Celebrating A Triumph archive

Thursday 5 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.

Fantastic response

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.

Woodworkers Institute

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Andrea Hargreaves , Celebration , Craftsmanship , Jason Heap , Cheltenham

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Fixtures And Materials

In two hours I did not hear one member of the public ask why fine furniture commands such comparatively high price tags. Perhaps that is because visitors got to feel as well as see high-spec workmanship that demands and receives custom-made fixtures and fittings such as wooden hinges, escutcheons and functional embellishments.
Sue Darlison said that the curved supports on her Slow Wave bench were made of 15 thicknesses of oak laminate. She machined all the oak down to 4mm and used an Aerolite-type glue for rigidity. The supports were formed around an oak barrel and the gentle undulations in the bench were created by shaping each of the members before glue-up. The whole piece was assembled with custom-milled steel rods.
It was good, too, to see materials other than wood being used as appropriate, such as in the glass, steel and cherry table by Ian White, and the dining table by Ian Skinner in American black walnut and ripple sycamore with granite lazy Susan.
So far as timber use was concerned, walnut and oak predominated.

Roll Call

The catalogue was satisfyingly full of top names such as Matthew Burt with his tiger oak and ripple ash Vase cabinet, Brendan Devitt-Spooner with a dining table and hall chair, Philip Dobbins with a console table, bench and Canterbury, Martin Grierson with a dining table and chairs, Philip Koomen with a chair and two tables, Jonathan Silva with a dining table, chair and bookcase and Chris Tribe with a side table, dresser and jewellery box.
It was also encouraging to see the work of newcomers to the show like Gary Olson - bedding chest, chest of drawers and desk - and Andrew Owen - writing desk, sideboard and Japanese box.