Where did my craft organisation go?

A gathering of the faithful to talk about representation for craft
Three Weeds Hotel, 197 Evans St, Rozelle, Sydney
Thursday 4 August at 6pm

With the de-funding of NAVA and the Australian Design Centre, there is currently no craft organisation with federal funding in NSW (ACT has two). What happened? Do we need an organisation anymore? Are there other platforms, like World Crafts Council – Australia, that can fill the gap?

This is an open conversation aiming to gather who see value in a platform for exhibiting, publishing and promoting craft – and would to like to help make it happen.

Facebook event.

The road to China

Are you interested to invest in developing a Chinese market for your craft products?

Here’s an invitation from our Chinese colleagues, the West China Cultural Industries Expo:

WCCIE is an international and comprehensive cultural industries expo at national level which will be held on Sept.9-12. Now “The Belt and Road” construction occupies a special position in China, and plays a positive role in culture bridging and guiding, so as to enhance the communication and exchanges of the various countries, fields and religious groups, and then drive the all-round exchange and cooperation of the various countries along the Silk Road. Xi’an is located at the bonding point of Central, East and West China, as the starting of the Silk Road, it is the most important central city on New Eurasian Land Bridge(Chinese Section), WCCIE is such a platform to bring all the countries along the Silk Road to come together, make them know more deeply about Xi’an, West China, even the  whole China, we are making efforts to push the cooperation of commercial & economic tradings on the basis of communication and talks on the whole cultural industry.

If you’d like to learn more, particularly prices for booths, you can download their official invitation here.

Vale Emanuel Raft (1938 – 2016)

We’re sorry that Emanuel Raft is no longer with us. Raft’s contribution to Australian craft is an example of the critical contribution that migrants played, particularly to the development of contemporary jewellery. Though he positioned himself as an artist, his period as a jeweller helped establish this new art form in the heady art scene of 1960s Sydney.

Below is an excerpt from Damian Skinner and Kevin Murray. Place and Adornment: A History of Contemporary Jewellery in Australia and New Zealand. Auckland, N.Z.: Bateman, 2014.

The Egyptian Emanuel Raft migrated to Australia in 1956, where he started studying art at the Bissietta Art School in Sydney. After a year at Brera Academy, Milan, Raft returned to Australia and became involved with the Sydney visual arts scene, particularly the circle of the Nobel-prize winning novelist Patrick White. Raft became an artist who made jewellery for exhibition rather than as a private or purely economic activity, making him a unique figure in the Australasian art scene. Rather than reflect a natural organic order, Raft’s work adopts a more expressionist interest in new forms that connect with the emotions. In doing this, Raft was one of the few Australian jewellers to use opals; he preferred rough uncut opals that gave his work a fluid texture.

Raft located his jewellery within the visual arts scene, where it was considered ‘wearable sculpture’. He lived with sculptor Clement Meadmore, who said of Raft’s Brisbane show in 1962: ‘In jewellery he has found an ideal medium for three-dimensional extension of his painting while retaining his painterly qualities in their purest form. Thus he has developed his own technique in jewellery through an intuitive search for equivalents to the sensations experienced in his paintings.’ This jewellery is located entirely within a visual arts context, unrelated to its craft history over the centuries. Also in the chorus was James Gleeson, who devoted a newspaper review to Raft’s jewellery works: ‘They are vital, beautifully made, boldly asymmetrical yet exquisitely balanced, refined in details, imaginative in the use of material, enriched by various surfaces, and above all, mysterious – as mysterious as an asteroid or a talisman.’ Echoing his praise of Larsen and Lewers’s jewellery as approaching ‘fine sculpture’, Gleeson similarly described Raft’s work as ‘small sculptures’. Certainly Raft considered his work as ‘wearable sculpture’ rather than ‘personal adornment’. As Peter Pinson writes of Raft’s work, ‘The object itself was everything’. Thus he was inclined to push jewellery beyond practicality, including a ring that wrapped itself around four fingers. This modernist approach to jewellery defined itself against its use in everyday life, and sought to invent forms that transcended convention.

