straw by making corn dollies then moving onto all forms of decorative straw work. Since the 1980s her focus has centred on the endangered heritage craft of straw hat plaiting for the hat industry. In the New Year’s Honours 2021, she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her extensive work. After many years of research which has taken her around the world, she now shares her extensive knowledge so that the skills will live on. Author of one book she is busy writing a second. Veronica says that harvest is a magical time for her, but also a time of mixed emotions with excitement and anxiety to the fore. She points out that no matter how technologically advanced society becomes, harvest is always weather dependent, and a rogue storm can destroy the farmer’s work. Her love of straw as a working medium and investigation of working techniques is as strong now as it was in the 1970s when she made
her first corn dolly.
Karolina Merska is a pajaki maker living in London. Pajaki (pah-yonk-ee) are traditional Polish chandeliers made from rye straw and paper. Their history dates back to the mid- 18th century. Made by country women as decorations for their homes especially for Christmas, Easter, as well as for weddings and christenings. Suspended from a ceiling in a main room, amongst colourful paper cut-outs, paintings and paper flowers they became a popular decoration in polish village houses. They were a symbol of harvest and happiness in New Year.
Today the tradition is practised less and less. Karolina loves harvesting rye straw each summer. She keeps pajaki tradition alive. With her practise she tries to use traditional techniques and materials as well as experimenting with new ones so as to give them a new contemporary look.
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