Sunday 30 October 2011

Urban Baskets Boxed In

Two of the exhibits in Urban Baskets

Urban Baskets has now finished in the Netherlands where, again, it was very well received. It will not be going on show again until June 2012 at the Harley Foundation in Nottingham so Walford Mill in Dorset will have to store it until then. For me this is distressing, I hate to think of my work sitting in dark, suffocating boxes for eight  months. These pieces were made to be seen and shared with others and when they are not on show they normally share my living space. Now the house feels empty and the baskets are shut away from view - it doesn’t feel right.  Do any of you  know of a vacant space, where they could be allowed to breathe again before June?

The work is very lightweight and is packed in postable cardboard boxes. It is not, by normal standards, an expensive exhibition to move around and it will all fit in a Transit van. From all the evidence in the visitors book and the attendance figures, so far, the exhibition is guaranteed to give pleasure and inspiration to it’s audience.  If you know of a public space UK, Scandinavia, Germany, Spain, or anywhere else that might be able to squeeze it in please get in touch with either, me or Christine at Walford Mill and make some baskets very happy!

At the same time we are working with various organisations and individuals on the possibilities of taking Urban Baskets to Canada and Australia from 2013 where, ideally, we would like to create mini tours. If you are reading this in either country please get in touch with suggestions of possible venues.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Duos Potier,Vannier.

 La petite galerie du chateau du Roussillon
Some months ago I was invited to participate in this exhibition which is currently on show  until the 30th October in the Chateau de Roussillon in the Rhone Valley, south of Lyon. The idea behind the event was to pair up potters with basket makers in order for them to collaborate on some pieces. It is an interesting and popular idea, the Scottish Basketmakers' Circle have a similar exhibition opening shortly at the Collins Gallery in Glasgow. Initially my collaborator was to be a potter in my region but that fell through, (I think it was the prospect of working with me) and I was then paired up with Michel Gardelle – a highly respected ceramicist who lives close to Mont de Marsan in the Landes region, some four hours south of where I live.  Various things intervened and in the end we never met! With time running out we arranged that I would collect three of Michel’s pots from a friend of his closer to me and I was given carte blanche to do whatever I wanted with them.

Michel Gardelle's ceramic pieces

This presented me with problems, not only because I find ceramic objects a bit scary ( I was terrified of dropping them) but also because here were three finished pieces that I really had no desire to do anything to! It would have been totally different if they had been created with a view to me working on them but these were not new pieces and had been conceived without that idea in prospect. In some way, therefore, it seemed disrespectful to add anything to them as Michel had already decided that they were finished pieces. This bothered me until I stood the three pieces on the studio floor in the sunshine. The shadows were each different and I immediately realised that I was going  to make ‘shadow’ baskets.

Pots, shadows and baskets

Once the idea arrived the work went quickly and I enjoyed making the three pieces. Each one taking inspiration from details on the pots as well as the shape of the shadows. I would not have made them without having had the opportunity to live with and look at Michels’ pieces in my studio, so for me, at least, the ‘collaboration’ was ultimately creative.

Last weekend we drove to Roussillon to deliver the work. There I met Francoise Demoulins who is a basket maker and friend of Monica Guilera in Catalonia. It was Monica who had suggested me as a possible participant in this event and I am grateful to them both. There were six exhibitors, the others were potters Sylvie and Francois Fresnais who were paired with the perigourdin expert Philippe Guerinel, and Christine Fabre  who was paired with the irrepressible Erik Barray, self styled Vannier Urbain. Neither Philippe nor Michel were there for the vernissage but it was a great pleasure to meet the others and for me a particular pleasure to meet Erik.
Sylvie and Francois Fresnais
and Philipe Guerinel
Christine Fabre and Eric Barray
Nathalie and Jean-Jacques Dubernard, who live and work in a 200 year old pottery that is known as ‘La Poterie des Chals, were our hosts. They have changed very little at the pottery preparing their own clay and using foot powered wheels to make decorated slipware using only mineral glazes. The ancient wood fired kilns are impressive. They have a small shop and sell their work at many of the pottery fairs held in France. We could not have had better hosts.

