Crefftwr – celebrating heritage craftsmanship in Wales

26th May 2022  |  OUR STORIES

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Crefftwr – celebrating heritage craftsmanship in Wales

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This piece was written by Heritage Crafts Ambassador Dr Alex Langlands to accompany the Crefftwr: heritage Crafst in Wales exhibition running until 12 June 2022 at the Turner Gallery in Penarth, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and featuring the work of Heritage Crafts members throughout Wales alongside the photography of Dewi Tannatt Lloyd.
See more about the exhibition.

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We will all be beguiled by the dependent beauty, the technical detail and the patterns, textures, and forms of the crafted objects on display in the Turner House. But in many ways, it is what’s not on display and what can’t be seen that makes them so powerful. The intangibility of craft resides in a myriad of movements, observations, and reflections that come with the experience of working by hand. These, and the ability to conceive, improvise and express underscore in the crafter a confidence and self-awareness that sees ideal become reality in physical form. In this way, these objects are their makers, a physical embodiment of their knowledge, wisdom, passion, and power. It is at times impossible to put into words the qualities that reside behind the compelling aesthetics of the crafted object.

What it is appropriate to render into text is the debt of gratitude we owe for the remarkable achievement of the curators, venue, organisers, and funders in bringing together some of the very best of contemporary heritage craftspeople in Wales today. Together their vision and insight occupy the forefront of a movement that is growing momentum in a craft revival of new and exciting possibilities. For the craft-writers of the predominantly rural 1970s British revival, the motivation was one of loss, an ode to the ‘last of the such-and-such maker’ and to by-gone days. Genuinely, the skills and crafts that had served communities so well up to the inter-war years were dying, a generation of skills that saw its value eclipsed by the accelerated mechanisation brought about by a war footing. Having been intoxicated with images of a Britain worth fighting for, what else should we expect from a society grappling with a world changing more rapidly than ever before? Nostalgia is not to be dismissed, it is an important element in how we manage change.

A new multi-faceted motivation drives the craft revival of today as we are again confronted with fast-paced change and global challenges. Yet, it is to the future and not the past to which we must now turn our craft. One of the mistakes that we often make is in believing that heritage is about what went before. It’s not. It’s about the times that lie ahead and what we actively choose to carry forward with us. It’s the conversations we have with each other – and the surrounding material world – concerning which of the stories of today we want to preserve for the telling of tomorrow. As in any post-industrialised British landscape, for Wales, a conflict runs deep in the narrative as a nation seeks to reconcile the pride and heroism in its one-time ‘workshop of the world’ status with residual toxicity, dereliction, deprivation, and the need to confront the dark histories that came with industrial supremacy. As the painful wounds of de-industrialisation slowly heal, our gaze looks beyond the chimneys, the winding gear, and the tips, once more to the ideational ‘green valley’, to a world in seasonal harmony and a stoic resilience crafted by the generations that have thrived in the hills, valleys, and coastlines of this beautiful place.

There is no need for the crafts of this imagined lost rural world to be resurrected though, because industry didn’t kill them off in the first place – far from it. Industrialisation spawned a multitude of materials and techniques that saw hand-making flourish. It spawned new needs as well. The greater appetites of the people and machines that accompanied a population, transportation and manufacturing boom provided the perfect conditions within which basketmaking, for example, was to find both new and bigger markets. Crafts are at their very best when they match the skills of the ancients to the needs of the day, and it is reassuring to see the intelligent and elegant simplicity of the basket once more at the vanguard of change.

Wales is an inspirational land of natural resources, and a nation with impressive ambitions for habitat restoration and improved public access. It is well placed to engage with the existential threats of the climate crisis and the need for social change whilst at the same time drawing on its rich cultural heritage to foster a sense of purpose and pride. The craftspeople and artists assembled here are on the frontline of the critical enquiry into how our future can be sustainably shaped. A strong element of craftivism exudes from their work as they explore the infinite potentialities of natural materials and consider the impacts of their fashioning, presenting us as they do with useful, durable, and lovable objects.

Placemaking is fast becoming a potent framework for community regeneration and re-imagining local worlds. But how do we go about ‘making’ a place? What physical and creative actions does it require beyond the drawing board of the planning officer? The crafts here are inspired by place as much as anything else, be it the varied colours from the varied landscapes, or the sounds and songs of myth and legend. Is there a better way to place-make than to make-in-place, to reconnect us to the world immediately around us so that we recognise its value?