Raft took up a series of lecturing positions through the 1960s and 1970s and eventually produced less jewellery, holding his last jewellery exhibition at Electrum gallery in 1977. Nevertheless, his career did have an influence in the development of the Sydney scene, introducing European jewellery techniques such as cuttlebone casting. He had a particularly strong effect on Ray Norman, who saw Raft’s 1964 exhibition of cast work and was inspired to consider that jewellery could be a form of creative expression. Even though it was evaluated in terms of another medium, sculpture, Raft’s work did offer recognition of jewellery as a serious art form.

Impact of Australia Council organisational funding for Australian craft

There’s mixed news for Australian craft in the latest funding shake-up for organisations by the Australia Council.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Australia’s craft organisations went through a corporate makeover that involved the move from elected to appointed boards. This freed up the organisations to follow initiatives beyond the interests of their founding communities. While this achieved many important developments, it is evident that the only organisations that kept the word “craft” in the title have been successful in this round of funding. That is:
At the beginning of the 21st century, Australia’s craft organisations went through a corporate makeover that involved the move from elected to appointed boards. This freed up the organisations to follow initiatives beyond the interests of their founding communities. While this achieved many important developments, it is evident that the only organisations that kept the word “craft” in the title have been successful in this round of funding. That is:
  • Craft Victoria
  • Craft ACT
  • JamFactory Craft & Design Centre
The organisations that have lost funding are the Australian Design Centre (once Crafts Council NSW), Artisan (once Crafts Council Queensland) and FORM (once Crafts Council of WA). While pleased that organisations supporting craft have survived, it is disappointing that design-makers in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia do not have organisations supported by the Australia Council. They no doubt have strong sources of state funding to rely on and will continue to do good work. But their motives for working on the national scale will be reduced.
And this is the key concern raised by the latest decisions. Among the organisations cut by the Australia Council is the National Association of the Visual Arts, who had explicitly taken on the mantle of the national craft platform. The loss of NAVA from the national stage another loss for a sector whose national body was de-funded 5 years ago.
Do we need a national platform? There are many reasons why this is essential. It helps engage makers in regional communities, who do not have access to the metropolitan based resources of the state organisations. Without a national platform there is no point of contact for international exchange, thus isolating Australian craft from the vibrant cultures of our region and beyond. And there is no body to support craft as “an Australian story” that tells of what we have made of the wide brown land that became part of the British empire.
WoCCA (World Crafts Council – Australia) will continue to try and plug this gap thanks to dedicated individuals and partner organisations of the national craft community. Garland magazine provides the sole publishing platform for national and international craft dialogues. This is where it all began more than 50 years ago.  It’s a legacy too important to let dissolve into the spreadsheets.

Garland #2 – Back to the Garden

Punjab – Adelaide – Nagaland – Sulawesi – Ghana – Ahmedabad – Thailand – Mexico
Garland continues its journey to the places behind the objects we make. Issue #2 features a quarterly essay by Gopika Nath about a remarkable textile that threads the tumultuous history of modern India.
Garland spends time in Adelaide, renowned for its craft production, learning about the life-story of the Kink, a craft classic from the JamFactory, the legendary Gate 8 as the inaugural Workshops of the World, reflections on the craft revival by academic Susan Luckman and ceramicist Damon Moon and Guildhouse’s marvellous Traditional Crafts program.
Garland also takes a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the Adelaide Biennial, exploring the making processes and journeys of Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Louise Haselton, Jacqui Stockdale and Heather B. Swann.
And much more, including all you ever wanted to know about wearing a turban.
Garland is an online platform for thoughtful writing about handmade objects in our world. The longform essays are available to subscribers, whose support enables commissioned pieces that honour the value of well-crafted objects today. See www.garlandmag.com.

