It was lovely to be invited to Avalon School in Street last week to collect a Business Recognition Award. It is the first year that the school are giving such awards, as a sign of their appreciation of the support that various businesses provide to their students, further preparing them for their transition to adulthood.
So, alongside Clarks, Burns the Bread, Glastonbury FM, the Bay Tree Cafe and the Create: Space II Project, I gathered in the newly appointed sixth form building to collect my award. It was great to meet more of the students who work on the art enterprise project. They give up their Friday lunch breaks to work together and create fabulous floral landscapes (often speckled with glitter!) - a few of which I sold at the event in the Bishop's Barn in Wells. The students had prepared some delicious shortbread and apricot flapjacks which they shared with all of us before presenting our awards.
It was good also to meet Dylan from the Create: Space II Project, who then invited me to see their new exhibition which fills a huge old Tesco store in Street. A truly diverse array of artwork and installation meanders around the industrial sized space. Giant escargot shapes pinned with milk bottle plastic rise out of the concrete, inviting you to stoop inside and admire a colourful spectrum of light. Oil canvases, metal figures, jute baskets photographs unfold through the space. It’s a fascinating exhibition and project, hopefully it will continue to enrich the landscape of Street.
The new hot pan mats came in a bright orange parcel from Finland a couple of weeks ago. Hilma, who makes them had drawn a horse on the front and written a note within. The new mats are exquisitely woven, with a robust linen warp and thick, paper yarn through the weft. The colours Hilma has chosen will appeal to a variety of tastes too, there some neutral shades with browns and oats, reds and some more zesty turquoises too.
The mats went on sale in the Bishop's Barn in Wells and funnily enough, a couple were purchased by some Norweigan women, were they drawn to the Scandinavian style?
I spent a week at Kisalli textiles workshop in 2014, incredible to think that was four years ago already. I had a wonderful week meeting and spending time with the owners, the weavers and the volunteers, observing their practice and learning some rather niche Finnish weaving vocabulary!
I am so pleased to be able to sell these beautiful pieces of craft from Kisalli, and to keep in touch with such lovely people.
I thought it would be nice to include some extracts that I wrote during the week...
Aurinko paistaa the sun is shining and the ice on the ground is slippery. It is Finnish February, but apparently not quite as cold as usual. It’s dangerous to walk out on the frozen lake this year, they say.
A morning meeting with diaries has the formality of a workplace, everyone standing as a team. Quiet, and the lead facilitator talks through the plan for the week. Practical on many levels. For some, this is their workplace; they can find out what must be done. For others, this helps to reduce their anxiety about what the week may have in store.
Focus and calm to begin the day.
A volunteer said ‘M found her soulmate with matto’. She loves weaving and asks to do it all the time she is not doing it. She is very skilled and it seems her patience knows no bounds. When someone spots a mistake further back on her weaving, no matter, she will pick it out and start again. M almost completely lost her sight a few years ago, but she still made matto. With her hands she felt the edges of the mat and the length of the yarn. After an operation, now she can see the beautiful work she is making again. M had a commission of two mats, in pale grey and cream. When she finished them both, they were measured and only a centimetre apart. M was over the moon.
Afer S helped M to wind on the loom, she spent all afternoon fixing the pedals on her loom. S is a skilled weaver who weaves at a professional level. Kisalli helps her to streamline her work and make themed, saleable pieces. And she can sell her work from the front window.
The hairdryer came to the end of its life. They said it was probably about forty years old. Not bad then, really.
S told me about a talk show on the TV where people with learning disabilities could discuss the issues that they face. Where do they want to live, in their own place or in a big group home? Do they want to have children? What about the issue of terminating babies that have a disability? According to S, 80% or so take this option in Finland at the moment. It can only be through a lack of understanding. People with learning disabilities are not seen so widely in the community, just the same as anywhere. So where lies the unknown, we ponder, lurks fear.
Talk-shows can only help. The Finnish entry into the Eurovision song contest this year is a punk band made up of people with learning disabilities. Kisalli too, with its shop front on the street, right at the heart of the community.
I met Hilma just on the last day. She has found her niche in winding on the warp for the loom. She stands and twirls the warping frame as the yarn entwines it. Tranquil and in control. She loves ice-skating and is competing in Scotland this year. It occurs to me that the twirling on the warping frame may emulate the shapes that she makes on the ice.
As the founders say ‘Craftsmanship means a lot to us. It is our way to engage in dialogue with other people. For us, creativity is to do things together, issues maturing, taking long-term ideas forward - and, of course, skills training. Briefly: the growth of craftsmanship.’
It was an absolute pleasure taking the Craft Unit to the Bishop's Barn in Wells. We worked with local organisations Artbox Frome, Openstorytellers, Orchard Vale Trust, Banwell Pottery and Avalon School to create a fantastic exhibition within the medieval space. The Bishop's Barn is a 15th century tithe barn, with narrow windows and an incredible wooden ceiling. The aim now is to open up the barn and bring it back to the heart of the community. We wrapped up warm, stoked up the urn and spent five May days there...
The people of Wells came in and delighted in the shop, the exhibition and of course the barn - memories were shared of barn dances, rock gigs and even weddings!
The Artbox Frome workshop on the Saturday was a hit, the group created impressions of the barn and its fabulous shapes and had lots of fun screen-printing their images. Openstorytellers told some of their favourite stories in the space too.
It was lovely to meet and chat with customers - there were heaps of happy people buying a real variety of work. Chatting with customers and getting people's feedback is one of my most favourite aspects of running the Craft Unit - I wonder what amazing space we can take over next!
The Craft Unit is delighted to host a celebration of inclusive arts at the Bishop's Barn in Wells, Somerset from 10th - 14th May 2018.
Working with local organisations, Artbox Frome, Openstorytellers, Orchard Vale Trust and Banwell Pottery, the Craft Unit will turn the beautiful 15th century tithe barn into an exhibition, craft shop and workshop space.
Open 10am - 6pm Thurs/Fri/Sat
10am - 4pm Sun/Mon
The Bishop's Barn, Silver Street, Wells, Somerset BA5 1US