The Contemporary Craft Festival 2018… Risk Makers (Part 2)


This was the beautiful yurt from Yurts for Life that framed the early stages of our Risk Makers project so perfectly at the Contemporary Craft Festival last weekend.

It was such an eye-catching structure, all handmade in Devon. The steam bent woodwork created a curved roof shape with fabulous light and headroom, and we were able to open up the sides of the cotton canvas to expose the beautiful wooden trellis and reveal glimpses of our exhibition from the outside. Sincere thanks to Yurts For Life for creating such a beautiful exhibition space.

Last Autumn we held a day of exploration and brought the skills and experiences of a high caliber group of makers together from our community on madebyhandonline to discuss ideas for a new model of workshop and to analyse the current challenges for professional makers. The day revealed a desire to play, to share skills, ask honest questions of one another and to bring high quality work and a spirit of collaborative play to as many people as possible.

Many contemporary craft makers work in isolation. Making is incredibly valuable for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, but making in isolation can also create problems, and these are often kept hidden. We believe that makers need both support and challenge and that with these two things audience engagement will increase and be enriched.

To begin, we’ve encouraged our makers to take some risks by collaborating with one another. Other than removing a commercial focus, we didn’t put a fixed structure in place. The results were brilliantly varied and based on different interpretations of what it means to collaborate. Some groups contributed to create one piece, others responded to another’s work, some exchanged materials and allowed one person to take the lead to design an end product, whilst others focused on playing with materials without any specific result in mind. Our exhibition yurt at the Festival was the perfect place for us to share these first collaborations and to talk to visitors about issues of mental health and wellbeing, the value of handmade items and makers’ livelihoods. This was the beginning, and these are our first Risk Makers!

A scorched birch bowl by Adam Cornish stitched by Jennifer Collier with contrasting turquoise thread:

Helen Noakes created a stunningly beautiful collection of brooches in response to materials sent to her by ceramicist Virginia Graham, textile artist Dionne Swift and paper artist Jennifer Collier:

Textile artist Dionne Swift and ceramicist Tone von Krogh presented the first initial experiments with pressing stitch into clay:

Marna Lunt stepped away from her 2 dimensional stitch to work in 3d with Suzanne Breakwell’s wire armatures:

Claire Read of Little Burrow Designs presented the beginning of a very personal piece about her father’s passing called ‘The Long Goodbye’. This piece will become a collaboration with Marna Lunt:

Helen Noakes’ cast silver figures have been relocated! Woodturner Adam Cornish has many ideas for these:

‘Guiding Lights’ Lampshades by Marna Lunt and Andy Poplar of [vinegar & brown paper]:

This tea set was devised by Jennifer Collier, Virginia Graham and Marna Lunt:

Transfers were made of Jennifer’s stitched papers and used to embellish Virginia’s ceramics, and Marna has brought the piece back to stitch again with her embroidered tray cloth. This was hugely popular, and is a great example of how a commercial end product can be made without intention, just freedom to play!

We met so many engaged visitors over the 3 day Festival. The collaborations were of course a visual draw, but they enabled us to have some really good conversations with visitors about vulnerability, levels of confidence and how they effect creativity; as well as pricing, the time it takes to make and the challenges of communicating value with potential buyers. We really didn’t know what to expect from our first public appearance, especially as we don’t exactly know where are project will lead us, but the feedback was quite overwhelming.

It was fantastic to welcome both the Chair and the Director of the Crafts Council into our yurt, and we also spoke with academics, medical professionals and countless craft enthusiasts who are excited to see what might come from our project.

We also had some short demonstrations and activities led by Adam Cornish, Tone von Krogh, Dionne Swift, Marna Lunt and Jennifer Collier. It was so good to see people chatting, relaxed, entertained and inspired. Thank you to our brilliant makers for leading these.

As we explained to our visitors, this is the beginning and we have lots of ideas to explore. We are very privileged and grateful to be working on this with Dr Nicola Thomas from Exeter University and film makers Richard and Arron of R&A Collaborations. We’d like to bring more of our makers into our group and we’d like to involve you along the way. Exciting pairings and combinations of materials and skills could lead to new products, new ideas and new ways to involve more people in making. Thank you so much to everyone who visited us, to the organisers of the Festival for hosting us, and huge thanks to our amazing Risk Makers for their bravery, passion and extraordinary talents!

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