The idea for the exhibition was theirs and the Association FIGLINAE that organised it came into existence because of their enthusiasm for their craft.  Most of the forty members of the Association supported the opening by bringing food to share. The vernissage was packed and fortuitously a bar next door was having a re-opening party after a change of management. The Champagne flowed, the band played and the assembled potters, basket makers and friends took to the floor. Jean Jacques turned out to be the partner of choice for the women with his astonishing Ceroc moves; he will forever be ‘twinkle toes’ in my memory. Later back at the pottery  the other JJ, aka ‘twinkle fingers’ played international folk tunes on his melodeon. I am not sure whether the French audience understood “Aunty Mary had a Canary”, but the clapping and stamping implied they enjoyed it.  I don’t think I have ever been to a better opening! 

Friday 7 October 2011

Going Dutch

In a bid to be environmentally friendly I went to Noordwolde in Friesland by train. It took all day from Poitiers and for much of the journey time after Tours it travelled through a landscape blighted by the railways’ presence. Crossing Paris underground on a very warm day didn't add to my experience. The Gare du Nord is my least favourite Paris station surrounded, as it is, by dense traffic, expensive bars and restaurants and an annoying, though nevertheless quite interesting, assortment of audacious con merchants.

Looking at the acres of new railway infrastructure construction as we hurtled through Northern France, Belgium and southern Netherlands I began to wonder why we are being persuaded that it is more environmentally friendly to cover the land with new railway lines when looking up, all I could see was empty blue sky from horizon to horizon marked by the occasional vapour trail from a solitary aircraft!

There is a scene in the wonderful animation by Sylvain Chaumet,  Triplettes de Belleville, where the development around ‘Grandmas’ house has left the building that was once in the country jammed between a railway line, pylons, motorways and buildings with commuter trains now running right outside the upper floor windows. You can see a bit of it here . This vignette kept coming to mind as we screamed past bedrooms and gardens, places we usually like to think of as personal, private and tranquil havens.

It was the gardens that really got to me. Everywhere along these railway lines people had created little patches of verdant paradise with  affectionately tended grass, topiary, flowers and exotic trees, as though they were trying to compensate for the hideous sight and sound  of the railway line that they have to share their lives with.

Once an aeroplane is in the sky it doesn't usually bother too many people on the ground and I do believe they are not too far from developing ways to fly that do not vapourize ozone or require lakefuls of fossil fuels. Most airports shut at night but goods trains and many passenger trains allow no respite for the many poor souls who have to sleep near the lines. I am really not sure about more and faster trains.....

Things improved once I got beyond Rotterdam but, the Netherlands is undergoing a major construction boom. This is not just on their railways, cranes and cement mixers were everywhere. It was only after Zwolle that pastoral scenes became the norm and fortunately Noordwolde turned out to be a very small and quiet town in some lovely countryside. 

On my first evening stroll at twilight I saw a hare, only metres away. I had never seen a live hare before, I thought it was a dog with extra large ears!

The motive for my journey was a two day workshop to coincide with Urban Baskets which has been on show at the Nationaal Vlechtmuseum since July. The workshop was fully booked with 21 highly motivated and hard working students, including two men! I am always delighted to get men in my workshops and I like to have a lot of students mainly because it keeps me busy. More importantly though, I believe the students can learn as much from each other as from me, as everyone inevitably does something very different simply because they come with  different materials and skills.  Men often make bigger things than women which, for me, is another good reason to encourage them. 

On the Saturday morning the museum was closed to the public and I was given the opportunity to look at the library and the collections on display and in store.The museum is a former school of basket making modelled on the one in Lichtenfels in GermanyThe displays include the history of the school but also the history of Noordwolde and the basket and rattan furniture industry that once dominated the town. It’s an interesting tale of poverty, benevolence, colonialism and design that you can read more about  on the museum website (link above) though the google translation leaves much to be desired.

Whilst I am personally fascinated by these social histories I am even more concerned with trying to make sure that these skills are not lost for future generations, so it was a real pleasure for me to meet Esme Hoffman and to see her work. 

Esme  in her workshop, where she also offers classes
She is one of relatively few young people in Europe who have been taught how to do very fine skeined willow work by elderly master craftsmen in Lichtenfels spending three years of her four year course focussing just on skeined work. She is also possibly the only one who has decided now to make it her speciality.

Esmes  work
There is little chance for anyone to learn this craft to the same degree now at Lichtenfels as the skeined work module of the course has been reduced to just 6 weeks, which for anyone who has ever done any will know that it is barely enough time to learn how to make skeins let alone a basket! Esme is now seeking to take this skill in new directions and will be exhibiting alongside contemporary Dutch designers in a major exhibition next year in Holland. I can’t wait to see what she does.