Garland is here

Garland is launched!

A new Australian platform for publishing in craft and design has emerged.

Garland is a quarterly online magazine that features articles from around the world with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific. The first issue contains more than 30 articles about the thoughtful objects being made in the wider world. There are features on classic and innovative crafts in South Korea, including key voices in the new generation of curators whose challenge is to connect the traditional strengths of Korean craft skills with the contemporary world. An online exhibition Intimate Immensities casts a broad gaze across creative endeavour on both sides of the Pacific.

Showing the interconnectedness of the Asia Pacific, there are also articles about Korean artists working across the Pacific, including Melbourne, Sydney and Los Angeles. From Australia we have a combination of Aboriginal and settler makers reflecting the importance of place in their work. There are parallel articles from New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Colombia and Mexico.

According to managing editor Kevin Murray, “Garland builds on growing creative interconnections in our region, with a particularly Australian focus on thoughtful writing and sense of place. The Korean designer-makers in our first issue raise the prospect of ‘labour-making devices’ that counteract the growing impact of automation.”

The editorial team also includes Damien Wright and Olivia Pintos-Lopez. Garland is auspiced by the World Crafts Council – Australia. It has been made possible thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign that raised three times the target amount.

Each issue features a commissioned ‘slow read’ on a handmade object. The first essay is by Julie Ewington on a porcelain vessel by Kirsten Coelho. This is a masterfully written reflection on the way a ceramic artist can capture time. It is available to subscribers in web and e-book formats. These subscriptions fund the magazine. There is also a special collector’s edition with covers hand-decorated by refugee artists associated with Melbourne Artists For Asylum Seekers.

Future issues will map places of creative activity in the region. The next issue will focus on South Australia. Future destinations include Yogyakarta, Canberra, Mumbai, Cairns and Oaxaca.

The website is www.garlandmag.com. Subscriptions are $AUD 40. Garland magazine maintains an active focus on Twitter and Facebook.

Other images related to Garland can be found here: https://app.box.com/s/ibywiv8bxj7af8cuh9fmpta0v92bvwfr

Potters helping potters in Nepal

With ceramic artists Ramesh Pradhan and Gopal Kalapremi (ceramic artist and professor of art) Shrestha and ceramic students from Department of Arts, Kathmandu University in Bhaktapur, in April 2014. Many of the buildings in the background are potter’s houses and courtyards and are now destroyed.
With ceramic artists Ramesh Pradhan and Gopal Kalapremi (ceramic artist and professor of art) Shrestha and ceramic students from Department of Arts, Kathmandu University in Bhaktapur, in April 2014. Many of the buildings in the background are potter’s houses and courtyards and are now destroyed.

Almost one year ago I visited Nepal for the first time. On the advice of a wise friend I took a “Go-Pack” in case there was an earthquake. What’s a Go-Pack, I asked. Well, apparently it’s what all the NGO’s require their employees and volunteers to carry in earthquake zones. It’s basically a survival day-pack with emergency supplies to keep going for a few days: space blanket, first aid kit, muesli bars, water and purifier, solar radio, torch, that sort of thing. Not the usual contents of my travel bag for a holiday! It seemed like overkill – should I really worry so much? I was laughed at by plenty, including my nearest and dearest, for being too paranoid. But I took my Go-Pack, had the most wonderful holiday, begrudgingly shared the museli bars with my sceptical partner on the last day and quietly thanked my unknown angel that luckily we didn’t have cause to unpack the Go-Pack.

On one year, almost to the day, and I have been given cause to wonder if the Go-Pack would have helped us at all if we had been in the tragic earthquake on 25 April. If we had been inside any of the beautiful heritage buildings that we visited – which are now in ruins, crumbled like dry biscuits – a little Go-Pack would probably have been useless. But seeing the survivors struggling in the following days to remain dignified and patient whilst joining queues for food and water, perhaps it would have helped until the Australian Government helicoptered me out of there.

