There's no deliberate, overarching theme to this exhibition; what ties the exhibitors together is their membership of the prestigious Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen. However there are themes, and similarities of material or style, among the 25 or so exhibitors, which perhaps reflect wider trends in the art and craft world. Various pieces show an oriental influence, some subtle and some more overt. Dichroic glass makes more than one appearance and, as one might expect, the natural world inspires many of the pieces on show. These strands run through the work on show, giving a sense of unity.
There were five potters exhibiting: Camilla Ward's freeform vases in black, cream and orange were faintly reminiscent of penguins, and Emily-Kriste Wilcox's pieces were deconstructed, sometimes literally from floral teapots, and remade into sculptures. The results were certainly no longer twee, or indeed functional! The rest of the pottery was designed for everyday use. My favourite of these was John Jelfs, working in traditional Cotswold ceramics, using earthy colours including a rich marmite glaze and simple, pleasing shapes. Some pieces had cuniform dents and fork-marks to pattern them, like gnocchi.
Slumpwork is a glassmaking technique where a hot glass item is laid over a former. Both William Robson and Amanda Lawrence use this technique to form plates and bowls. They both fuse smaller pieces of glass together to make filigree effects. The main difference between their resultant products is the colour palates: Robson's pieces look like stained glass with rich reds and blacks. His Japanese-style dining set does recall the rising sun. Lawrence's glasswork is nearly all in frosted, natural-coloured glass, with dichroic glass shapes added. Dichroic glass has minerals embedded in it, which catch and split the light giving different colours depending on the angle you look at it. The colour range is slightly different every time. In Lawrence's work it gives a light, airy feeling. Her flight of birds really does have a sense of movement, and her petal vase is witty and pleasingly asymmetrical.
Dichroic glass is also used by Uschi Arens Price in her jewellery making, and it was she who explained what it is. Having the artists and craftspeople on hand is one of the best things about this type of show: there is nothing like hearing how a piece was made and the inspiration behind it. Any day there will be one or two of the makers around, and there is a video you can watch up on the balcony about the exhibitors with interviews. Uschi was able to tell us in person about the glass for her jewellery, which mostly consists of a silver background and glass jewel. Much of this type of glass is now factory made, but seeking out and choosing handmade pieces is still the exciting part! She then adds a pattern to the silver to complement the glass. There were lovely chunks of millefiori, and many differently coloured dichroic pieces. Apparently dichroic glass was first seen on spaceships returning to Earth. The dust on the outside fuses as they re-enter the atmosphere, making shimmery glass coloured by the minerals in the dust. So perhaps Art and Rocket Science are not so far apart after all.
Apart from Uschi there were three people working in metal, all of their work beautiful but very different. Fiona Hesketh has three distinct styles: silver and enamel work in bold geometric shapes, patterned silverwork and gold with rubies, peridots and other stones. The latter were delicate and shapely, shimmering rather than dangling. Her work seems stylishly modern although the curlicues are actually quite baroque. Alan Vallis's work has several themes - fossils, fish and pearls abound in the necklaces, and the rings look like clusters of rings fused together. My favourite piece of his was an Aztec necklace of dark green beads with beaten gold shapes hanging from it, cut with tooths and curves. Celia Smith's work is metalwork on a larger scale. She explains her sculptures as "drawing in wire", and indeed her freeform swifts in a circle of flowing wire do look like a sketch come alive. There is an incredible sense of movement in her work. Her copper curlews are also pleasingly lifelike, as if they've just wandered in by mistake.
