From: Crafts Council
Designer and curator Chris Eckersley explains the ideas behind his new exhibition Real Craft, which is at New Brewery Arts, Cirencester, from 4 October – 16 November.
It’s a popular myth that old skills are dying out. You only have to look around to see high levels of craft skill still practised in everyday making and manufacturing – but much goes unrecognised, thanks to the bad press machines are sometimes given as an aid to manufacture. This is a mindset which insists anything made in a ‘factory’ – as opposed to a ‘workshop’ – cannot be ‘crafted’. Even a workshop can be suspect; since Bernard Leach told potters they were artists, the craft preference has been for ‘studio’ production. Easily portrayed as inhuman (think of Chaplin’s Modern Times) and the enemy of hand-production, in truth the machine is, as everyone knows, simply a useful tool.
Eventually many of these prejudices can be traced back to William Morris. Before Morris, Henry Cole and the Design Reform movement had been critical of the goods produced by British manufacturers, crusading against what he saw as bad taste; but Cole had no problem with the use of improved manufacturing processes. Morris, however, blamed the machine for the decline in standards, and sought to return production methods to a pre-mechanised age, as described in his utopian 1890 view of a post-mechanised future, News From Nowhere. Although a devout socialist, it is obvious that Morris’s early Nimbyism was quite reactionary. The message: is ‘No factories in England’s green and pleasant land’ – which is easy to say if you’re high up on the Victorian rich list.