The good news is that this is already happening. Makerspaces are on the rise and the horizon looks clear for future crafters. Where once the quiet and thoughtful solitude of the creative space was isolated from the noisy dynamism of the commercial world, now digital technologies allow us to share ideas, find fellow minds, access wider markets, and collectively change the world for the better – on a global scale. What encourages me most from these artists is how they were drawn into their crafts, seduced by the materials and techniques, and fated by their childhood passions. Training, apprenticeships, and taught courses played an important role in harnessing these raw enthusiasms and it is our duty now to retain and grow more opportunities to stimulate in young people a critical enquiry of materials and making. When we all know more about the resourcing, preparation, making, use and discard of crafted objects, we will all be better placed to reflect on matters of consumption and waste. The world has changed almost beyond recognition in the past few years and there can be no doubt that we can’t go back to normal. On the strength of the crefftwrs, whose glorious work is on display here in the Turner House, the new-normal is set to be a better-normal for being handmade.

Dr Alex Langlands
Swansea, May 2022

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Byddwn oll yn cael ein swyno gan yr harddwch dibynnol, y manylder technegol a phatrymau, gweadau a ffurfiau’r gwrthrychau crefft sydd i’w gweld yn Nhŷ Turner. Ond mewn sawl ffordd, yr hyn nad yw’n cael ei arddangos a’r hyn na ellir ei weld sy’n eu gwneud mor rymus. Mae anniriaethedd crefft yn deillio o lu o symudiadau, arsylwadau ac adlewyrchiadau sy’n rhan o’r profiad o weithio â llaw. Mae’r rhain, a’r gallu i greu, byrfyfyrio a mynegi yn atgyfnerthu yn y crefftwr ymdeimlad o hyder a hunanymwybyddiaeth sy’n gweld delfryd yn troi’n realiti ar ffurf ffisegol. Trwy hyn, y gwrthrychau hyn yw eu gwneuthurwyr, ymgorfforiad ffisegol o’u gwybodaeth, doethineb, angerdd a grym. Ar adegau mae’n amhosib cyfleu mewn geiriau y nodweddion sydd ar waith y tu ô i estheteg afaelgar y gwrthrych crefft.

Yr hyn y dylid ei droi’n eiriau yw ein diolch am waith rhyfeddol y curadiaid, lleoliad, trefnwyr a chyllidwyr yn crynhoi at ei gilydd rai o’r crefftwyr treftadaeth gyfoes gorau yng Nghymru heddiw. Rhyngddynt mae eu gweledigaeth a’u mewnwelediad yn arwain mudiad sy’n ennill momentwm mewn adfywiad crefft ag iddo bosibiliadau newydd a chyffrous. I’r sawl a ysgrifennodd am yr adfywiad Prydeinig yn yr 1970au oedd yn bennaf yn un gwledig ei naws, y cymhelliad oedd ymdeimlad o golled, teyrnged i’r ‘olaf o’r gwneuthurwyr o ba fath bynnag yr oeddent’ ac i ddyddiau a fu. A bod yn deg, roedd y sgiliau a’r crefftau a roddodd gystal wasanaeth i fyny at y blynyddoedd rhwng y rhyfeloedd byd yn marw, cenhedlaeth o sgiliau a welodd ei gwerth yn cael ei bylu gan y mecaneiddio carlamus a ddaeth yn sgil cyfnod rhyfel. A hithau wedi meddwi ar ddelweddau o Brydain oedd werth ymladd drosti, beth arall ddylem ni ei ddisgwyl gan gymdeithas oedd yn ceisio ymdopi â byd oedd yn newid yn gyflymach nac erioed o’r blaen? Ni ddylid diystyru hiraeth, mae’n elfen bwysig yn y ffordd yr ydym yn dygymod â newid.

Mae cymhelliad newydd aml-weddog yn tanio adfywiad crefft heddiw wrth inni wynebu newid carlamus a heriau byd-eang unwaith eto. Ac eto, ar gyfer y dyfodol ac nid y gorffennol y mae’n rhaid inni lunio ein crefft yn awr. Un o’r camgymeriadau a wnawn yn aml yw credu fod treftadaeth yn ymwneud â’r hyn a fu. Nid felly. Mae’n ymwneud â’r hyn sydd o’n blaenau a’r hyn y dewiswn fynd ag ef gyda ni. Y sgyrsiau a gawn gyda’n gilydd – a’r byd materol o’n cwmpas – ynghylch pa rai o storïau heddiw yr ydym am eu cadw i’w hadrodd yfory. Fel mewn unrhyw dirlun Prydeinig ôl-ddiwydiannol, mae Cymru’n wynebu gwrthdaro sylfaenol yn ei stori wrth i’r genedl geisio cysoni balchder a dewrder yn ei statws ‘gweithdy’r byd’ y dyddiau a fu a’r gwenwyndra, y diffeithdra a’r amddifadedd a ddaeth yn eu sgil, gyda’r angen i wynebu’r hanesion tywyll oedd yn rhan o oruchafiaeth ddiwydiannol. Wrth i friwiau poenus diwydiannu wella’n araf, edrychwn y tu hwnt i’r simneiau, yr offer weindio a’r tomenni, a draw unwaith eto at y ‘dyffryn gwyrdd’ syniadol, at fyd mewn cytgord tymhorol ac at wytnwch stoig a saernïwyd gan y cenedlaethau a ffynnodd ym mryniau, dyffrynnoedd ac arfordiroedd y lle prydferth hwn.

