September Newsletter

September 2020 - Newsletter 137

'Into The Light' Exhibition - Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester 2020

Exhibiting Again!

I am delighted to say that despite all of the challenges we have faced over the past six months the efforts of our exhibitions team paid off with a wonderful first SDC show at the Oxmarket galleries in Chichester. The brilliant team of Hazel Connors, Dawn Thorne and Margaret Jones came together earlier this year and curated 'Into The Light' a response to us all emerging from lockdown.

They initially sought feedback from the membership via questionnaires and zoom meetings before negotiating with appropriate gallery spaces around the country. Their collective determination and enthusiasm made it impossible not to support them and even with limited time they pulled off a brilliant exhibition that brought higher numbers of visitors to the gallery, even in such challenging times.

I managed to pop in on the final weekend and really enjoyed seeing the wide variety of expertise within the Society - I have always felt that one of our unique selling points is our ability to show work across multiple disciplines of the very highest quality. We all have our favourites - the ones we would like to take home - but what can always be guaranteed is the very highest standards of craftsmanship. (I did take something home - a lovely bowl by ceramicist, Les Parrott)

I thought the gallery was in a great central location and has potential to be a regular location. We would certainly want to take over the whole venue for future exhibitions and events as that would give us the capacity to show more members' work.

It was pleasing to see a scattering of red dots and a steady flow of visitors. Around 80-100 visitors each day enjoyed our members' work and some commented that it was the best exhibition they had seen in the gallery. Sales were modest and typically for smaller items, but there were several none-the-less and all of the exhibitors will hopefully have gained some new followers and potential future customers.

We should also extend thanks to the Social Media Team who worked very hard, in tandem, to communicate widely about the event via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And thanks to Dan Maier and Kayley Holderness for their significant support behind the scenes.

I know Hazel, Dawn and Margaret are probably enjoying a brief breather before they start all over again with more opportunities to exhibit coming soon! Thanks again for all of your hard work.

I hope that in future newsletters we can include your reviews of Society exhibitions - It would be great to get a different perspective and hear what the membership think.


A splash of colour! Walking back to happiness ...

Dan Maier FSDC

One Monday in July I received an email from Enfield Council asking if I would like to design an art crossing for Southgate. I have to confess to not knowing what this was, but a quick google put me in the picture. An art crossing is a pedestrian crossing that has an artistic design on its surface where there is usually either none or a zebra crossing. A phone call to the council officer, revealed that this was for the Enfield Summer Festival, “…and we need it by Friday!”

So, never one not to rise to a challenge, I set to work and decided to make the most of the creative freedom I’d been given to design this exciting piece of public art. It was installed on the 15th September - 9m x 3m of joyous colour!

Southgate is probably best known for its grade ll listed Art Deco station, one of the best known of the many stations Charles Holden designed for London Underground. The high street is a few minutes’ walk from my studio and having lived and worked in the area for two decades I’ve witnessed businesses opening and closing in quick succession; so whilst it’s perceived as a relatively well-off area, the high street has been struggling for years. I set up and ran an art trail for three years to create a buzz and improve the area, but with recent events, it’s in trouble.

The aim of my design was to create something bright and cheery and introduce something with the essence of nature into the dull, grey, urban landscape. My inspiration is an amalgamation of the curves of onion layers, knots in tree bark, undulations in sand dunes and ripples in water. I abstracted these elements to create a striking aesthetic which I hope will spark imagination and inspire creativity. The rainbow-like colour scheme references the rainbows that have been so prevalent during lockdown, symbolising peace and hope as they often appear when the sun follows a heavy rainfall. Like the rainbow, I hope this work will serve to remind us that there is hope and light to follow even after dark times.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from people who’ve seen it (without knowing anything about why it was there or the thinking behind it). It seems that my aim to lift people’s spirits has been achieved. A couple of women I was chatting to actually went off and returned bearing a gift of a pair of rainbow socks to say thank you - how wonderful is that?! So, with William Morris on my mind, have nothing on your high streets…

VIVID by Colourworkers

13th October to 1st November 2020

A Stunning Exhibition of Contemporary Art made with Paper & Textiles

Colourworkers ‘Vivid’ exhibition brings together contemporary stitched paperworks by Anita Bell, screenprinted silk paintings by Tori McLean and constructed and stitched textiles by Arlene Shawcross. All three artisans are elected members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and share a passion for richly coloured contemporary works of art.

Tori McLean works on fine silk to produce her bold screen-printed silk paintings inspired by Japanese Kimonos. Each work is uniquely hand-coloured; taking several days to screenprint and paint to ensure each artwork remains a one-off design.

