If dusty, musty and fusty are words which spring to mind when you hear the word ‘craft’, then you can’t be keeping up with the not so quiet revolution going on right now. The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair was conceived and nurtured by two lovely South Manchester women, Ann-Marie Franey and Angela Mann, and their aim is to champion craft and designer-makers in a show right here in the North West. Only in its second year, the show burst into the Manchester spotlight at Spinningfields on Thursday 22 October, and is on all weekend.
I was lucky enough to be asked to be the ‘(wo)man on the street’ for the selection panel earlier this year, and that resulted in a full day (fueled by lots of chocolate) holed up with 4 other far more worthy craft experts, looking though hundreds of slides and images to come up with the final 146 innovative and influential contributors. The process, in a nutshell, was that we graded all the entrants giving them an A (absolutely must to have them in), a B (the maybe pile) or a C (not a cat in hell’s chance) – with plenty of disagreements! The order we said A, B or C kept changing so no-one felt unduly influenced. I was a bit worried when I had to go first as the other panel members were so incredibly knowledgeable about the world of craft, and on at least one of the choices I announced a truely confident C, only to have everyone else glare and announce A! But I guess this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I wasn’t influenced by names or reputations, but simply had an opinion on what work looked funky, sellable and different.
And so came the launch last night in a rather swanky pavilion at Spinningfields, the now annual show’s home for the next few years. A resounding thumbs up from everyone who attended, and fuelled by a few cheeky glasses of white wine, I wandered round getting some great photos and speaking to those designer makers whose work, stand and sometimes sheer force of personality caught my eye.
So after Ann-Marie, Angela and Sir HB had finished with the speeches, it was time to juggle camera, notepad and wine, and wander around the show. Two hours to get around 146 stands….phewf….
Laura Baxter’s work comprises of metalwork and delicately botanical jewellery intended to create “wearable elements of nature”. It is ethereal and very pretty, and it’s easy to see how there’s “a personal relationship with nature central to (her) life and work.” http://www.laurabaxter.co.uk/
Kevin Millward is a ceramicist, a designer maker and lecturer, and works with clay intended for industrial use, making him only one of two people in the UK to fire pots with the material he uses. The ones shown below are fired, then dabs of colour are swished and swooshed (those are technical terms 😉 ) before being left upside down to dry. The process is one used in Henry VIII’s time, with an art deco style to the bowl, and a dab of retro for the colour, which is quite a mix! He is working in collaboration with Sophie Conran and Portmeirion to create a stylish range of ceramics (maybe because they are most well known currently for that awful Botanic Gardens stuff – http://www.portmeirion.co.uk/template-99.php?page=2¤t_section=29). Is this selling out, his designs under someone else’s name? Is it buggary, it’s common business sense. He told us a fab story about doing some work in America and finding out that the two best selling ceramics pieces in the US are a Gumbo dish and a 10″square plate – the latter sells, get this, 10 million a year, and if they put a Far East stamp on the back, it stops selling. http://www.kevinmillwardceramics.co.uk
Jessica was keeping her cards very close to her chest when I asked how she got her own photographic images into the range of acrylic jewellery she makes – well, however she does it, it looks lovely! http://www.jessicajewellerydesign.co.uk/
The bracelet above by Stephanie Ray was one of my favourite pieces in the whole show, tapping into my love for timber and popping it into jewellery, perfect! Silver and walnut, £115, it’s on my Xmas wishlist as of now… http://www.stephanieray.co.uk/
There weren’t many lighting designer makers at the show, it’s quite a niche, and I’d seen Hannah Nunn’s work before but still loved it. http://www.hannahnunn.co.uk/ She blog’s at http:/www.hannahnunn.blogspot.com and it’s full of inspiring photos taken around the stunning Hebden Bridge area, and creative posts about her work.
The silver and ceramic jewellery on Jane Mooore’s stand was gorgeous; intricate, delicate, and reminded me of being in India watching a craftsman working on a marble floor with its flowers, stars and polished surface. Another little something on Santa’s list is the necklace at the top…. http://www.janemoore.co.uk/home.htm
Sometimes on a stand, the work speaks for itself and the designer says little, sometimes the designer says a lot but the work fades away, however on this stand, both were equally as vibrant, gregarious, colourful and fun! Louise Gardiner received the award for Best Northern Maker and her pieces certainly saw off the idea of embroidery as a bit twee – they were fabulous. Her web-site is excellent fun, please check it out – http://www.lougardiner.co.uk/
Louise was telling me how she’s been working on the new Kirstie Allsopp book to go with the Homemade Home series (oops I blogged about this earlier this year…http://wp.me/pyxPm-1K ), so watch our for an amazing book cover in the New Year.
