Women’s shed: A proposal

I am a craftsperson with over 50 years of experience. In the 1970’s I remember participating in a crafts council initiative to spread the idea of craft, called the craft train. A carriage was simply set up as a basic studio, different craft practitioners travelled to rural towns where the carriage would be put on the siding and local residents were invited to come along listen to the tutors talk about their practice and then get involved in making something.

Watching the news and seeing the devastating impact on local communities and wondering if craft could be used to help heal and become a focus for communities to share and come together.

Men’s sheds are a great example of this. I wondered if a room or community hall could become a meeting place, I’m thinking for women but it may not be gendered. simple benches and tables, tools for Clay, painting, sewing, jewellery. A few mugs an urn.

Craftspeople may have equipment or materials they could donate, there may be local craft practitioners willing to share their skills. A community may band together with a grant to invite someone to demonstrate or run a workshop, using the grant for materials and to pay the craftsperson.

I wonder if ‘women’s sheds’ is a possible craft intervention. My niece Chloe writes about her grandmother’s crafting shed built in the garden when she retired.

I know some councils have clay studios and women come together to sew boomerang bags or volunteer in opportunity shops

Men’s sheds are essential but I do not know if sewing or ceramic groups operate in regional Victoria and elsewhere. I believe Women’s sheds could be useful in communities affected by the recent fires.

Marian Hosking
January 2020

Petition: Support Australian Craft Education

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 Since the 20th century, these have gradually been replaced by formal institutions such as universities.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.

Mel Douglas PhD installation in Australian National University

Spotlight: Bic Tieu

Bic Tieu, Garden brooch

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 Australia was the envy of the world: Robert Bell and the World Crafts Council

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

Visit of Kyrgyz artists to Melbourne

Shyrdak, Atbashy district, 2014

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:

Welcome drinks

Wednesday 15 August 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

studioFive, Level 5, Kwong Lee Dow Building

234 Queensberry Street

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

234 Queensberry Street

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

234 Queensberry Street

  • 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:

  1. Tatiana Vorotnikova – fashion designer
  2. Erkebu Djumagulova – designer
  3. Galina Turdyeva – designer
  4. Aidai Chochunbaeva – designer
  5. Altynai Osmoeva – fashion designer
  6. Iniskhan Turgankazieva – designer
  7. Kadyrkul Sharshembieva – designer
  8. Zhanybek Sharshembiyev – artisan
  9. Urmatbek Osmoev – book designer, photographer

Vale Robert Bell (1946 – 2018)

With regret, we announce the loss of a grand figure of Australian craft. Dr Robert Bell’s leadership as curator on both Australian coasts helped give our crafts the national prominence it was due. He was also a keen advocate internationally for Australia’s role in the World Crafts Council. He will be sadly missed. Our condolences to this dear friends, colleagues, family and wife Eugenie Keefer Bell, who provided us with the following obituary.

Dr Robert Stewart Bell AM
29 December 1946, Perth WA – 28 July 2018, Canberra ACT

Loving and cherished husband of Eugenie Keefer Bell for over 32 years.

Beloved by his family as eldest son of John (dec) and Vonda (dec), brother of Anthony and Beverley, brother-in-law of Gabrielle and Lance in Australia, and Diane, Richard and Ronald in California, uncle of goddaughter Veronica and nephew James.

Robert completed a 50 year career in the arts, serving with insight and passion as Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery of Australia, following long terms as Curator of Crafts and Design at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and Senior Designer at the W.A. Museum. As an artist working in ceramics and textiles, his work was exhibited in Australia and internationally, and is held in public and private collections.

He was awarded the 2001 Australian Centenary Medal, the 2005 Australia Council Emeritus Award and in 2010 was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to contemporary craft and design.

An unfailingly generous and gracious man, Robert was loved and admired by his family, friends, colleagues and the many artists whose work he encouraged and supported.

A private cremation service will be held.

So that Robert’s many friends and colleagues may have an opportunity to come together in sorrow at his passing, but with joy in having known him, a memorial celebration of Robert’s life and his contribution to the arts will be held in September in Canberra. Friends and colleagues who would like to be advised of the venue and date, are requested to send their contact address, email and phone number to bellmemorialcelebration@gmail.com

Hamadan International Craft Fair – 21-25 August 2018

Lalejin potter with busts and photos of ancestor potters.

Here’s a wonderful chance to display your wares at one of the great craft cultures of the world.

