In August 2019, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education delivered a report titled Performance-Based Funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme. This report included a recommendation to tie university funding to “overall employment rate”.
Employment for craft graduates is not typical of other vocations, such as accounting or engineering. Rather than a salaried position, craft often involves self-employment in running a small workshop. These make a concrete contribution not only to our economy but also the community which takes pride and enjoyment in what’s produced.
Traditionally, craft was taught in workshops by masters. Since the 20th century, these have gradually been replaced by formal institutions such as universities. Tertiary craft courses offer a level of sophistication that is important to a nation’s skill set.
Craft is a key strength in any society. Our craft skills reflect qualities of commitment, creativity and purpose. Civilisation is largely an evolution of the techniques used to fashion our world into a space of utility and beauty. With the use of natural materials, each society develops its unique capacities to transform its environment. Our museums offer testaments to this endeavour. In recognition of this, support for a nation’s craft capacity is growing in most governments around the world.
We call on the Minister to ensure that the “overall employment rate” takes account of the vocation outcomes for the craft sector.
I believe that craft education plays an important role in Australian life. Any changes to funding for universities should reflect the employment styles of craft practitioners.
You can sign the petition here.
The First International Handicrafters Festival will be held in Kokand, Uzbekistan, 10-15 September 2019. This coincides with the special issue of our Garland magazine on Central Asia.
The organisers are calling for craftspersons to apply as participating artists in this event. Travel and accommodation will be covered by the festival.
Applicants are required to submit:
- Three images
- Letter of Recommendation on having enough experience in the field of
handicrafts ,and participation in competitions and festivals held in their own country or abroad, issued by authorities of corresponding field
- Ten photos of craft products and or video of the technical process
This is the second in a series of Australia craftspersons who are eligible for the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific Award of Excellence. These include finely made and innovative objects that are designed for everyday use. The objects in this spotlight show the value and appeal of Australian craft today.
Albert Tse is a Sydney-based metalsmith who employs 3D technology to make bold unisex jewellery.
3D printing allows me to create a 3D topographical view of Australia in fine detail with four different height layers that give you a view of what Australia looks like.Albert Tse
The Memento Australia cufflinks are designed and handcrafted in Sydney, Australia by Albert Tse. They are 3d printed in wax to maintain the sharpness in the layers, and then cast in 925 Sterling Silver and oxidised to enhance the detail.
Albert Tse can be found on Instagram at @alberttsemetalsmith
We’re very pleased to celebrate the acquisition of an important new fibre work by Gippsland Art Gallery. To contributes to Australia’s Heirlooms for the Future.
The artist Mae Adams provides some background:
Deep Space Dark Universe is one of several stitched and coiled wall mounted works I made in response to space exploration. In this work the natural colours and textures of Australian she oak needles and poa grass are combined with commercially dyed yarn. My work with plant fibres has evolved through my interest in restoring bush land, especially the indigenous grasses and sedges of South Gippsland in Victoria, where I live and work.
I am delighted that Deep Space Dark Universe has been acquired by Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale for their permanent collection. The work was acquired through the newly established Gippsland Textile Collection, which has come about through the generosity of a private farming family in Gippsland. The Gippsland Textile Collection is dedicated to Australian textiles in all its forms, with a focus on items created in or about Gippsland. The Collection was established to provide inspiration and enjoyment for visitors, and to become an educational resource to encourage knowledge and appreciation for textiles of all periods.
At the October 2018 National Gallery of Australia Memorial Celebration for Dr Robert Bell AM, NGA Director Nick Mitzevich announced the creation of the Robert and Eugenie Bell Decorative Arts and Design Fund. The Fund will support the acquisition of 20th and 21st century decorative arts, design and crafts for the National Gallery’s permanent collection.
Robert, who died in July 2018, was well known to the Australian and international craft communities as Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery of Australia from 2000 until his retirement in late 2016, following 22 years as Curator of Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. He and wife Eugenie provided an initial financial contribution to establish the Fund.
