Sculpted creatures, made from remnants and recycled materials by Sam Harvey

In a Material World

4th May 2018

Jill Glenn meets the three new participants in the Heath Robinson Museum’s Makers’ Art project.

Twice a year the charming little giftshop at Pinner’s Heath Robinson Museum receives a new injection of creative energy from three local(ish) artist-makers, invited to showcase and sell their work for six months. They’re selected by curator Jeannine Lawder, who has established a notable decorative art marketplace here in the 18 months since the initiative begin, and who relishes the opportunity to develop new creative partnerships. Jeannine has a background in textiles; she trained at Hornsey College of Art as a textile designer, specialising in woven fabrics, before developing an international freelance practice. For her it’s all about the materials. “Is it art? Is it craft? Who cares? It’s the materials that count, and what people are doing with them…”

And what people are doing with them proves to be both varied and exciting. Jeannine’s skill in assembling a group of artisans with a range of complementary practices is impressive. New in the shop for 2018 summer/autumn are hand-crafted wooden gifts from furniture maker Paul Crudge, gilded glass pieces from Carol Fulton and quirky stitched sculptures from Samantha Harvey. Jeweller Jane Pomiankowski, whom we profiled in our last Maker’s Art feature (18 November 2017), continues to provide her distinctive hand-crafted silverwork.

Paul Crudge grew up in Wiltshire. He was a practical child, who enjoyed “making things with basic tools” with his brother, and whose skills were identified and encouraged by his school in CDT (Craft, Design, Technology) classes in his teens. At 16 he became an apprentice to acclaimed furniture designer John Makepeace, where he remained, overall, for ten years: the five for which he had initially signed up, and a further five when the apprenticeship was over. As his skills grew he moved from stools to coffee tables to dining tables, all one-off pieces, and produced with great attention to detail.

“Everything was finished to such a high standard,” Paul recalls. “The underneath of the table was veneered like the top.” It was a rewarding experience – his face lights up as he talks about Makepeace, a founding member of the Crafts Council, whose influence on British furniture design in the second half of the twentieth century was transformational – but eventually Paul wanted to branch out, to be involved in “the whole process”. After a couple of years making pieces for other furniture makers, he established his own practice, first in Canterbury and now in Tring, designing and making bespoke freestanding and fitted furniture. Clearly, these are on far too large a scale for the delicate display cases in the Heath Robinson Museum shop… but fortunately woodworking skills are transferrable from large to small scale, so for the Maker’s Art Paul brings handcrafted gifts – boxes, bowls, coathooks – in oak, ash, elm, cherry, burlash and zebrano. He particularly likes ash, he tells me: “such an interesting grain, and it smells so good.” Even these pieces have their own individuality, because when he sets out to replicate something he’s done before, he “just can’t resist changing it a little…”.

Paul’s partner, Carol Fulton, who grew up in Little Gaddesden and Berkhamsted, is the second of the new trio of participants in the Maker’s Art. Whereas Paul has been entirely focused on working with wood for all his creative life, Carol has several artistic strings to her bow, and it is one of her newest skills that she is showcasing here: Verre Eglomisé. This is the process of gilding precious metals onto one side of glass creating a soft mirrored effect that is quite beguiling, whether in a ‘natural’ form or coaxed into a ‘design’. Its possibilities are endless, from functional pieces to artistic self-expression. Carol discovered it a couple of years ago, and was an instant convert, immediately engaged by the opportunity for experimentation.

It’s not necessarily the creative output you’d expect from someone with a degree in photography, an MA from the Royal College of Art, a corporate photography career, a string of prizes for her camera work and a sideline business producing books about the history of clients’ houses, but Carol herself is not surprised. Even as long ago as her degree show she was interested in the interplay of light and glass, and she has always loved layering, playing with texture, abstracting – creating work which the viewer can interpret for themselves. There is, of course, a disadvantage to this freestyle, experimental approach: rather like a throw-everything-in-the-fridge-in-together supper, you can’t recreate it, however delicious it is. Carol is currently working on a set of placemats for a client in London… the template was a ten-out-of-ten success. Having only loosely recorded the process, can she replicate it seven more times?

Fortunately, her Maker’s Art range presents no such problems. These are all one-off pieces, created in her light, bright studio in the centre of Tring. Various methods have been employed to antique and distress the metal, and the surface has often been subtly embellished with pattern and detailing for a more textured result. You could call the dragonfly piece, shown on the previous page, a paperweight if you wanted to justify its purchase on functional grounds – or you could simply say: ‘that’s a thing of beauty…I’ll have it…”

…which would not be an unreasonable response to the work of this season’s final Maker’s Art contributor, Samantha Harvey, whose sculpted ‘creatures’ are funny and clever and quite distinctive. Sam, born in High Wycombe, grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where she took a degree in Geography. Really she wanted to explore more artistic avenues but back then, she was, she says, “far too shy… wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose… an interview for art school? No way!”. Having graduated, though, she began to work in ‘new media’, on a career path that gradually became more and more visual. In her twenties, she moved to London, where she later ran an interactive design studio. Approaching 40, she realised that if she didn’t leave then, she never would… and took the plunge into the artistic career she’d long desired. (‘Took the plunge’ is a particularly suitable metaphor here: Sam is especially inspired by the colour, movement and shape found in the sea and the mythical creatures they evoke; it’s an influence that she attributes to her seaside childhood in Melbourne.)

She struck out by taking a Foundation course at Bucks New University in High Wycombe, where she found the support offered to her as an older student to be immensely generous. At the same time, she took a City & Guilds in Machine Embroidery. And had a baby. She’s not one to shy away from a challenge.

Next there was a part-time diploma “finessing how to make things with stitch” and by then she was fully launched on the path that has led her to the Maker’s Art. The tactile act of manipulating and stitching informs her practice, and while she spends much of her time teaching (including running Stitch Club sessions, in which she inspires boys and girls to take their frequently crazy visions of the world and sew them into reality), she is adamant that she sees herself as an artist first and foremost. She draws a lot, to generate the ideas that she creates in reclaimed and recycled materials. She likes to collect things that would otherwise be thrown away, to make things simply by “putting bits and pieces together”. It’s an approach that is both clever and deceptively simple. Sewing, she says, is very mindful – and very adventurous. Just like everything in the latest Maker’s Art range.

Jeannine Lawder is on the hunt for a new selection of artist-makers for the autumn 2018 to spring 2019 slot. If you are a practitioner and are interested in learning more, contact her via the Heath Robinson Museum.

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