But the local Nepalis can’t fly away. It is their home and damaged as it is, they must stay and rebuild. They are spiritually strong, determined and compassionate people but they have a long journey ahead, probably years, to rebuild not just their physical buildings but their lives. And the government is disorganised and corrupt. This disaster has claimed over 7000 people and countless whole villages and towns in one of the poorest countries in the world. How can we best help?  Not just now but ongoing and consistently into the future. Do we send donations to a big aid organisation? Yes, obviously we do. But what if we know people on the ground are not getting aid? What if we have connections to those communities and know individuals?

Let me describe one such connection to one of the communities most damaged, the heritage town of Bhaktapur and it’s neighbouring village Thimi. I was taken there a year ago by World Craft Council vice president, and a local Nepali, Pushar Man Shakya, to meet the local pottery cooperative members and to visit studios. I visited many potters, saw their wonderful crafts, their sublime skills and heard their stories. It was a privilege to have an insight from a local and I have maintained my connections to some of the potters over the past year.

Both Bhaktapur and Thimi are traditional pottery towns and Bhaktapur is listed as a World Heritage Site due to its ancient temples, woodcarvings and ceramic sculptures. Many of the traditional potters live in four story co-joined ‘terrace’ houses surrounding large courtyards. Yes, four story buildings in an earthquake zone built with no steel frames or concrete, just soft hand-made bricks and ancient hand carved wood. This unique architecture has developed around the needs of the potters: the traditional kilns are fired with straw and ash and would simply blow away and be a fire-hazzard if any wind got into those courtyards so the tall brick buildings are actually protecting the kilns whilst also providing a warm and sunny place to dry the pots and work in co-operative ways, sharing the firing and clay-mixing jobs. It is a peculiar architecture and, as far as I know, unique to the potters. It provides a practical and inspiring solution for a cooperative community that has been built naturally over time according to the unique needs of generations of potters.

And the pottery produced is equally inspiring. With no electricity (yes, despite having the best hydropower in the world, we were told that the government rations electricity to their own people due to archaic financial deals that were made with India in the 1970’s!) the potters work completely off-grid, using home-made wheels powered by hand and finished by a highly-skilled hand-paddling method. These sublimely-skilled potters making wheel-thrown and hand-built vessels and sculptures from local earthenware clay, low-fired in the straw and ash kilns, are sold to the locals for curd-setting, water-coolers, alcohol (Rakishi) fermenting vessels, general storage vessels, roof tiles and decorative architectural sculptures. With no chance of tourists supporting the pottery industry (the pots don’t travel well), the potters have a hard enough life without losing their homes and studios.

And that’s where we/you come in. The impressive Australian craft organisation Seven Women has started an Emergency Earthquake Relief Fund. More specifically, the ceramics community has a global reach and there are now many ways that we can assist Nepal in the recovery. Potters helping potters.

Already, there’s the Clay for Nepal on 15-17 May, where ceramicists have generously donated their works for an online auction, the proceeds of which will go to Oxfam Australia Nepal Earthquake Fund. It’s a great opportunity to help Nepal while acquiring a beautiful art work.

Oxfam are a credible organisation that deserves support, but there’s also the potential for donations that go to potters directly.

We have created a safe way to get our donations direct to the traditional potters through the World Craft Council – Australia. If you wish to help with this project directly, please join us. The World Craft Council – Australia will work closely with the Federation of Handicraft Associations Nepal, who will then distribute the money to the potters to help re-build so that they can maintain their strong links to their ceramic history. The vice-president of the World Craft Council, Pushkar Man Shakya, who is on the ground in Nepal will help advise the Federation of Handicraft Associations Nepal and ensure 100% of our funds reach the potters. We are very grateful to Mr Shakya and the Federation.

How much can you give? We realise there is a lot of giving going on but please know in this instance your funds will be given direct to the communities.