This is a very cool silver vase by Olivia Lowe, who loves working with the ‘crisp yet gentle’ medium of silver and is know for her vases being every bit as beautiful as the flowers they display – http://www.olivialowe.co.uk/
I found this display by silversmith Kerry O’Connor sophisticated and elegant, quite lovely. When someone has taken time, effort and really planned the display of their work, it makes a huge difference, and Kerry certainly had. It’s hard not to be drawn in when something looks so scrumptious, a bit like cakes piled high ready to dive into! http://www.kerryoconnor.co.uk/
The figurative textile pictures by Caroline Kirton, a mum of teenage daughters, are fresh and unusual, captioned with comments such as “My mum’s a proper weirdo” said by one of the lads on the bench above. They hit their target market, with the girl in the picture above turning to her mum and announcing her seal of approval ‘These are great, I’d have one in my room’ 🙂 http://carolinekirton.co.uk/
One to watch above is Emma Burton, who designs a range of fashion accessories using her own digital images printed onto textile. The range featured above has just been picked up by http://www.luisaviaroma.com/ in Florence, who it snapped up when they saw Emma’s work at a Paris show. Exciting stuff for a new designer, craft ain’t so fusty now, eh?! http://www.emmaburton.co.uk/
Sally’s jewellery is not for the faint-hearted – in fact she calls is ornamental and ‘superfrilly’, with the “emphasis on excess detailing and frills”. Subtle it ain’t, but bold and extravagant it is. If Elton John were a necklace, he’d be this one, but perhaps without Emma’s sustainability (many of her pieces use recycled textiles). http://www.sallycollins.co.uk/
Oh blimey, that Christmas list is getting longer… A Few Fine Things are based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and it was lovely to find out one of the duo is an ex-Blackburn college student (where I am doing my BA in Design at the moment). Their bags are super stylish and very “british”, love em. The lower image is a clutch bag which rolls up like a tool belt, that appealed to the builder in me… http://www.afewfinethings.co.uk/ By the time we’d left the stand, he was roped into doing a talk for the current batch of students by Claire who was with me 🙂
We did some filming earlier this year at the Creative Recycling gallery in Chorlton, Manchester, where I saw part of this collection, so it was great to see more on display here. The feeling when you wrap your hand around the cup is amazing, it’s so textured and tactile – the ultimate hot chocolate cup I reckon. http://www.claregage.com/
There was a bit of a love affair with alliums going on at the show, with several exhibitors inspired by the silhouette of this delicate flower, however as Amanda has been using the image since 2001, her love burns the strongest, and it’s become her trademark print. Some of her original inspiration was found in the early Moomin illustrations, before they became all rounded and child-friendly they were more edgy, and some of her amazing prints on the stand definitely had that slightly alien feel to them. In a good way. http://www.amandaross.co.uk/
Both Claire and I were fascinated by Sarah Smyth’s work, intricate textile drawings using pins and thread. It all looks kind of random, but has to be so accurate in order for the drawing to ‘work’. Loved the pylon drawings where the thread came off the wall and linked in the rest of the stand. Different, crazy, stylish. And a DREAM to photograph. She writes a great blog at http://debbiesmyth.blogspot.com/
How bloody completely cool are these tequila shot ‘glasses’?? Made by silversmith Sarah Stevenson in either solid silver at circa £550 or pewter at £130 for the set, they came in my top three best products at the show. She won the Pannone award at the show – not like lawyers to favour a product which is super glam and alcohol driven eh ;-). The colour section is acrylic so won’t be damaged by any split booze either, genius! http://www.sstevenson.co.uk/ Sorry my images aren’t so hot, but I have to use them as the product is brand new!
And talking of alcohol, by this stage lots of wine had been drunk, too many photos had been taken and it was almost time to leave (I think we were nearly the last out bar the staff / exhibitors). But how could we miss Katie McBride’s delightfully off the wall stand….
Kate is an absolute delight, utterly bonkers, with the type of ceramics only an Englishwoman could think up and create, I’m positive. Her unique products are stocked in Liberty’s, she worked on items for the fab film Nanny McPhee, and she’s come up with this crackers range of Manchester United mugs. Can you imagine Sir Alex drinking out of one of these, priceless, someone please get one to him! http://www.katemcbride.co.uk/
These are just my picks of the show, a mere handful from the 146 featured, so get yourself down to Spinningfields this weekend and support what is probably the best craft / design show this city of ours has ever held.
Please pop a comment on below if you have enjoyed this post, or seen something which floats your boat!!