Celebrating A Triumph
Thursday 05 November 2009
Andrea Hargreaves reports on the 2009 Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design show
Jason Heap, at only 23, had a hard act to follow when he bought the Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design show from Betty Norbury who had staged it annually for 15 years at Thirlestaine Long Gallery, Cheltenham to high acclaim.
He gave himself six months to get together a successful exhibition of pieces from the finest makers in the UK. That he achieved it is without doubt, and when I visited on the second Saturday there was a satisfactory number of red Sold stickers among more than 280 exhibits, and the public was obviously loving it. By 11am the rooms were pleasantly full of visitors of all ages, clearly delighted and agog with the headiness of experiencing wall-to-wall furniture of the highest order.
Jason tapped into the sense of touch and visitors relished for the first time at this show being allowed to open drawers, caress silky surfaces and examine finely executed feats of engineering in minute detail.
Jason attracted a total of 70 exhibitors, 65 of whom were furniture makers. He must surely have been nervous about taking over a show from the redoubtable Betty but he approached the task with confidence. He said the response was fantastic, with many new faces as well as old hands, and a fair sprinkling of red dots and people expressing an interest in buying and commissioning. Visitors had planned holidays around the show and had come from as far afield as Scotland, Belgium and even Japan.
He curated the show by creating families of pieces that worked well together and used the gallery space imaginatively, managing with apparent ease the difficult art of placing pieces for complement and contrast.
Next year, he said, he hoped to have a chair competition to be judged by public vote. When asked if the show was a gauge of what people desired in furniture, he said that if makers were not making what people wanted to buy then there was no point in trying to make a living from it. If it did not work for the public it would not work for the makers, said the young man who launched his own career two years ago with his widely praised Infinity table.
Views of promoter
Of course Jason came into furniture making as a young maker but he pointed out that many other makers were coming into the industry from other careers and so appreciated what was necessary. If you could not survive, all the ideals of beautifully made furniture would die with you. The more he could promote work, the more people would be aware of the work that went into each well-produced piece.
He saw himself both as a maker and promoter of makers. He enjoyed making, was good at it and could not see himself stopping. It was good to do this sort of show, he said. If the show had not happened this year it would have been a great shame, he added. I cannot argue with that, Jason.