Sunday, 26 September 2010

Urban baskets, tradition recycled

Is now open to the public at Walford Mill in Dorset and will be so until the evening of the 24th October so there are only four weeks left in which it can be seen in the south of England. We then have a gap in the schedule before it moves on to Denbigh Library Gallery in North Wales where it opens on the 15th January so if you run a gallery or an exhibition space and would like to have the show for the pre Christmas slot please get in touch with Christine Fletcher Jones, as soon as possible.

There is a 60 page colour catalogue to accompany the exhibition which can be ordered by mail from Walford Mill. The details of how to do this are on this link

Last week the exhibition was visited by a group of 50 mayors from all over Dorset (playfully referred to as the 'chain gang' by someone who will remain anonymous). Many of these mayors were not aware of the work that is done at Walford Mill and were apparently delighted with what they saw which can only be good news because like most other arts organisations in Britain, at the moment, Walford Mill Crafts is fearful about the projected cuts in public spending.

There has also been a political proposal that the arts should operate like commercial businesses and survive on their "profits" without tax payers help. In which case the only people who would be able to afford to participate in the arts would of necessity have to be middle aged, in work and rich as ticket, entry, participation fees etc would all have to go up and private enterprises do not normally subsidise the young, old or unwaged to attend events! The only arts events staged would be those that could be certain to bring in punters and the vision of endless re-runs of "Les Miserables" and non stop Constable exhibitions without the option of anything new or daring or different is just too horrible to contemplate. Removing public sponsorhip for the arts would be to abandon the next generation to a cultural life determined by the profit making organisations that dominate the virtual world.

It would not have been possible for me to do what I do without opportunities to show my work and teach classes in publicly funded venues in Britain and in many other countries and although my personal history is not important in the greater scheme of things, there are thousands of other artists/craftspeople/musicians/actors and authors who have also been supported in some small way or another by tax payers and most of them in return will have enriched many other lives by doing what they do.

Today there is a photography event taking place in a small village called Barro in France that attracts thousands of visitors who pay nothing to enter. It has been running for 10 years and is there for everyone that wants to see it. It is a prime example of the type of event that could not function without public money and it is superb.

It has enriched my life by showing me other ways to view the world in which we live, but I really wonder if I would have been prepared to pay to see it if I had never seen it before and didn't know just how good it is.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Opening

On Friday I flew to Southampton from Limoges and arrived at Walford Mill with enough time to add the piece I was finishing on Thursday night and the labels for each piece. Having got to know Christine (the CEO of Walford Mill Crafts) a little bit over the last couple of years I had no doubt that she would have done a good job on the layout, I was right and it felt almost as though I had done it myself, nothing needed changing even though she very graciously gave me the opportunity to do so.

On the morning of the opening we went for a walk on the beautiful Dorset coast which was superb preparation as by lunchtime we were all so relaxed that we arrived late! The weather had been a bit grey and damp but as we approached the Mill the sun came out and the first people I saw there were my parents who had come from Exeter with my brother and his wife, a two and a half hour journey away and it made for a very special beginning. About 50 people came to the opening, a mixture of locals and family and friends, the latter all having made long journeys to be there which I appreciated greatly. Private views are always strange occasions filled with expectation and nervousness and so friendly faces are always hoped for and treasured.

Bunty Ball who is currently the chair of the Basketmakers Association officially opened it for us and I am very grateful to her for doing so although I was a bit alarmed when she described the exhibition as my "lifes work" - I rather hoped I might make a few more baskets yet.....
The afternoon was so enjoyable that I forgot to take any pictures of the exhibition but Caroline the Education Officer at Walford took this picture of Bunty (left), Christine (right) and I as the doors were closing...........I will try to remember to take some when I go back to teach this weekend, but it is, of course, open to visitors before then.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Buff Basket Making

For the last five days I have been camping in a forest of maritime pines a short walk from the sea enjoying the wildness, natural beauty and pure escapism that is the Aquitaine coast. This particular camp site is slightly unusual in that one of the house rules is to "vivez nu" whenever the weather allows, and if you get bored with the beach there are lots of "animations " provided in July and August that you can participate in such as surfing, archery,photography, boules and basket making!

Usually my sojourn there is too late in the season to meet the person who teaches basket making, (I go there in September deliberately to avoid animation and because at 11€ a day it is amazing value) but this year I finally had a chance to meet Agnes Gaillut who has taught cane and willow basket making there from the 1st July to the first weekend in September for the last 18 years. Agnes comes from Marne in North East France and told me that she teaches for pleasure rather than as a profession and over this summer season she had taught 200 children and 30 adults to make baskets and she could have taken double the number if she had had the space in the workshop and someone to help. She is a true champion for the craft! On the day I was in the workshop she had two men making willow baskets, a woman making a willow platter, a boy of about 13 weaving a willow base for a round basket and a girl of about 12 weaving cane on a wooden base and all were obviously totally absorbed by their activity. If you have ever made a willow basket you will know that it usually involves knives and pointed implements so you might think it could be a dangerous activity for naked bodies but Agnes had thought of that and had 'aprons' i.e. strips of inner tube from truck tyres which provided the necessary protection.

That so many people had wanted to make baskets for pleasure was a delight to hear but I couldn't help wondering how many of them would ever make one again once they returned home because the effort involved in sourcing and ordering cane or willow would probably be sufficient a deterrant to stop most people from bothering, added to which most willow suppliers in France do not deal in quantities of less than a bolt which if you just want to make a small basket is far too much.

The maritime pine has long needles that carpet the ground in

the camp site and the beach can usually supply ropes and cords so it seems to me to be a lost opportunity not use them for coiled basket making. I asked Agnes if she had ever considered using the pine needles but she did not know it
was possible to make baskets from them so we arranged a mini coiling workshop after her class and she seemed genuinely pleased to have learnt something new to offer and promised to show me what transpires next year.

For me this is a not just a question of the dubious sustainability of imported centre cane or commercially grown willows but it is also, and maybe more importantly about empowerment. The child who learns that they can pick up the materials that are lying at their feet and make something useful from them has learnt far more than just techniques and will be able to repeat the exercise whenever it finds appropriate materials to hand, without needing any help financially or organisationally from an adult. For hard pressed parents this could also be a big attraction!