Can we define what craft is?

23rd January 2016  |  OUR STORIES

Yesterday I was a meeting in London of the steering group for a major piece of government funded research into the state of heritage crafts in England. The first and perhaps most difficult task is to define very precisely what heritage crafts are in such a way as the research company can go away and start counting and measuring.

Crafts consultant Hillary Jennings had prepared us a draft discussion paper which runs to about 15 pages, we hope to be able to make this document public in due course but for now I can share a few of the most important points.

It was felt that heritage craft could be defined as practice which encompassed these points

  • Knowledge and use of traditional materials
  • Skilled use of hand tools and hand operated machinery
  • Knowledge and application of traditional, often functional designs

Then this was boiled down into an even more concise version for when we need a one line definition.

“Practices which employ skilled use of hand tools and an understanding of material and have their roots in traditional functional design.”

It’s not easy to define traditional craft, how would you do it? can you come up with anything better? One thing we were sure about was that heritage is not the same as old, it is more a question of what we value and wish to pass on to future generations.

To make the most of my London trip I also got to meet two people I have been corresponding with for a while. First was Adam Thompson who writes the excellent “manufacture and industry” blog here  
We only had time for a quick coffee and chat but it was good to meet, his blog is well worth following.

Then last thing I visited potter Kate Malone. Folk who know Kate’s work may be surprised as she is very much a high end art potter making pieces which sell for thousands of pounds, she does have very strong roots in traditional practice however and believes that it is crucial that ceramicists learn basic craft skills first before considering any sort of innovative self expression.

I am in London next Tuesday and Wednesday for more meetings including John Hayes skills minister, Martina Milburn CEO of the Princes Trust, the BBC to discuss potential craft TV programs, Baroness Garden at the Lords and I am particularly pleased to be able to meet up with Betsy Greer, craft activist who is over from the US.