At Coolicon we ask the questions, "what is the role of traditional craftmanship?" and "how do we keep these practices alive?"
Words by The Coolicon Team
Photo from eleanorpritchard.com
Craftsmanship in a Digital World
As our lives are increasingly lived in a digital realm, our phone apps offer convenience in all aspects of our everyday life. Timescales between wanting and receiving have dwindled from days to minutes, with obsolescence and disposability hardwired into this all-encompassing new norm. It would be easy to believe that humans no longer value the comforts of tactile qualities, which are only enhanced by the addition of time and traditional craftmanship.
“Timescales between wanting and receiving have dwindled from days to minutes.”
Both our smartphones and the pursuit of traditional craft practices are about making a connection. Where one focuses on connections to likes and clicks, traditional crafts connect to one’s place within nature, and to oneself. It is about connecting the past to the present, while looking towards the future.
We’d like to share a few stories about artisans we admire who are keeping traditional practices relevant and alive.
Photo by Coolicon Lighting
What’s the Catch?
In the UK the health of traditional craft practices is monitored by the Heritage Crafts Association. In recent years, cricket ball-making, gold beating and lacrosse stick-making manufacturers moved overseas or died out completely. “Howzat” happened?
“More than 100 trades are considered at risk or even critically endangered."
More than 100 other unusual and wonderful trades are considered at risk or even "critically endangered", according to the Heritage Crafts Association, which supports craftspeople through fundraising and lobbying policymakers.
Could this be a sign of craft losing relevance in everyday culture? Or could this be a sign that craft needs to stay relevant and move with the times. Just as fashion and tastes change so can craft. Like culture, craft is built on a rich evolving history that can be reinterpreted or even rediscovered. The old grand masters of yesterday rightfully inform tomorrow. But this takes time and decades to master. The learning curve is great, and skills evolve though trial and error.
Photo by Coolicon Lighting
Time-Honed Skills are Disappearing
In the Vitreous Enamelling craft industry, many skilled craftspeople are approaching retirement age. The passing on of their time-honed skills and years of knowledge is not guaranteed. This is either due to a perceived lack of opportunity or the everyday concerns of running a small business whilst devoting time to upskilling.
Encouraging the younger generation to see traditional crafts as a viable career path, with the time commitment required and not always the highest wages remains a concern. But working with traditional crafts and practice can provide a varied, stimulating and rewarding career. Not something all career paths can claim.
Perhaps the answer lies in cultural and technical relevance. Today we have tools and machines that can emulate many of the mundane tasks that are required but not always the most skilled. This leaves the opportunity to harness modern practices to dedicate time and focus to the skilled and rewarding parts of craft. The skill in craft lies in not just the hand but most importantly the mind.
Adapting for Today’s Challenges
With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many of us to reassess what we consume and how we consume it (yes, the Coolicon® team have all made Banana bread – with variable results) perhaps the time is right for a revival, a renaissance of traditional craftmanship, powered by a new generation.
Harnessing both digital skills, modern values and an inquisitive mindset craft can thrive. Craft can find a new home in contemporary culture where both the craft skill and mindset can develop in parallel or even separately. A deep understanding of material and process is ultimately what underlies successful craft. Indeed, many craft practitioners have been able to diversify their practice and work by separating out hand skill and tacit craft knowledge. This approach can often lead to fruitful collaborations in all senses.
Because of this unique blend of design and craft skill many craft pieces last for a long time gaining both emotional value and endearing durability as they age gracefully. Craft pieces are to be used, enjoyed, and treasured in equal measure. Often meaning they can pass from one generation to the next as heirlooms and family treasures. All qualities we feel that are embodied in Coolicon Lighting products.
Of the many craft champions pioneering the future of the UK scene we wish to highlight and introduce you to two that we hold in the highest regard.
Photo from garethneal.co.uk
Gareth Neal is a progressive and collaborative East London design and craft studio. Their work harmoniously unites traditional and digital techniques to create uniquely crafted pieces.
Gareth’s studio produces a range of furniture, as well as limited edition art pieces that embody the progressive and explorative ethos of his studio. This knowledge has led to many collaborations and the development of new working practices and methodologies.
“The strength of a design lies as much in the steps taken to create it as the finished product.”
Gareth’s unique approach and embracing of the digital age we live in is rooted in fine craft. Years dedicated to honing his skill at the maker bench paired with his unique insight have developed an honest and original aesthetic.
Photo by Eleanor Pritchard
Based in Deptford, Southeast London, Eleanor designs and samples her work on her peg-and-lag dobby loom. This direct connection to process, design and product enables her to produce some of the finest home textiles at a commercial scale while maintaining a truth to the craft.
“I see aspects of my work as a re-interpretation of traditional British textiles for a contemporary audience.”
Eleanor’s work remains true to centuries of craft vernacular. Those with a keen eye for textile can spot the origin of her work as she is able to bring location specific heritage craft into contemporary textiles. The quality of her work in concept and production leads to cherished items that can be used and enjoyed every day. The graceful aging of such products only endears them further to the user and defines memories to be passed from one generation to the next. Just as craft skill is passed from one to the next.
Parallels in history:
Looms use cards to input and control their intricate weaving patterns. Originally developed by Charles Babbage in the Victorian days, the same card concept was later used by computing pioneers in the 1950s to input thousands of lines of code into early computers. In a way we’ve come full circle, it seems only natural that computers are now used in craft.
Photo by Gladstone Pottery Museum
Bone China – Not just for elevenses
Originating in the late-18th century, Bone China is still produced in Stoke-on-Trent today, the birthplace of the finest quality pottery you can touch.
With skills and family trade secrets passed down through generations, the potters of today have taken up the mantle, honouring the masters that came before them and allowing this traditional production technique to flourish in today’s contemporary environment.
This is an approach which is also the driving force behind Coolicon Lighting’s Craftsmans™ Collection. For those of us who were brought up in the 70s, Bone China was something your grandparents kept on their sideboard, proudly flourished when greeting guests with a pot of tea and a large plate of Tunnocks tea cakes and caramel wafers (it was Scotland after all). Great memories and a few teeth cavities but not a usual sight in most living rooms today.
With our Craftsmans™ Collection we chose to celebrate the long tradition of producing the finest Bone China in the Potteries. This story has come full circle as Coolicon® once lit the very factories we are proudly producing this collection in. The Craftmans™ Collection fuses classic materials and traditional skills with timeless design to create a unique range of unrivalled quality and workmanship.
Photo by Coolicon Lighting
Supporting Tomorrow’s Factories
By reimagining how the skills of the Stoke-on-Trent craftsperson can be utilised, we’ve created a handmade contemporary lampshade. Its diffused and relaxing light brings the Coolicon® design into an expanding number of relaxed environments, whilst proudly supporting skilled local jobs and small family-owned factories.
“The health of traditional craftmanship is passing to new hands.”
The health of traditional craftmanship is passing to new hands and the provision of accessible training routes is of vital importance. The link between theory and practice is just as important, with strong partnerships between practitioners and students. In the meantime, Coolicon Lighting and their contemporaries across numerous creative industries continue to look at new ways to support traditional practices, reinventing and invigorating the past for today.