The Fund’s first target acquisition is Liminal, a major glass work by Canberra artist Mel Douglas, exhibited in the 2018 Hindmarsh Glass Prize. A serenely poetic work, Liminal has two elements which can be arranged in various configurations.
To make a tax deductible contribution in Robert Bell’s memory towards the purchase of Liminal, please visit www.nga.gov.au/giving
This is the first in a series of Australia craftspersons who are eligible for the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific Award of Excellence. These include finely made and innovative objects that are designed for everyday use. The objects in this spotlight shows the value and appeal of Australian craft today.
Bic Tieu proposed a lacquer brooch.
She describes the process:
The surface graphic design was developed and then etched onto copper sheet metal using an acid etch process. The metal was then cut and constructed to form the brooch box form. The work is then polished completely before it undergoes a patination process which turns the copper surface to a pink/red colour. Urushi is then carefully painted onto the surface within the etched channels. Eggshell is then carefully inlaid. The work is then left in a humidity box for about a week to cure. The last stage is adding on the brooch finding.
The meaning draws on the long history of lacquer as an art form:
A myriad of cultural symbolism from the East and West combined with materiality are primary elements applied in the design and making of the jewellery and objects. I particularly use the language of lacquer, a natural material which comes from the tree sap distinctive in Asia to discuss transnational ideas of my identity.
Lacquer is a special medium discovered over 5000 years ago from China. Through trade routes is spanned across the Asian continent. I have spent many years starting in Vietnam and then Japan to learn the traditional processes and techniques.
You can find Bic Tieu on Instagram at @bictieustudio.
When visiting museums and galleries today, we enjoy seeing the best of the works produced in the past. We learn about the styles of those times and what was considered valuable.
Despite the increasingly short-term focus of our digital lifestyle, it is critical that we invest in acquiring representative works from our time so they can be enjoyed by audiences today and into the future. Works crafted by hand give expression to an enduring sense of who we are and where we live.
Australia is blessed with a network of substantial state and national galleries. WoCCA seeks to support their work in acquiring Australian craft by promoting recent purchases. We are calling for information and images about purchases of Australian contemporary craft works from across the continent and its islands, specifically including works purchased since 2017.
These will be profiled on our website and shared through our social media. We hope in this way that we can instil pride in the skills and creativity of Australian craft artists and ensure their legacy is sustained into the future.
Information about acquisitions can be submitted here.
See recent acquisitions below:
In April 2015, an earthquake devastated Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people. WoCCA board member Jane Sawyer led a fundraising campaign to help rebuild potters workshops in the town of Bhaktapur. All up nearly $24,000 has since been raised. WoCCA members in Nepal toured Bhaktapur to look at the first round of constructions, guided by the ebullient Pushkar Shakya. The new kilns appeared to have had a transformational effect. They not only restored capacity but also replaced the dirty wood-fired kilns with much cleaner electric versions. This reduced the number of breakages and increased the production rate. Nepalese expressed their sincere thanks for your support. Australia has a very good name in Bhaktapur.
In 2008, I flew to Hangzhou to attend the General Assembly of the World Crafts Council. I was seeking UNESCO endorsement for a code of practice for artisans and designers and was told this required pre-approval by the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific region. I wandered into the assembly hall and found little flags distributed across the tables. There in the second row was the flag of Australia. As I made my way down, I became aware of a murmuring. I caught the words “Australia has returned.”
In then, I’ve gradually become to realise the critical role that Australia played in the development of this international network, and what an important story it is to our place in the world, especially the region. In recent years, I have interviewed some of the key figures from the time, including Dr Robert Bell AM.
I spoke to Robert mid-way through 2016 at the National Gallery of Australia. He began his story back in 1967, as a 21-year-old working with ceramics and textiles in Perth. Aware of his isolation, Robert sought to make connections outside Western Australia. He subscribed to Craft Horizons, the magazine of the American Crafts Council, which promoted the work of the World Crafts Council, of which he became an individual member.
Along with the magazine came mailings and notices of conferences. Robert started working as a designer of the West Australian museum and also became a founding member of the Crafts Association of WA. At that stage, the Crafts Association of NSW was the de facto lead organisation. Robert remembers how an STD interstate phone call then would cost around $10 for two minutes. It was much more isolated than now.
