Creative Hands


Apparently craftspeople can no longer be considered as creative according to the latest government think tank given the task of Classifying and Measuring Creative Industries. As someone who has spent most of her life working in crafts based industries I am confused. This change of status is based on the idea that a craftsperson is a manufacturer who does not apply any ‘creative input’ when making their wares, we merely follow a set of procedures. However the same paper gives the status of ‘creative’ to desk dwellers like Town Planners and IT consultants. Could this be down to a kind of snobbery about people who work ‘with their hands’?  


My brother-in-law was a town planner. He taught at East Anglia University and during his career researched and wrote several ‘white papers’ for the government. He was one of the team responsible for the Chelmer System of town planning which is used throughout the world but he would never consider his profession as creative as that of his brother Michael, a designer jeweller. In fact Dave considered his work scientific, always based on solid research.


Perhaps it is inevitable that as society develops a sedentary lifestyle it loses touch with the source of its wealth, the core of its culture. Without the hand skills employed in making crafts the Renaissance just couldn’t have happened. Guttenberg, acknowledged as the first printer, began working as a jeweller, and it was through his knowledge of manufacturing techniques he discovered how to make moveable typefaces and eventually print books at a fraction the price.


The first techniques to be learnt by any jeweller are the means of working metal. Precious metals require a huge variety of basic skills, such as drilling, milling, sawing, carving, chiselling, and grinding. Many hours of practise are required to become skilled in methods of cutting metal before proceeding to more advanced applications.


Lost wax casting was used by the Egyptians. An expendable mould is formed around a model that is also expendable, the main substance used being wax or a composition in which wax is a major ingredient. This can be removed from the mould with low heat without damaging the mould. In its place is left a void or mould cavity that is then filled with molten metal which replaces the wax and takes on its former form. Guttenberg realised a new use for an ancient technique and ‘tah-dah’, he kick-started the Reformation.


Archaeologists and anthropologists tell us that fibre technology preceded textile weaving which in turn preceded metal technology probably by thousands of years. It is not surprising that some of the skills gained in using fibres transferred to metalwork, fibres used in basketry are round in form, such as reeds and rushes, or flat strips, as in plant leaf strips, or wood. I believe it is the character of craftspeople to be constantly exploring new methods of making, to experiment with different concepts and designs, but they do not separate the work of the hand to the workings of the mind. A true master does not need to make such distinctions.



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