Anita Bell is a member of the International Association of Papermakers and Artists and creates one-off pieces using hand dyed, painted or recycled papers embellished with stitch. Shakkei, a Japanese garden term for the “borrowed view” and Ikedori, meaning “captured alive”, are the inspiration for each piece of her, which reflect the constantly changing light, particularly at dawn and dusk.

Arlene Shawcross creates beautiful individually designed and stitched pieces, each one a unique piece of textile art. Her work is lively and colourful and is inspired by her love of music and roses.

All three Colourworkers have work held in private and public collections in the UK and overseas. Work will be for sale during the exhibition and commissions for specific works may be requested.

The Future of Furniture Craft Education - a Churchill Fellowship

Joseph Bray FSDC

To be awarded the opportunity to ‘travel to learn’ is such an incredible one! Accomplishing a Churchill Fellowship has been a long-term personal goal, and it allowed me to visit some of the most impressive institutions that offer furniture education in Europe and the USA. Often being camped with them for two to three days, I was able to explore much further than the short introduction and tour you might expect during an open day, giving me a much deeper understanding of how these institutions operate. I was able to reflect on my observations to enquire further and subsequently learn much that will benefit myself personally, my role as a teacher, and wider to furniture education in the UK and beyond. I met incredibly supportive and passionate students and teachers everywhere that I visited, and felt so comfortable in some that I could easily have stayed.

I have long been passionate about making, particularly in the field of furniture design and craft. Having spent 14 years teaching at Rycotewoodin Oxford, I became passionate about educating the next generation of craftspeople/makers. Over the past 20 years I have observed both the
demise of undergraduate level craft programmes in the UK and the significant reduction in children learning craft in schools. Overall, there’s been a substantial reduction in the opportunities to learn furniture making at all levels. At the same time the furniture industry reports a skills gap and aging population, while craft skills are in very high demand. I set out to explore how furniture education outside the UK supports students in becoming highly-employable craftspeople, or prepares them to enter self-employment on graduation. What can we learn to help plug the gaps?

My proposal was to visit world-renowned furniture programmes, investigating demand for furniture craft skills from students/industry, the emphasis placed on craft skill development, and the balance between creative exploration, craft development and business skills. I aimed to
establish how industry links are embedded into furniture programmes within higher education, and whether industry work placements are available and successful. Also to look beyond study towards understanding how graduates are supported to become self-employed.
I set out hoping to learn about impressive pipelines into higher education, and to see schools teaching making and woodwork leading to high level craft skills on entry. However, I was disappointed to find that in the majority of places I visited the story was the same as for the UK. This has reinforced my desire to influence change in this stage of a young person’s development — to increase opportunities to access woodworking, leading to an interest in furniture, as well as the many broad educational benefits making brings!

I expected to observe students exploring their ideas and learning craft skills in their own personal spaces using tools and materials. I imagined well-resourced workshops and hoped to learn from best practice in teaching. I was not disappointed, learning a great deal more about cultural relationships with crafts, differing levels of government funding, the diversity of applicants and attitudes to excellence.

My teaching experience has given me a clear understanding that training tobe a craftsperson requires a deep understanding of tools and how materials behave when the two connect. I believe that central to this understanding is practice and experimentation - the importance of having a bench of your own and to collate a personal tool kit is of paramount importance. To own tools and understand how to care for them, to improve them, to make them sharp and to produce high quality work with them is part of the process. It follows that building your own toolbox and carefully positioning the tools inside is part of the journey - I think you can definitely learn something about a craftsperson from their toolbox! At Capellagården, Oland, Sweden, I saw lots of toolboxes lovingly crafted yet entirely functional and being used daily. The school was described to me by Master Craftsman Mattias Nilo as a ‘creative monastery’ where there is an idealistic approach to learning craft skills. He told me that the pedagogic approach is learning by hand– drawing by hand, processing timber by hand and using only basic machinery. I witnessed some of the most impressive hand-working of my trip particularly by those students who were making their Gesall or ‘journeyman’ piece.