With notice of the 1970 General Assembly in Dublin, Robert spent two years saving up money for his first overseas trip. This also included a visit to Expo 70 in Osaka, trips to Europe (Scandinavia and the UK), USA and Mexico.
An enduring memory was the breakfast queue at Trinity College Dublin. Robert recalled, “In front of me was Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada and behind me was Magdalena Abakanowicz, all of whom were my heroes.” Alongside these were Australians he had only known about and never met, including Marea Gazzard and Les Blakeborough. Ironically, it was going overseas that, according to Robert, “…gave me a real sense of being an Australian. being part of a community of thinkers about craft and also an opportunity just to see and meet people.”
A key revelation was the visit to Kilkenny Workshops, a working craft centre. This fed into conversations about how to develop the craft scene in Australia. Robert took this model back to Fremantle, where he found great interest in the idea. He said, “Unfortunately, they thought it was too good and took it away themselves so that it became the Fremantle Arts Centre.” (As far as I know, though, this model was important in the inspiration of the JamFactory Craft and Design Centre in Adelaide.)
Robert received a positive response to his presentation. He formed a friendship with Arline Fisch, who he invited back to Australia, where she became one of the first important international visitors. In 1984 he met his future wife, Eugenie Keefer, who turned out to be a student of hers.
Robert recalls finding a world opening up. “Slowly a network became to build around the people I met at the conference. I was determined then to go to every one of them.”
For Robert, the 1974 General Assembly in Toronto was “a really big deal”. The Crafts Council of Australia had been formed and was taking a lead role in the South Pacific. It presented a cultural program about the region organised by Silver Harris, an Adelaide theatre designer and dancer. This involved an opening performance and exhibition by PNG and Australian indigenous artists, as well as the publication of the Crafts of Australia book with a handmade paper cover.
“All of us rightly felt quite proud about that. We definitely got the feeling that Australia was envied by everybody for its ability to get funding from government. We held up the crafts board as an example for the British, the Europeans and Americans.”
The 1978 General Assembly in Kyoto was also quite significant (according to the catalogue, 53 Australians attended). “It was hugely important in cementing the relationship between Australia and Japan, as leading countries in the Asian region.” Robert formed a friendship with industrial designer Kenji Fujimori, who became a mentor. “Japan wanted to present itself as a modern craft culture, as a place where contemporary crafts and design could have a viable economic relationship.”
In 1982, Robert became the President of the Crafts Council of Western Australia. In the same year, he attended the General Assembly in Vienna where Fujimori was appointed the head of the Asian zone and Robert was made his deputy.
Around this time, Robert was beginning to see the discrepancy between the value of craft for Australia and its neighbours. In Sri Lanka, he saw how important craft was to trade, where it was measured by weight and volume of containers. The sales from countries like Sweden helped buy needed medical equipment. By contrast, Robert felt that “Australia is standing out there in a privileged place in the art world, and standing outside that other world where they are competing with each other for that trade dollar. I Started to realise there was a big division between what we understood to be our craft world and what was around us.”
In Vienna, the political dimension of world craft became apparent, and the power shifted away from its origins in New York to the global South. There were two competing models. One involved “wealthy private individuals who had paternalistic interest in crafts trying to help maintain traditional craft industries through private patronage.” The other was based on a strictly economic model, beyond any consideration of tradition.
A visit to Fiji made this painfully apparent. When Robert arrived, “The first question they asked was ‘How are you going to help us?’ I didn’t have an answer. I think they were disappointed in my visit. I didn’t come with any money. ” There was also growing scepticism among members of the Crafts Council of Australia about the value of the expensive membership fees for the World Crafts Council.
Robert began to focus on his curatorial work, especially the seminal series of craft triennials at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, for which the World Crafts Council networks were very important.
Robert’s career impresses me as a story of dedication and vision. He forged a path for himself as a craft curator before the scene ever existed. He was able to draw on the international network of the World Crafts Council to help build a strong national infrastructure which enabled so many craft artists and projects to flourish for decades. It’s hard to imagine that this would have been possible without that international network.
