Judging the Royal Dublin Society crafts competition

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Mark Baker

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It has been a busy month; this last weekend saw me in Ireland. I was on the panel of judges at the Royal Dublin Society crafts competition.

I cannot reveal the results yet, but suffice to say it was a great event and with so many categories we certainly had our work cut out.

The categories were: woodturning, wood & stone carving, furniture, felting, glass, knitting & crochet, leatherwork, gold, silver & alternative materials jewellery, basketry, ironwork & metalwork,calligraphy & lettering, printed textiles & multimedia textiles, weaving, embroidery, musical instruments, ceramics and lace & patchwork quilting.

Each judge was brought in to adjudicate on their own section - I was responsible for the turning section and we awarded what category prizes there were as the judges, but, there were other prizes and awards available that we all have to argue for the pieces we thought best and vote accordingly. To say lots of discussions and inspections of the pieces occurred was an understatement, but after much debate we decided who got what. Some of the pieces were also selected for an exhibition. A lot of time and effort went into the competition and I have to say that the management team/coordinators planned it to perfection. Sarah Ross was the coordinator for this and she and her team pulled a blinder. Nothing was too much trouble and everything was where it needed to be at any one time. This really is a competition that ran smoothly. I know full well that organising competitions is like herding cats. You think you have something pinned down and then something escapes you or happens to throw everything off. Not with this one; it was just right.

Anyway, the problem I have is that in the turning category the quality of entries was high, but the number who entered was so low as to be, how shall I put this politely, paltry. The prize value runs into tens of thousands of pounds and I know there are hundreds of turners who are eligible to enter and yet, for many years, the numbers of entries has been low. It is open to both professionals and amateurs. All credit to those who enter - competitions are not easy - and sadly, it is down to the judges to make value calls on the pieces. But, there is a risk and reward situation. Yes, you may not make the final selection, and if you do, you may not win a prize, but you have to enter it to be in with a chance to win anything. I get the sense sometimes that no matter what is done, someone will find an excuse not to do something. I think this is a shame and it lets the whole community within which we operate down. People produce some stunning pieces and these deserve to be seen. If we don’t show people what can be done and what is being made, how can we move things forward? Is it any wonder that people, the wider community, collectors and galleries don’t know what we do? This is open to all people living on the island of Ireland, and is organised with such passion and enthusiasm, showcasing what is being done crafts and arts-wise, and the turning section is well under represented. It is another example of a lost opportunity. I feel it diminishes us all.

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