Hamadan Holds 14th National Craft Fair and First International Craft Fair Coinciding Hamadan Recognition as the Tourism Capital City of Asia

Hamadanˊs Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization is holding its annual National Craft Fair this year. Craftsmen from all around the country participate in the event every year. This year considering Hamadanˊs being recognized as the Tourism Capital City of Asia in 2018 and regarding high capacities and the potential of the province being the heartland of a number of crafts like the Global City of Lalejin in pottery, Tuyserkan and Malayer in wood carving, and Hamadan itself in leather works and regarding the tourism attractions of the city like Ganjnameh inscriptions (Archamenian period), Avicenna mausoleum, Alisadr cave (the longest water cave in the world), Alavid dome (Seljukian period), Babataher tomb, the ancient city of Hegmataneh, Hamadan is holding this year ̓s fair internationally.

Supporting Hamadan and Iran original and local crafts and introducing these artworks as well as the city itself to the invited countries and on the other side introducing the crafts and artworks of the invited countries to the Iranian craftsmen and the public are of other purposes of holding the fair.

We are pleased to announce and warmly welcome the participation of our international guests in our 14th annual craft fair. The craft fair will be held at Hamadan International Exhibition from Tuesday, August 21st to Saturday, August 25th from 03:30 to 09:00pm. Set up is on Monday, August 20th at 11:00 and the building closes at 05:00pm.

A booth space will be free of charge. Booth spaces are approximately 3ˊ to 4ˊ wide by 3ˊ deep. The International Fair shall supply the vendors a table and two chairs. Double booth spaces are also available under your former announcement.

Our international guests will reside in a three star hotel to the vicinity of the fair and there will be VIP buses for transportation. Visiting Hamadan tourism attractions like Alisadr cave (the worldˊs longest water cave), Avicenna mausoleum, Ganjnameh inscription (Achaemenian period) and its tourism resort complex, Babataher tomb are also included in the program. We also hope we can host the WCC members while the fair is held.

For participation and more clarification, please contact directly the Deputy of Crafts Ms.Alireza Qasemi at +9834238704 (call or text) or you can email them at mahdi.azimi31@gmail.com

Will Robert Bell be replaced at the National Gallery of Australia?

For many years, the decorative arts in Australia were ably served by Dr Robert Bell. The National Gallery of Australia was the preeminent collector of the nation’s finest decorative arts and crafts. As Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, Robert curated many fine exhibitions during his tenure at the NGA, including the major exhibition of craft art, Transformations. He contributed to the development of audiences in Australia and internationally through his many conference presentations, journal articles, catalogues and book chapters including recently, the Toledo Museum of Arts’ book, Color Ignited. Robert Bell played an especially significant role in profiling our jewellery and metalsmithing.

It has been believed in the craft sector that acquisitions by the National Gallery of Australia represented the ultimate recognition as an artist. We feel that we represent important stakeholders in this national collection.

Though they are big shoes to fill, we presumed that Robert Bell would be replaced after his departure. As far as we know, there has been no new curator appointed in charge of decorative arts at the National Gallery of Australia. This seems a significant absence with regards to the care and growth of this important national collection, and, in terms of the organisation’s capacity to reflect our national artistic scene and cultural values.

We recognise that there have been funding cuts to the NGA, which would necessitate cost-cutting measures. But we feel strongly that this is a critical role in the organisation.

We call on the National Gallery of Australia to fill the vacant position of Decorative Arts curator.

Advice on Australia Council funding for craft

While there have been significant cuts to the Australia Council funding available to artists and organisations, it still remains a significant resource for supporting works of artistic promise.

Having recently served as a peer, I can share some observations that may be useful if you are thinking of applying in the future.

There’s a lot of pressure on the peers to allocate a small amount of funds. If an application has any reason not to be funded there and then, this will often knock it out of contention, even it if is worthy in other ways. This can include:

  • The start date is sufficiently distant that you can apply again in the next round
  • Support letters are missing or links to support material do not work
  • The budget seems overinflated and there is not enough detail

From a positive perspective, a good application places the project in a broader strategy, which points to future outcomes. It includes a clear and interesting question that is being asked. And it has a defined focus, rather than a scattergun collection of ticked boxes.

On the other side of the table, it is critical to have an advocate for craft who can articulate more medium-specific values. As a minority art form, it is easy to dismiss craft practice as “niche” or parochial. All worthy art is ultimately “niche” as it involves a level of specialisation that sets it apart from mass culture. But the value of skill is not as obvious as the more conceptual meanings attached to visual art practice. And craft practice is rarely associated with the more glamorous locations of New York and Berlin, nor are there the international flagships of Venice Biennale or major art fairs.

In my experience, other peers are very respectful of the craft voice and are genuinely committed to taking it on board.  Visual Arts staff can make up for an absent perspective, but having an independent craft voice at the table helps greatly. So do consider registering as a peer to fight for the cause as the modest pool is allocated.

That said, funding is not the only form of recognition for valuable work. Platforms like our Garland magazine are also worth supporting as ways we can acknowledge and encourage handmade works of great skill and meaning.

The next round of Australia Council grants is due 7 February 2017. You can nominate to be a peer here. 

Kevin Murray

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.