Treasure hunting and treasure making with Claire Read of Little Burrow Designs!

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We recently attended the opening of the ‘Get Fresh’ exhibition at The Devon Guild of Craftsmen and it was really fantastic. It showcases work by 15 new or emerging designer-makers from the south west of England, resulting in an exciting and strong mix of diverse approaches to materials and design. This is a great opportunity to see the work of one of our makers – Claire Read of Little Burrow Designs.

Claire is a maker and a story teller. Inspired by a line in a poem or perhaps a lyric, Claire makes whimsical storybox sculptures containing handmade elements, such as stitch and wirework, with antique finds, all with their own stories, brought together by Claire to tell a new one. Mostly Claire’s work is led by her materials – the treasures she finds on her many visits to the antique shops and fairs near her home in Devon.

We met up with Claire in Honiton, a market town known as the antiques capital of the south west. The town is full of beautiful buildings bursting with vintage and antique objects and it’s in these antique shops that Claire finds a wealth of material and inspiration for her work. We enjoyed a great few hours chatting to Claire about her work and exploring the shops.

They can be overwhelming to the untrained eye, but to Claire every room, cupboard and drawer contains beauty and potential:

“I love to give life again to unloved or unused objects from the past. It doesn’t bother me if an item is far from perfect in condition – for me that merely enhances its story. Somehow I connect emotionally with the objects I choose to work with, almost as though, secretly, they tell me what they would like to be. I love the thought that, as an object reaches the end of its valued life, someone like me still sees value in it, and decides to rework it in to something new – and so it begins life again, in a different form.”

As we explored each room it was fascinating to watch her at work. She seemed to be instinctively drawn to certain textiles or a particular brand of tin or tool and her ability to date and describe the significance of each piece was staggering. We asked Claire whether she’s drawn to anything in particular when she visits these antique shops – whether it’s textiles or metalwork or jewellery, whether a material calls to her or whether it’s more like being in a sweetie shop where everything’s delicious?

“I really do think that it is just everything! The sweetie shop comparison is pretty spot on! I think my first love will always be textiles though. Sometimes I am haunted by the things I wish I had bought, but didn’t. The trouble is, for many objects, you are unlikely ever to see them again. I think that is especially true for textiles. I get incredibly excited before I go in to an antiques shop or fair – proper butterflies in my tummy – you just never know what you might find. It really is like treasure hunting! I would say that old toys are my next favourite find. I just find them so evoking – so many hours that they have been played with before they end up not wanted, and waiting to be rediscovered.”

Claire’s background is in Architecture, having graduated from Edinburgh College of Art and Plymouth School of Architecture to gain her BA (Hons) Architecture in 1997. Her skills of composition are incredible, and she clearly works with purpose as she scours the antique treasures, yet she also allows absolute freedom so that her imagination can be sparked by spotting something completely unexpected: “I found and bought a huge antique church tabernacle box at Shepton Flea Market last year. As soon as I saw it, and the raised circular area in the middle, it just screamed Circus Big Top at me. That is the Circus storybox that is now sitting in the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.”

“I was lucky enough that the Exhibitions Manager at the Devon Guild saw my work at The Contemporary Craft Festival in June last year, and suggested I applied for Get Fresh, which, luckily, I met the criteria for, and was picked to take part in. I spent an entire two months making pieces of work for it, and they are also some of the biggest pieces I have ever made. I chose pieces to make that were either very personal to me in their message, or that had objects in them which I particularly loved. I think that really helped keep me focused, as the making process coincided with the build up to Christmas, so I had to be very disciplined.”

Just like the inspirational shops in Honiton, Claire’s studio within her house is bursting with antique materials and her own handmade elements, waiting to be brought together when the right theme, idea or commission comes along. What an amazing place to work!

One of the things we’ve always loved about how Claire presents herself and her work is that she’s careful to pass on her knowledge and passion for the treasures she uses, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Claire provides her audiences (online and in person) with all the fascinating background information about the different components that make up her storyboxes. For example, the Eagle Storybox below features a watercolour painted in 1884, combined with lines from Tennyson’s “The Eagle” printed with a typewriter onto fabric, which is then all hand-stitched. The tiny Eagle itself is from the 1900’s, possibly made by Putz, pieces of 1930’s velvet millinery form the leaves, and the box itself is from the late 1800’s and stands on 4 little ball feet made from pawn heads from a vintage turned wooden chess set.

Claire’s work – her treasure hunting and treasure making – is about the excitement of discovery and connectivity, giving new life and evoking childhood charm, humour and sometimes sadness through her storytelling. With each piece being a one off, we’re excited to see more of Claire’s work and hope to go treasure hunting with her again one day.

Get Fresh is on until 5th March where you can see a collection of Claire’s work alongside other exciting new makers from the south west. You can also view and buy a selection of Claire’s work online with us here and Claire will be taking part in The Contemporary Craft Festival again this June.