Ond nid oes unrhyw angen atgyfodi crefftau’r byd gwledig dychmygus colledig hwn, gan nad diwydiant a’u lladdodd yn y lle cyntaf – dim byd o’r fath. Rhoddodd diwydiannu fod i amryfal ddeunyddiau a thechnegau a roddodd wynt yn hwyliau gwaith â llaw. Sbardunodd hefyd anghenion newydd. Rhoddodd archwaethau mwy y bobl a’r peiriannau ddaeth yn sgil cynnydd mewn poblogaeth, trafnidiaeth a gweithgynhyrchu fod i’r amgylchiadau perffaith ar gyfer creu, i fasgedwaith er enghraifft, farchnadoedd newydd a mwy o faint. Mae crefftau ar eu gorau oll pan maen nhw’n cysylltu sgiliau’r hynafgwyr gydag anghenion y dydd, ac mae’n dda gweld unwaith eto symlrwydd deallus a gosgeiddig y fasged yn arwain proses newid.

Mae Cymru yn wlad ysbrydoledig o adnoddau naturiol, ac yn genedl a chanddi uchelgeisiau cymeradwy i adfer cynefinoedd a gwella mynediad cyhoeddus. Mae mewn sefyllfa dda i ddelio â bygythiadau dirfodol yr argyfwng hinsawdd a’r angen am newid cymdeithasol tra ar yr un pryd yn manteisio ar ei threftadaeth ddiwylliannol gyfoethog i feithrin ymdeimlad o bwrpas a balchder. Mae’r crefftwyr a’r artistiaid sydd wedi ymgynnull yma ar reng flaen yr ymholi beirniadol i sut allwn lunio ein dyfodol mewn ffordd gynaliadwy. Mae eu gwaith yn cyfleu elfen gref o grefftiaeth wrth iddynt archwilio posibiliadau dihysbydd defnyddiau naturiol ac ystyried effeithiau eu saernïo, gan gyflwyno inni wrthrychau defnyddiol, gwydn a chariadus wrth wneud.

Mae creu lleoedd yn prysur ddod yn fframwaith cynhyrchiol ar gyfer adfywio cymunedol ac ail-ddychmygu bydoedd lleol. Ond sut mae mynd ati i ‘greu’ lle? Pa weithredoedd corfforol a chreadigol sydd eu hangen y tu hwnt i fwrdd lluniadu’r swyddog cynllunio? Ysbrydolwyd y crefftau yma gan le yn gymaint â chan unrhyw beth arall, boed hynny’n lliwiau amrywiol o’r tirluniau amrywiol, neu seiniau a chaneuon myth a chwedl. A oes ffordd well o greu lle na chreu mewn lle, ein hail-gysylltu â’r byd yn union o’n cwmpas fel ein bod yn gwerthfawrogi ei werth?

Y newyddion da yw bod hyn yn digwydd yn barod. Mae gofodau gwneud yn cynyddu ac mae’r argoelion yn dda i grefftwyr y dyfodol. Lle ar un adeg yr oedd unigedd tawel a meddylgar y gofod creadigol yn cael ei wahanu o fywiogrwydd swnllyd y byd masnachol, erbyn hyn mae technolegau digidol yn ein galluogi i rannu syniadau, darganfod anianau cytûn, dod o hyd i farchnadoedd ehangach, a gyda’i gilydd newid y byd er gwell – ar raddfa fyd-eang. Yr hyn sy’n fy symbylu fwyaf gan waith yr artistiaid hyn yw sut y cawsant eu denu at eu crefftau, eu swyno gan y deunyddiau a’r technegau, a’u tynghedau gan eu diddordebau bore oes, Chwaraeodd prentisiaethau a chyrsiau wedi’u dysgu rôl bwysig yn harneisio’r brwdfrydeddau amrwd hyn, a’n dyletswydd yn awr yw cadw a thyfu mwy o gyfleoedd i symbylu mewn pobl ifanc agwedd feirniadol at ddefnyddiau a gwneud. Pan fyddwn oll yn gwybod mwy am adnoddi, paratoi, gwneud, defnyddio a gwaredu gwrthrychau crefft, byddwn oll mewn gwell lle i fyfyrio ar faterion defnyddio a gwastraffu. Mae’r byd wedi newid bron y tu hwnt i’n hadnabyddiaeth yn yr ychydig flynyddoedd diwethaf, ac nid oes unrhyw amheuaeth na allwn fynd yn ôl i normal. Yn ôl yr hyn a welwn gan y crefftwyr, y mae eu gwaith godidog i’w weld yma yn Nhŷ Turner, mae’r normal newydd yn addo bod yn well normal i waith llaw.

Dr Alex Langlands
Abertawe, Mai 2022