Donations can be sent to:
Account title: World Crafts Council Australia IncBank:
Commonwealth Bank Australia
Branch: BSB 063-111
Account number: 1086-1862
SWIFT: CTBAAU2S
Be sure to label your transfer with the word ‘Nepal’.

Email us at support@wccaustralia.org.au if you have any questions or if you would like to help out with organising future fund-raising activities. If you want to be updated about the Nepal situation or a future emergency affecting craftspersons, you can also send your details here.

Thank you,

Jane Sawyer (Slow Clay Centre director and a founding member of World Craft Council – Australia)

What are Australian crafts?

As a member country of the World Crafts Council Asia Pacific, Australia is involved in the development of the Encyclopedia of Crafts in the Asia Pacific Region. This volume is designed to promote living craft heritage in a rapidly developing part of the world.

This prompts the question – what are Australian crafts? Other countries of the Asia Pacific, such as India and Japan, are blessed by a treasury of unique craft traditions. Australia does not have the same depth of traditions for a complex of historical and cultural reasons.

Yet part of national identity is the understanding of what makes a culture unique in the world. In sport, Australia has a unique code of football, as well as particular prowess in cricket and rugby. Crafts are intrinsic to the idea of a civilisation, which involves the evolution of techniques for manipulating the material world. Different cultures have make distinct contributions to this, such as Japan’s understanding of textile dyeing, or China’s skill in porcelain ceramics.

But as part of our living heritage, crafts are also vulnerable to neglect. We are familiar with this situation in the Australian languages.  The loss of Aboriginal languages in Australia is relatively irreversible. When a language is forgotten it diminishes our ways of understanding the world. In the same way, loss of skills in manipulating materials reduces our expressive capacity. If we lose the technique of weaving grass, we no longer have that material in our artistic repertoire.

Australian crafts represent what we make of the material world in which we find ourselves. As a settler colony, there has been pressure to limit our energies to materials used in the ‘home country’, such as fine European timbers, precious metals and gems, willow and porcelain. By contrast, Australian materials can seem crude and unwieldy. Rather than re-create an imitation Europe, the Australian challenge is to accept our environment and learn to appreciate its creative potential.

But to understand our crafts today involves consideration of our settler colonial heritage. Historically, there are three major trajectories for our crafts:

  1. Pre-contact crafts are tied to traditional Aboriginal practical and ceremonial needs. These involve purely Australian materials and are unique. The fibre fish trap is an example of this.
  2. Settler/missionary crafts involve the adaptation of indigenous traditions to the materials and techniques introduced by European settlers. These include the adaptation of fibre skills to basketry in central Australia.
  3. Modern crafts are more internationally engaged as part of the studio movement that began in the 1960s, where craft involved the production of original art works. There are practically no unique forms in Australia, though there are particular strengths and distinct trends, such as Susan Cohn’s aluminium metalware or Klaus Moje’s coldworking glass technique.

So what would Australia’s entry be in the craft encyclopedia?

A working list of crafts currently practised in Australia

  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander
    • Fibre: Bush jewellery
    • Fibre: Eel traps
    • Fibre: Bi-conal baskets
    • Fibre String figures
    • Emu shell carving
    • Jewellery: Carved shell jewellery
    • Wood: Boomerang making
    • Wood: Didgeridoo making
    • Wood: Poker work
  • Non-indigenous
    • Leather: plaiting and whip-making
    • Leather: saddlery
    • Textiles: hats in fur and straw
    • Wood turning
    • Wood: Furniture
  • Both – Studio crafts
    • Ceramics
    • Fibre: Grass sculptures
    • Jewellery and Metal
    • Textiles and fibre
      • Tapestry weaving
      • Basket making
    • Glass

Is there anything missing? Comments are most welcome.

Featured image above, ‘Flowering cluster’, a brooch by Vicki Mason