Now my own term as Deputy in the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific, I am struck by the contrast. While Australia once led the world in its support for crafts, it now finds itself at the back of the pack. Craft Australia, the national organisation, was defunded in 2011. The National Craft Initiative that was to replace it went nowhere. Meanwhile, national craft organisations in other countries like UK, Norway, Ireland, Canada, USA and especially China are forging ahead.
Still, there was enough momentum in our international engagement for us to resuscitate the World Crafts Council – Australia so we can keep this door open. There are enough young and old crafts people whose ambitions were raised by figures like Robert Bell, who seek to continue our role in the world, with the same kind of commitment that characterised its beginnings.
Despite the lack of government support, Australia does still have a role to play in our region as a culture that sits between East and West. We have a developed education sector and flourishing state-based organisations who can provide a space for reflecting on the value of craft today. In this way, we can bring something to the table that enables us to connect with the dynamic and ambitious countries of our region.
Robert Bell found a path to connect us not only with the outside world, but also with each other. This path contains more adventures ahead for us in Australia.
Dr Kevin Murray, Senior Vice-President, World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific
The Melbourne UNESCO Observatory of Arts Education provides a platform from which research and professional networks grow, not only within Melbourne, but across Australia and in collaboration with other Arts Observatories within South East Asia. The Observatory provides avenues for deep engagement and affiliation across this network, and serves as an umbrella for classroom teachers, arts educators, artists and researchers to collaboratively explore arts practice. As part of the Observatory, we host an artist-in-residence program and will be hosting ten artists and designers from Central Asia next week.
Some information on the Kyrgyz artist-in-residence
The Kyrgyz Republic is an independent country located in the very heart of Central Asia in the neighbourhood with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. The Kyrgyz, one of the ancient people of Central Asia, have rich traditional arts and crafts. UNESCO has safeguarded Kyrgyz traditional felt carpets as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’, and we will have an opportunity to learn more about this important work during the visit.
The Kyrgyz artists are in residence from Monday 13th to Saturday 17th August. Proudly, we will also be exhibiting the work of Kyrgyz Photographer, Urmat Osmoev across the week.
Please find below registration details for the upcoming ticketed events at the UNESCO Observatory of Arts Education, Melbourne Graduate School of Education. There are 3 formal and ticketed events:
Wednesday 15 August 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
studioFive, Level 5, Kwong Lee Dow Building
Please register here
Hands on making workshops and presentation:
Tuesday afternoon making workshop and discussion about Kyrgyz culture, art and design. We invite students, artists, crafts people and interested colleagues to join us in this amazing opportunity to learn about Central Asian arts, crafts and design.
Wednesday 15 August 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Visual Arts Studio
studioFive, Level 5, Kwong Lee Dow Building
This workshop will focus on
- Traditional felt toys and amulets, with designer Aidai Chochunbaeva.
- Ethnic dolls of felt, with designer Erkebu Djumagulova
- Ala-kiyiz, Kyrgyz traditional felt carpets, with designer Aidai Chochunbaeva
Please register here
Saturday afternoon making in the Kyrgyz Arts and Crafts Workshop includes:
Saturday 18 August 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
studioFive, Level 5, Kwong Lee Dow Building
- Kyrgyz textile jewellery, with fashion designer Tatiana Vorotnikova
- The “nuna felt” scarf making, with designer Kadyrkul Sharshembieva
- Eco-prints on felt, with designer Iniskhan Turgankazieva
Please register here
We are very lucky to have the following artists and designers here on this visit:
- Tatiana Vorotnikova – fashion designer
- Erkebu Djumagulova – designer
- Galina Turdyeva – designer
- Aidai Chochunbaeva – designer
- Altynai Osmoeva – fashion designer
- Iniskhan Turgankazieva – designer
- Kadyrkul Sharshembieva – designer
- Zhanybek Sharshembiyev – artisan
- Urmatbek Osmoev – book designer, photographer