Textiles dominate the exhibition, with 9 exhibitors. This is probably also the area with the greatest range. There's a fair number of woven and knitted scarves and other garments, some more exciting than others. Jenny Bicat's boldly printed linen jacket looks most wearable and her colours and patterns match well. Ekta Kaul works entirely in black and white in her huge bedspread, and matching cushions. Sarah Pearson Cooke's shibori work (a dying technique, developed for patterning kimonos) in indigo on linen and silk hemp are pleasingly bold, and she also offers small lavender bags, which only cost a few pounds. This is one of the ways to get round the main problem of a selling exhibition - the selling! Several other stallholders also offer smaller, less pricey pieces of work, so that everyone can take something away from an exhibition if they are so minded. I feel that the selling aspect can also make the work a little tamer and less exuberant: a craftsmen might not push the limits of his imagination so far if he also has to be mindful of the public's tastes. This feeling of compromise slightly tempers the work on display. Having said that Jenny Ford's sculptural textiles pay no heed to functionality or soberness of taste. They are bright, bold, witty and exuberant. Using a form reminiscent of carnivorous pitcher plants she builds 3-dimensional pieces from exotic ingredients: hand-dyed velvet, metal organza, electrical cable and dentist's wire. Anne Rogers' work is also quite sculptural, this time made of felt. As well as her cunning expanding handbags she has produced some beautiful corsage brooches. By mixing silk fibres in with the wool her felt has delicate gradations of colour and a shimmer to it. The most astounding textile stall contained a cardigan so pale and in such loose knitting that it looked like it was made of cobwebs. It would be perfect for fitting out Shakespearian fairies. But on the same stall were teacosies that would have better graced a church jumble sale. Or perhaps this was some post-modern twist on the classic tea-drinking culture which I did not appreciate.
Several woodworkers were producing turned vases and bowls. Julie Heryet's work seemed to revel in the woodgrains, showing them off to the full. Don White's bowls were paper-light. On a larger scale were Paul Spriggs' chairs. He is an architect turned furniture maker, working in the Cotswold tradition, on an upmarket version of what were once called Bodger's chairs. These involve wooden rails and slats, which would once have been a way of using coppiced shoots. In Spriggs' versions each rail is carefully sculpted - the rails taper and expand, with both appearance and comfort in mind. The rush seats are at present a little hard on the behind, though I'm assured they soften up in 20 years or so. Again, photos of previous work offer a tantalising glimpse of more exuberant chairs. I am not surprised these are only made on commission, given the amount of work and the cost of raw materials. But it would be nice to see something not just beautifully made but also stylishly dangerous. With furniture available so ubiquitously in so many different styles it might benefit the craft world to make itself stand out further from the high street, as well as being fun to make, and inspiring the public as to what is possible!
Towards the back of the hall there was an evocative smell of leather, from the belts and bags made by Neil MacGregor and Valerie Michael. Patterns are created by scoring and pinching, and the wide belts fasten with large silver buckles. Behind them sit Sarah Cant's fabulous hats, in stiffened straw, fashioned into waves and twirls. Some are patterned with embroidery, others have flowers added, and the flowers are available separately on hairslides and brooches. Summer wedding-goers take note! Chris Noble's prints stood out as the only 2-dimensional artwork on show. A former screenprinter, Chris has spent the last ten years or so moving into the world of digital printing, an artform just out of its infancy. He is using increasingly sophisticated techniques for drawing on screen, and manipulating photographs, often combining elements from many different images. His screenprints were unfeasibly complicated, often using anything up to 50 colours, each of which required a separate mask. His digital prints show the same complexity, with a similar number of layers to the piece. Traditionally a landscape artist (using the Japanese style of vertical landscapes) he is also expanding into figurative work, with Renaissance Man his largest and most complex work to date.
The juxtaposition of a brand new artform using the latest computer technology, and furniture made using hand-picked reeds and oak by a method that probably dates back some 500 years is a surprising one. But it is one of the best things about craft exhibitions such as this. It provides both a link with history and a testament to man's extraordinary powers of adaptation. Perhaps that's a little more philosophy than one craft exhibition needs, but there's no doubt you'll come away inspired. I would certainly recommend you try it!
Great Barrington Village Hall is light and airy with a high vaulted ceiling with its beams showing. It makes a good exhibition space, if a little chilly. It's just off the A40 between Burford and Cheltenham, and as Google Directions informed me, you just get on to the A40, cross straight over 5 roundabouts and you're there! The far side of Burford you dive off at a sign saying The Barringtons and The Rissingtons, which sound like a pair of rival families in a Jane Austen novel. The only tricky bit of the journey was finding the village hall in Great Barrington itself. It's down a smaller lane than I expected. The journey took 45 minutes door to door, and you have until Sunday 1st June to visit!
Jen Pawsey (DI Reviewer), 27/05/08
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