In Sweden I visited three incredible schools – all following a different approach whilst fundamental hand-skills were at the core of their practice. I had imagined that Swedish children would be enjoying a hands-on education, with many opportunities to learn craft skills formally and informally. Of all the countries I visited, Sloyd and woodworking delivered in Swedish schools was impressive yet like all of the others, once children reached the age of formal examinations the curriculum focussed in on what are typically described as academic subjects. Why do we place so little importance on the arts in general and specifically the crafts? In the UK we have since the 1970’s steadilydismantled the resources for school woodworking with many children not even getting the chance to hold a hand-plane yet alone understand what it feels like to use one that is razor sharp! I am pragmatic and recognise that in our developing world we can use laser cutters, CNC routers and 3D printers to great effect but I fundamentally believe thatyoung people deserve access to both the hand-tool and the digital, and that they should be given the opportunity to understand them equally.

Perhaps our near neighbours in Ireland were the only country I visited that still has making culturally embedded into its education system where Construction is integrated in the secondary school leavers certificate. Located in the rugged yet beautiful region of Connemara is the impressive specialist furniture school Letterfrack. Whether they sign up for a teacher training, design or manufacturing programme all students enjoy a common first year. At its core is an approach that begins with learning hand-skills, free from the additional challenge of design. Making a mirror frame, dovetailed box with marquetry panel, and chair gives every student the foundation with which to progress in their own pathway. I have long advocated that the best designers are those that are grounded in craft, understand how materials behave, their strengths and weaknesses. But for me training school teachers in this way is the clever bit – these young men and women then go out into classrooms across the country passing on their knowledge and ultimately pointing them back to Letterfrack. There is a nice circularity to their system that we could certainly learn from.

The workbench is a fundamental requirement in learning to use hand-skills and I strongly believe that being allocated a space of your own is essential. The freedom to explore, the opportunity to practice and self-motivation are critical. Unfortunately in a formal education system that often compares space utilisation between learning crafts in workshops and many other students being taught a hundred at a time in a lecture theatre, the opportunities to have your own bench are in decline(perhaps total freefall). Learning to sharpen, care for and use a bevel edged chisel or a bench-plane requires a different approach. Students need their own tools and a bench that they can come back to daily to repeat a technique that has been demonstrated not just explained. Cabinet-making students at Malmstens, Stockholm, Sweden, are afforded a luxurious personal space. Each student has a bench, toolbox, trolley (with tool drawer), trestles x4 (different heights) and a storage space. This gives the space physically and metaphorically for their students to produce excellent work.

I travelled for seven weeks in total and enjoyed every minute - it certainly wasn’t a holiday. My experiences reinforced some of my values and ideals and opened my eyes to many more. I made many recommendations in my report and in my new role as Head of Wood School at the Sylva Foundation I hope that I can put them all into practice.

I believe that we should provide inspirational opportunities for young people to experience making, to engage them and demonstrate the potential of working with their hands.

I strongly encourage all furniture schools to continue the fight, to ensure all students get access to a bench and hand-tools of their own with the time and space to put in the hours of practice required to fully understand how they work!

Sean Evelegh LSDC is aiming to be crowned 'Britain's top woodworker'

New member Sean (pictured above) is very familiar to me as I was his programme leader at Rycotewood in Oxford and distinctly remember how impressive he was when I first met and subsequently interviewed him for BA Furniture Design and Make. We are delighted to share the news that he will be taking part in 'The Chop' a TV show to be aired on Sky History in October.

The Chop is hosted by Lee Mack, Rick Edwards and master craftsman William Hardie. This carpentry contest sees ten of the country’s finest joiners gather in Epping Forest to whittle, carve and chop their way to the final, to see who will be crowned ‘Britain’s Top Woodworker’. #TheChop

Master Carpenter William Hardie oversees the construction of a grand and spectacular cabin in the woods, adding a new room every week, each on a different historical theme, including Nelson’s cabin on HMS Victory, a Victorian pub, a Gothic bedroom, a Georgian hunting lodge, and a 1960s’ Mad Men-inspired lounge. The contestants are tasked with creating amazing items and artefacts to furnish the rooms whilst expert guest judges with specialist knowledge of the different historical eras help Lee, Rick and William decide who progresses to the next round and which will get the chop. Week by week the cabin evolves to become a living museum of what is possible in woodwork.

To see Sean in action and learn more see the promo film here:

Sean is very active online (in fact, this is how he was approached to be on the show) with his own YouTube channel that he uses to share his passion for woodworking:

Good Luck, Sean!

SDC Contacts


Kayley Holderness MSDC -

Membership Secretary
Naomi Jacques LSDC -

Newsletter Editor
Joseph Bray FSDC -

SDC Council members

Adam Aaronson

Joseph Bray FSDC -

Marshall Colman MSDC -

Michel Dembinski -

Kayley Holderness MSDC -

Dan Maier FSDC -

Steve Wager FSDC -