I went to the open studios at Cockpit Arts
, Deptford, on Friday. They are open today as well.
Cockpit Arts Deptford
London SE8 3DZ
16-18 June. Sunday 11am – 6pm
The studios house up to 170 designer makers in Holborn and Deptford. Cockpit describe themselves as the UK’s only business incubator for craftspeople, supporting those at the start of their careers and those who are more established. They began in 1986. In the early 1990s, I worked with them as part of my job in economic development at Camden Council.
The standard of work on display at Deptford is very high indeed. Partly due to the efforts of organisations like Cockpit and the Crafts Council, but mainly because of a more discerning public, the quality of craft production has improved There is more demand for personal products and a connection with the maker, and at the same time an expectation that the quality and finish of hand-made goods will be as high as that of machine-made goods. The old idea that you found a generation ago, that crafts had to prove that they were hand-made by being rough, has vanished. The increased number of designer makers (Cockpit estimate there are 25,000 in the UK with a combined turnover of £3.4bn) also raises the bar, with the best challenging the not-so-good.
On Friday, I paused to speak to a few makers in crafts other than my own, always interesting.
Charles has developed a range of items exploiting the qualities of top-grade leathers. Those he displayed were all in black, simple in outline, highly practical and a little severe. They are adaptable and would suit people with either classic taste or modern taste. He said he supplied retailers and also took commissions. I pointed to the briefcase shown here: “Would you make this in bright orange if a customer asked for it?” He gulped. “Oh, yes,” he said.
I admired Stephen’s small, neat workshop. His tools were ranged in order, his drills stood in a block of hardwood. (Mine are flung into a tin.) The bows, seen close-up, are beautiful objects in themselves. The materials come from around the world: the wood from Brazil, the horsehair from China, the mother-of-pearl collected by Stephen himself on the Essex coast, and the finish of the handle in bone or mammoth ivory – yes, you read that right, mammoth ivory.
Maria’s workshop is a work of art. Bespoke cases stand on her parquet floor to take her tools and materials. They are on wheels so that they can be moved around the studio or even taken elsewhere: Maria, a graduate of Cordwainers College and the RCA, has the idea that she might be a peripatetic shoemaker. He sandals are exquisitely made and have that combination of beauty and utility that marks out the best craft products.
Dovile makes jewellery in a starling combination of silver and resin.
Wood turning is a staple of village craft shows and tends to be the redoubt of retired gents with more lathes than artistic judgement. Eleanor Lakelin’s wood products are on a different level. Many of them don’t look like wood at first, so wide is the range of colour, contour, texture and making methods.
Of course, I had to see a potter. Matthew Warner’s work is a tour de force. He is inspired by 18th century tableware and produces refined objects that, once again, combine beauty and utility. He has a range of soft coloured glazes and a successful combination of outside colour and clear glaze inside on a cream clay body, reminiscent of Wedgwood.