|The Art Workers Guild with the portrait of Thomas Okey to the right of the door.|
The invitation to Brighton was from Margaret Huber and Graham Rawle, the super duo of the Sequential Design and Illustration department and my thanks go to them. I have spoken there quite a few times before so it feels cosy and the audience gave me a warm reception.
The Art Workers Guild building I am also very familiar with because it is the same one in which the Basketmakers Association AGM is held. The audience was, however, quite different, as the Guild Members are all renowned experts in their own art, architecture or craft fields. My invitation from Prue Cooper, the current Master and witty ceramicist, to speak to them this year was because 2014 is the Centenary of Thomas Okeys’ year as Master of the Art Workers Guild.
|Illustration from "The Art of Basket-Making"|
As many of you reading this will know, Thomas Okey (1852-1935) was, also a basket maker. Born in the East End of London into a basket making family he worked in the family business for 30 years. He taught himself Italian, French and German from books before starting work at 6 am and by going to evening classes at the end of the day. He developed a passion for the Italian language and culture in particular and translated and authored many books on the subject, going on to become, a Fellow at Cambridge despite no formal qualifications He also wrote one the best instructional books about willow basket making An Introduction to The Art of Basket-Making published in either 1912 or 1932 depending on which source you read ( I have a copy marked 1st edition which says 1932). So, having been born 100 years and one week later than Thomas, lived and made baskets in the east end for 30 years, written books on basket making, gone back to university late in life and struggled (I think he was a natural) to learn foreign languages. I actually feel a sort of kindred spirit with him. It was, therefore an honour for me to speak in the same place that he had been Master. It also seems a strange coincidence that David Drew, probably Britains best willow basket maker, also a Libran, has exactly the same birthday as Thomas Okey. Are there many other basket makers out there who are Librans?